Playing by the rules

As someone who started in h/j, then switched to eventing, then switched back to h/j, and now back to eventing – I can attest to how different some of the rules are. Lifelong eventers are often astounded by how much is allowed in h/j, while at the same time h/j-ers are often horrified by some of the seemingly strict rules of eventing. I see some of this come into play amongst bloggers as well, with such a diverse group, that sometimes don’t understand the rules of the other sport. Since I just finished re-reading the Eventing section of the rulebook for the second time (it’s titillating reading material) I thought I would pull out the ones that showed the biggest difference between the two disciplines. For good or for bad, like them are not, it’s fun to compare and contrast and get a better idea of each sport.

Send us your money eons in advance and hope disaster doesn’t strike


OPENING DATE. The opening date for entries for Horse Trials will be the Tuesday prior to the date that falls six weeks before the first day of the competition.

CLOSING DATE. The closing date for entries will be four weeks after the opening date.

When you go to enter an event, this is the first thing you notice. They officially start accepting entries over 6 weeks prior to the event date, and officially close for entries 4 weeks later. That means you have to enter well in advance of the event itself. Some shows accept late entries with a fee, but not all, and in fact if the event has limited entries and you don’t enter right around opening date, you run the risk of not making it in. That’s a very stark contrast to h/j, where entries are generally due a few days before but are accepted at any time with a late fee. And in that world you can even enter/scratch from classes on the day they’re happening. Much less stressful. Then again, this is how eventing is able to have start times instead of a lot of hurry up and wait, and start times are amazing.


Put your number on – we’re watching you


1. IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS – By 3:00 p.m. of the day prior to the start of the entire competition, or upon arrival if later, each horse, including non-competing horses, shall be issued a number. This number must be worn at all times when the horse is being ridden or exercised.

Basically, in eventing, if someone is sitting on the horse or the horse is being lunged, it must have it’s number on. This is because, as you’ll see below, there are fairly specific rules about who can ride or work the horse and HOW that horse can be ridden or worked, so it’s important that the officials be able to easily identify each horse by it’s number at any time. In h/j you just have to remember to put your number on by the time you go in the ring, and you certainly don’t need it for lunging, hacking, or schooling.


You can’t ride that horse


RESTRICTIONS ON SCHOOLING HORSES. It is forbidden, under penalty of disqualification, for anyone other than the competitor who will ride the horse in the competition to school the horse during the competition

In h/j, anyone can ride any horse at any time on the showgrounds. Your Grandma Maxine could hop up there and warm your horse up for you before your class if you wanted her to. Not so in eventing. Only the person who is showing the horse is allowed to ride it at the competition. The only exception is a groom being allowed to walk or trot the horse just to get it from one place to another. That means no trainer rides or trainer warm-ups (unless the trainer is the one showing the horse), which is fairly standard practice in h/j.


Let’s help everyone not kill each other in the warm-up 

The only practice fences that competitors may jump are those flagged fences provided by the Organizer. No part of the fences may ever be held by anyone while a horse is jumping. These fences may not be raised more than 10 cm (4 inches) above the maximum height permitted for the competition in progress (or about to begin), nor may the spread exceed the maximum permitted. Ground lines may be placed directly under, or up to 1.00 meter (3’3”) in front of, the obstacle. These practice fences must be jumped in the correct direction.

In eventing warm-up rings, the warm-up jumps are flagged. You are only permitted to jump those fences, and in the correct direction, with the red flag to your right. In addition to that, you’re only allowed to jump a certain height fence in the warm-up – no more than 4″ higher than the maximum height of the level you’re competing in. The jumps are set to the appropriate height by the show staff in between divisions, and it’s rare that anyone actually changes the height of one. Usually there will be at least an oxer, a vertical, and a crossrail. Sometimes more fences, sometimes not. This is obviously a stark contrast to the h/j warm-up where you can jump the fences whichever way you want and change the height however much you want.


You might die, so secure your medical history to your body

MEDICAL CARDS/MEDICAL BRACELETS. An approved and completed medical card or medical bracelet is required any time while jumping. Medical cards must be enclosed in a transparent, waterproof carrier. Medical cards must be securely attached to the competitor’s upper arm on the outside of the competitor’s clothing. Medical bracelets must be visible on the competitor’s wrist. Medical cards must include any relevant medical history, injury (particularly to the head), drug allergies and current medication.

In eventing you must have a medical armband or medical bracelet for the jumping phases. I wear my medical bracelet 24/7 so I never have to worry about forgetting it, or get into a situation where I need it but don’t have it. You definitely don’t see h/j-ers showing with their medical history affixed to their arm. (I think I just heard a couple dozen h/j-ers say “because our sport isn’t INSANE!” Touche, my friends… touche.)


Gadgetry – NOPE


EXERCISE AREAS. Side reins are permitted only while lunging an unmounted horse, as are running reins and chambons. Other martingales, any form of gadget (such as a bearing, running or balancing reins, etc.) and any form of blinkers, are forbidden, under penalty of disqualification.

Yep, it’s true, you can’t ride your horse in draw reins (or a neck stretcher or a german martingale etc etc) at an event. I’ve seen more than one newbie get in trouble for this one, but it’s very commonplace in the warm-up rings and victory gallops/awards in h/j.


No stuffing things in their ears

DRESSAGE e. Martingales, bit guards, any kind of gadgets (such as bearing, side, running or balancing reins, etc.), reins with any loops or hand attachments, any kind of boots or leg bandages and any form of blinkers, including earmuffs, earplugs, hoods, nose covers and seat covers are, under penalty of elimination, strictly forbidden. Protective fly hoods made of thin material are permitted. However, these are subject to inspection by the Officials at the end of the test to ensure that nothing prohibited has been added (i.e. special material) or is covered by the fly hoods to protect from sound.

Earplugs or sound-proofed bonnets are not allowed in dressage. Anyone want to fathom a guess at what percentage of hunters go in earplugs?


You can’t ride in there

Disqualification – Ground Jury may disqualify a competitor in the following cases when, in its opinion, the action constitutes unsportsmanlike or abusive conduct: b. Riding in the Dressage arena or in the Jumping arena prior to the actual competition, EV108.2c. c. Riding close to Cross-Country obstacles prior to the actual competition

This is similar to jumper rules, but eventing takes it one step farther. You aren’t allowed to ride in the dressage ring or the jumping ring at all before the competition (exception: some big events have “ring familarization” where you’re allowed to walk around or lead the horse around the ring a little beforehand) whether the course has been set up yet or not. Sometimes warm-up areas will be very near or on the XC course, in which case you’re not allowed to ride close to any of the fences. And yes, the stewards are watching. Of course, for hunters, they are allowed to school in their ring and over their fences before showing.


Calling dressage tests and learning how to shut up

Dressage Rules 2. All tests must be carried out from memory, and all movements must follow in the order laid down in the test. 7. The use of the voice in any way whatsoever or clicking the tongue once or repeatedly is a serious fault involving the deduction of at least two marks from those that would otherwise have been awarded for the movement where this occurred. 

Eventing is different from straight dressage in that no one is allowed to call your test for you. In theory there should be less tests to remember, and therefore no real need for a caller. But as is also true with straight dressage, the use of voice aids is not allowed. Yup h/j-ers, no clucking or audible whoaing allowed in dressage.


“Unauthorized Assistance” aka you’re all alone in the world and no one can help you

UNAUTHORIZED ASSISTANCE. a. Any intervention by a third party, whether solicited or not, with the object of facilitating the task of the competitor or of helping his horse, is considered unauthorized assistance and the competitor is liable to be eliminated. b. In particular, the following are forbidden: 1. Intentionally to join another competitor and to continue the course in company with him; 2. To be followed, preceded or accompanied, on any part of the course by any vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, or horseman not in the competition; 3. To post friends at certain points to call directions or make signals in passing; 4. To have someone at an obstacle to encourage the horse by any means whatsoever

Hey h/j-ers, do you like having your trainer at the ingate to murmer wisdom to you as you pass by or help you remember what to jump next? At an event, once you enter the ring in dressage or stadium, or leave the start box on XC, you are completely and utterly on your own. No one is allowed to help you in any way – not to point out your next fence, not to cluck at your horse, not to yell even a simple instruction like whoa or sit up. Doing so can get you eliminated. Eventers – make sure your friends and family know this. Slap some duct tape on their mouths if you need to. No one wants to get eliminated because someone else was just trying to help… we’ve all heard the chorus of “SHHH!!” when a well-intended but uninformed spectator starts clucking.


Please god don’t jump from a standstill

CROSS COUNTRY Refusals. 1. At obstacles or elements with height (exceeding 30 cm), a horse is considered to have refused if it stops in front of the obstacle to be jumped. 2. At all other obstacles (i.e., 30 cm or less in height) a stop followed immediately by a standing jump is not penalized, but if the halt is sustained or in any way prolonged, this constitutes a refusal. The horse may step sideways but if it steps back, even with one foot, this is a refusal.

This is one that even some eventers seem confused by, so I threw it in here. On XC when a jump is over 1′ in height, it is considered a refusal once the horse has come to a complete stop, even if he then proceeds to jump from a standstill. The only time a horse is allowed to “jump” from a standstill without penalty would be in the case of a ditch, down bank, water crossing, etc. Some people think that it’s not a refusal until the horse takes a step backward but that’s not the first determining factor – the fence height is. Jumping solid fences from a standstill is unsafe and therefore not allowed without penalty. However, it is allowed to jump a fence in stadium from a standstill without incurring a refusal (same as in the jumpers).


Pace yo’self

6. WILLFUL DELAY. A competitor is considered to have willfully delayed his finish if, between the last fence and the finish line, the horse halts, walks, circles, or serpentines. The competitor will be penalized at the discretion of the Ground Jury.

There is a certain time window allowed on cross country that you must finish in to avoid incurring penalties. Sometimes people end up going too fast, look down at their watch at the end, and then try to eat up some time between the last fence and the finish flags by walking or circling. That’s not allowed and can earn you 20 penalties for willful delay. The only thing really close to this situation is Optimum Time classes in the jumpers, and I have actually seen someone circle before crossing the finish to give themselves a few extra seconds. OT classes still seem pretty rare though, and therefore knowing how to feel your correct speed and keep track of your time isn’t such a priority in that world.


What do y’all think about these rules and the differences between what’s allowed in h/j vs eventing? Are any of them surprising to you? For better or for worse. There are some things I really like, some things I don’t, and some things I accept begrudgingly. H/Jers and dressage folks, what do you think some of the main differences are in the rules between your discipline and eventing?

36 thoughts on “Playing by the rules

  1. Thanks SO MUCH for this! Though I don’t ever plan to event, the major differences between h/j and eventing are really, really interesting. I come from h/j world and can attest that eventing has certain advantages over h/j world: start times (seriously, whyyyyy hasn’t h/j world adopted this yet? Start times are genius!), lack of warm-up ring chaos (you know the warm-up rings at h/j shows make you fear for your life) and the fact that no one besides the rider can school the horse that’s competing: fair is fair. On the flip side, I do appreciate the flexibility of entering h/j shows closer to the show date and having the option to scratch a class the day of, as well as not having to wear your number 24/7. I do like that the number usually goes with the horse at h/j shows, and not necessarily a certain rider. I’ve shared horses at shows before, and having 1 number and not 2 makes things less confusing.

    I think the rule about unauthorized assistance is unique, and I can definitely understand why that rule is in place. The ‘no jump from a standstill’ rule is a great one: I feel like eventing is dangerous enough as it is, and anything to make it safer is ok in my book. And the rule about not being able to school in the show arena is similar to most jumper classes (at least in my experience), and I understand that rule as well.

    Different strokes for different folks, I guess. #sorryforthenovel 🙂


  2. When I made my experimental trip to a H/J show my jaw dropped at the amount of ringside assistence- my brain boggles at the thought that the judge is not supposed to be swayed by it all- how do they possibly tune it out?

    On the other hand eventers can go a little too far in the other direction. Last year I was chastised (by a friend admittedly, not a show official) for yelling to the people scurrying out of my path (on XC) that they might become roadkill… Nothing at all related to my performance, but apparently still could have gotten me eliminated. Yikes.


    1. That’s not against the rules. You’re allowed to tell jump judges you’re schooling, you’re circling, etc, so I don’t see why you can’t yell at people to get out the way.


  3. I had no idea that the rules were so different.
    Although not a rule when we are at a show as competitors we wear our numbers at all times while mounted. It helps distinguish us as riders that have paid to be there. And while riders without numbers can ride in warm up rings they can’t ever ride in a ring that is being used in the show even during schooling periods.
    Again not a rule (at least I don’t think) but it’s considered (I’m not sure what word to use) tacky, bad form… for your coach to be SHOUTING things at you while on course in a hunter round. It does happen though.


  4. Circling in jumpers is faulted, so not sure why anyone doing OT would circle because it wouldn’t really help them … used to be crossing your path meant elimination, but I just re-checked the rules and it’s counted as a disobedience/faulted.

    Eventing rules always drove me nuts. When I switched to jumpers it was magical.


  5. I think that at the lower levels, even just BN and N, we ought to consider changing the unauthorized assistance rule in the jumping phases. Keep it not allowed at any kind of championships or whatever, make it only for juniors/only in the Rider divisions, something–but I think it would help A LOT of riders be safer and learn more.


    1. I might be ok with it at starter/intro but I personally love that rule… it’s one of my favorite things about eventing. I hate how h/j shows basically turn into a show ring lesson. I feel like by the time you’re at a recognized show you should be able to ride well enough to make it around without your trainer yelling instructions at you.


  6. Don’t forget the rules on tack and dress!! While evented get to wear a wider variety of colors, they are very restricted on bitting in dressage. Same with recognized dressage. Also nose bands are highly regulated and checked.

    In fact, some of the gear rules in eventing are harder than pure dressage. Example? Eventing has a maximum spur length, but pure dressage doesn’t. This rarely matters, unless you use swan neck or rowel spurs that can be longer than others simply due to construction. Get out the measuring tape!!


  7. On the jumping from a standstill rule: the best explanation I heard given to me while I was jump judging is the difference between rolling through a stop sign and doing a full rocked-back stop at a stop sign. If a horse dribbles in, gives a long hesitation, and then still goes over, most jump judges will not call that a stop. If the horse comes in, slams on the brakes, and gives it a loooooong look, you’re stopped. You can still jump, but honestly, there’s no point: you’ve already picked up a stop, why not give your horse a good approach?


    1. I agree, I’ve never understood why anyone would want jump a fence with height from a standstill. Of course no one wants 20 penalties but you’re really asking for a wreck if you try to go over something once your forward momentum has already ceased. I’d be more inclined to want to a) save my neck b) give the horse a good experience by circling around and re-approaching.


  8. Hi, European lurker here, I’m really confused and have a question. Is there a difference between h/j’s and just normal showjumping/dressage (with normal I mean like it is practised on international circuits)? If someone can explain, that’d be great!
    And over here, the rules for showjumping and dressage are very similar to those in eventing. I’ve always had trouble shutting up in dressage. 😉 And you can’t have someone else warm up your horse, but they can ride it dry afterwards (such a pleasure as a young kid if you got to sit on the competition horses).


    1. Hunters really have their own set of unique rules. Straight jumpers and dressage rules are similar to eventing but not quite the same. Eventing is the only sport where you’re the only person allowed to ride the horse at the competition.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. GREAT post!! I’m a rule nerd. Can you go over the differences in tack and attire? (I’m familiar with eventing, but still figuring it out for hunters). I understand hunters require “traditional” tack and attire so you can get dinged for wearing a dressage coat or a safety vest, etc, right? What about jumpers?


  10. I haven’t evented properly in a while and nearly got a friend eliminated on the assistance rule because I yelled at her when she rode by on XC. I felt terrible then and yeah, definitely don’t say much now. 😉 Heckling is for at home, y’all.


  11. Interesting! I didn’t know many of those eventing rules. I’m surprised the circling before the timers in the jumper course was allowed, maybe it is different since it’s after the last jump, but during the course if you cross your path (circle) that is considered a penalty.

    Unless I’m in a flat class I usually am too zoned in on my riding to hear what anyone is saying to me. And the two trainers I’ve ridden with the longest don’t say much as I’m going around in lessons, they tend to let me figure it out on my own and then talk about it after the course is done. So in that way I’m pretty used to going it alone.

    At the show I was at last weekend they required anyone mounted at any time (Friday night included) to have their number on. But that is probably to prevent people from schooling without paying the schooling fee.

    That’s crazy how far in advance you have to sign up!! I now understand why you eventers all talk about sitting down with a calendar and planning out the season.


  12. I’m a h/j lifer contemplating dabbling in eventing and totally didn’t know a few of these – guess I’d better pick up a rulebook, stat. (Hi from a lurker who recently discovered your blog, by the way – your horse is too precious!)


  13. Oh how I wish only the person showing in the hj world was allowed to ride the horse. As an AA it drives me nuts seeing a trainer show the horse in the bigger class and then having to ride against the owner on the same horse who just did a round (or 5) with the trainer!!

    Blah!! Off soap box 🙂


  14. Great post!! Coming from H/J land I have SO MUCH TROUBLE shutting up when watching friends compete at events. 😦 Thankfully I’ve never caused anyone any penalties! Often I am there as ‘coach’ and will warm people up and help get them ready to go in the ring, and it is so hard for me to stop talking once they are in there! I’m also a really vocal rider in general and it takes a lot of willpower to keep my mouth shut in dressage. But as a rider who has never shown with a trainer, I REALLY appreciate the ‘no trainer rides’ rule! I feel it puts everyone on level footing.


  15. Thanks for putting this together!! As an eventer (umm, in case the username was a gimme, LOL), not only is this an excellent highlight/reminder of some very important rules, I think it provides a really nice window between the two worlds. I’ve been in both (and dressage), NEVER going back to hunters, omg — and just to be clear, I’m not saying that meanly, but I work full time & my personal time is priceless, GIVE ME RIDE TIMES OR GIVE ME DEATH! ;P

    Most (strong emphasis on most) of our eventing rules (which are actually the USEF Rules for Eventing, USEA does not make the rules themselves) are there to encourage safety, horsemanship, & a level playing field — the latter is another thing I much enjoy. Even though I can’t afford to compete much these days & mostly volunteer, when I do ride or even help run an event, I’ve been in the sport long enough to learn that really, you are not competing against other people, you are competing against yourself and (as a top level Course Designer said to me) against the courses. The diversity & complexity of a horse trial provides a lot of leveling as it is…I’ve watched Gold Medalists get lost on XC & horses are always horses: they don’t care what your name is if it’s not their day & they’re not feeling it! Over the years, I’ve noticed that element really builds a lot of the camraderie we enjoy!

    I totally agree though — that whole enter in advance thing SUCKS!


  16. Other than a few things like medical cards/ID bracelets (which I already wear), those rules are very similar, and in some case exact, with dressage rules. :0) The first time I went to a h/j show to watch some friends ride, I was HORRIFIED that the trainer was coaching from the side lines! At a dressage show I did last month, a rider gave a low “dammit” and was docked two points for speaking during her test. And the wearing of numbers, yup. Yours better be on from the second you check in at a dressage show.


  17. You are, however, allowed assistance from a bystander to get a leg up!!

    I wonder how the use of aids (spurs, whips) differs in eventing and h/j land. I was surprised to see the rules in the book regarding when it’s appropriate to smack your horse and when it’s not, do hunters have similar rules?


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