Gear Riding Tips

4 Best Eventing Watches for Cross-Country Countdowns

eventing watches
Written by Holly N.

Competition time waits for no man… err, horse!

Eventing challenges a horse and rider combination arguably more than any other discipline. You need a horse with the dexterity and discipline to complete a dressage test, and the speed, bravery, and jumping ability required to complete a cross-country course.

One of the most challenging parts of eventing is completing a long cross-country course within the optimum time. How can a rider manage their time both during training sessions and on-course? With an eventing watch, of course! We’ll review four top watches that excel in the eventing space to help you make an educated decision.

Eventing 101

Eventing is a challenging competition that combines dressage, cross-country jumping, and show jumping.

To be successful, you need a horse that combines athleticism with a positive mental attitude.

What horses are used for cross-country?

Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods dominate in cross-country events, alongside Thoroughbred crosses like the Irish Sport horse.

horse eventing watches

source: canva

How fast do horses go in cross country?

The speed you travel around a cross-country course will depend on your experience.

Novice horses are expected to travel between 11 to 18 mph, while advanced horses will reach speeds of approximately 21 mph.

  • Phase1: Dressage (get our rookie guide here)
  • Phase 2: Cross Country (keep reading!)
  • Phase 3: Showjumping (get our rookie guide here)

The cross-country phase of an eventing competition challenges the endurance, confidence, and bravery of each horse and rider combination.

Not only do you have to clear a series of challenging obstacles, but you also need to complete the course within a specified time.

That means traveling at a consistent speed for the duration of the course, which is usually between two and three quarters to four miles long. You will be penalized for going too fast, as well as too slow, so timing is critical.

Best Watches for Eventers

The best watches for eventers enable them to keep track of their time, as well as the optimum time for the course while competing. A basic stopwatch can help you get an idea of your pace, but it won’t tell you when you exceed the optimum time.

The best watches for eventing also need to have a clear visual display, be simple to adjust using gloved hands and be comfortable enough to wear for the duration of the cross-country phase.

It also helps to have a watch that is waterproof!

Waterproof gear

Photo Cred: Canva

How do you use an eventing watch?

Before leaving the start box, enter the optimum time into your watch. Add on 5 seconds so you can start the watch just before you set off, rather than as you leave.

The time on the watch will run down, displaying the remaining time left. If you go over the optimum time the watch will start counting up.

Many models also beep at specific intervals so you can gauge how many time penalties you’ve incurred without taking your eyes off the course.

Price Points for Eventing Watches

Category Top Pick Price Point Key Features
Best Sport-Specific Watch Optimum Time Ultimate Event Watch $$ Large LCD; counts up and down; waterproof
Best on a Budget Casio G-Shock $ Waterproof and shock resistant
Best Battery Life Coros APEX Premium Multisport GPS Watch $$$$ GPS and fitness tracking features; large display; long battery life
Best Smartwatch Apple Watch Series 8 $$$$ Waterproof, crack resistant; tracks training sessions; accurately times events

$: < 101 $$: 101 – 200 $$$: 201 – 300 $$$$: > 301

Best Sport-Specific Watch: Optimum Time Ultimate Event Watch

The Optimum Time Ultimate Event Watch has large buttons that make it easy to use, even if you’re wearing gloves. It also has a large display which you can see easily while riding. You can change the angle of the watch face to improve visibility even further.

Simple to use, it counts the minutes down, letting you know how much time you’ve got left, and then starts counting up so you know exactly how many time penalties you’ve incurred.

It’s completely waterproof so will survive a fall into a water obstacle, and is robust enough to withstand the rough and tumble of the cross-country course.

optimum time watch

Click to see it at Amazon

A wide, elasticated band makes this watch comfortable to wear and keeps it securely on your wrist.

When the optimum time is complete, the watch will beep to let you know it’s switching to count-up mode. This could be distracting if it goes off in the middle of a complex combination.

There’s not a lot to this watch, but its simplicity is part of its charm. There are no unnecessary functions or buttons to confuse you, meaning you can focus on the course and let the watch worry about the time.

You’ll Love It If You:

  • Want to gauge your pace and rhythm
  • Consistently ride too fast
  • Plan to practice riding at a specific pace

You Might Want to Skip It If You:

  • Get easily distracted by noises and beeps while riding

See it at Amazon

Best Budget Watch for Eventers: Casio G-Shock

This multi-function sport watch includes a countdown timer and a standard stopwatch, making it ideal for eventing. It’s shock-resistant and waterproof, so will continue to work even after a bad fall or an incident at a water obstacle.

The Casio G-shock has a much smaller display than the Optimum Time Ultimate Event Watch, which could make it difficult to read while riding. It also has more functions, modes, and buttons, making it more challenging to operate.

eventing watch

Click to see it at Amazon

This latest offering is lighter and more comfortable than earlier versions of the Casio G-shock but retains the budget price tag and shock-absorbency that made the G-shock so popular in the first place.

You’ll Love It If You:

  • Want to train at a certain pace
  • Consistently incur time penalties at events
  • Struggle to find a strong rhythm on the course

You Might Want to Skip It If You:

  • Find multiple functions and modes confusing

See it at Amazon

Best Battery Life: Coros Apex GPS Watch

This watch was designed for endurance athletes and, as such, meets the needs of most eventers. It has a large display and an intuitive dial that allows you to navigate through the different screens without having to deal with any fiddly buttons.

Not only will this watch keep track of your time, but it will also keep you on track with its GPS capabilities and breadcrumb navigation.

It’s tough and waterproof but surprisingly easy on the eye, unlike the rather clunky design of the Optimum Time Ultimate Event Watch. Aside from its looks, it’s the battery life of the Coros Apex GPS watch that really sets it apart.

eventing watch

Click to see it at Amazon

In certain modes, you can use this watch for up to 100 hours, even with the GPS turned on, which is long enough for you to complete around 60 cross-country courses! In its regular mode, it will last for up to 30 days without being recharged.

Although the Coros Apex GPS watch doesn’t have a specific horse-riding mode, it will track distance and time effectively, making it suitable for cross-country events.

The large screen gives excellent visibility, especially outside, so you can quickly check on your time, pace, and direction without letting go of the reins.

You’ll Love It If You:

  • Like having a map of the course when competing
  • Want a cross-country watch that doubles up as a fitness tracker
  • Need to track multiple sports

You Might Want to Skip It If You:

  • Only want a watch for cross-country, and you’re on a tight budget

See it at Amazon

Best Smartwatch for Eventing: Apple Watch Series 8

The Apple Watch is jam-packed with useful features for the horse rider and can accurately time events with its handy stopwatch capabilities.

You can use this watch to track your training sessions as well. Either select the Equestrian Sports workout or install an app like Equilab to get more information about your horse’s paces and speed.

eventing watch

Click to see it at Amazon

The Apple Watch Series 8 also includes a route mapping function that you can use to get a better idea of the course and the distance between fences.

This intuitive watch will not only withstand a heavy fall, but it will also send out an alert to let others know you’re in trouble.

Waterproof and crack-resistant, it’s more than robust enough to survive a cross-country event.

You’ll Love It If You:

  • Want to track your performance when training as well as competing
  • Struggle to remember the best route
  • Desire to improve your cross-country times

You Might Want to Skip It If You:

  • Already have a smartwatch
  • Are shopping on a budget; this is the most expensive watch on our list!

See it at Amazon

Measuring Time in Eventing

When you walk a cross-country course, you need to pay attention to the terrain, not just the obstacles.

Some sections might be slow, with steep inclines, twists, turns, and more challenging fences. Look out for faster portions where you can potentially make up lost time.

These will be parts of the course where there are fewer fences and longer gallops in between.


How does optimum time work in cross country?

Once the course is completed, a technical delegate uses a measuring wheel to assess the course’s length. That person will follow the most direct route, except where there are alternatives available. In these cases, they measure the line the average horse and rider is most likely to take.

The course distance is then divided by the speed the competitors are expected to travel at, to arrive at the optimum time in minutes.

If you’re riding at the top level, a 5,700m cross-country course should be ridden at 570 meters per minute (mpm), which means you should complete the course in 10 minutes (5,700/570=10). For each second over the optimum time, you’ll receive a 0.4-time penalty.

Courses for novice competitors are usually shorter, and the expected speed slower. In other words, you would expect to complete a 3,640m course in approximately 7 minutes, assuming you were traveling at the ideal pace of 520 mpm.

Managing Your Pace on Course

To achieve the optimum time in a cross-country event, you need to maintain a good rhythm and keep your lines tight. You should always know the optimum speed for the level you’re competing at and be familiar with your horse’s usual pace when traveling up and downhill, on the flat, and over fences.

Ideally, you should walk the course and note down your minute markers as you walk.

A watch with a stopwatch function is a useful tool, especially if you use it to familiarize yourself with your horse’s pace before the competition.


Photo Cred: Canva

What is a good gallop pace for cross country?

The best gallop pace for a cross-country course depends on your level of experience. This table summarizes the various levels and corresponding speeds:

Level Speed (mpm) Speed (mph) Speed (kph)
Beginner Novice 300 – 350 11 – 13 18 – 21
Novice 350 – 400 13 – 15 21 – 24
Preliminary 520 19 31.2
Advanced 570 21 34.2

How do you keep your horse on pace for cross country?

Rhythm is the key to riding inside the time,” according to international event rider Francis Whittington. He recommends choosing a rhythm and sticking with it. If you practice consistently, you’ll be able to engage your inner clock when competing, helping you find the perfect pace.

When training, use the full range of paces available and practice changing gear to encourage your horse to become more responsive.

You also need to be aware of losing time on landing. Many riders take the first four strides after a fence to assess how the jump went, which can cost valuable time. British Eventing Accredited Trainer, Sally Billing, believes “It’s better to gallop away positively than head into a fence too fast.

How do you make up time on a cross-country course?

Ride positively into fences rather than wasting time setting your horse for every obstacle. If you ride into non-combination fences at a gallop, you can save valuable seconds that you can use at some of the more challenging combinations.

Start at a strong pace, that way, if you encounter difficulties later in the course, you already have some time in hand.

When walking the course, you can get a better idea of the terrain by looking behind you as well as in front. This will give you a clearer picture of the most direct route, shaving seconds off your time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do you gallop in cross-country?

Contestants gallop at between 11 and 21 mph when competing in novice to advanced cross-country events.

Q: Can you wear a stopwatch BE80?

Since 2016, British Eventing permits the use of stopwatches in all affiliated eventing classes, even at an introductory level.

Q: How do I change the battery in my optimum watch?

  1. Remove your watch from the outer clip
  2. Use a small screwdriver to remove the backing
  3. Replace the old battery with a new one, making sure the positive contact faces up
  4. Replace the case, ensuring the O ring seal is in the correct position

Parting Thoughts

An eventing watch is one way of improving your cross-country times and eliminating those pesky time penalties.

Not everyone feels comfortable using a watch and some top-class competitors, like Mark Corbett, worry that they may cause riders to “focus too much on time and not enough on their jumping.”

If you practice with an eventing watch, however, especially one designed for the purpose like the Optimum Time Ultimate Event

Watch, it can give you a better understanding of pace and rhythm, both of which are critical if you want to ride within the optimum time.

You can also use GPS and smartwatches to keep track of your time, although these are unlikely to give you the countdown and count-up options that make the Optimum Time Ultimate Event Watch so effective.

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About the author


Holly started riding as a six years old in the UK and competed regularly in local events, including showjumping, cross country, showing, working hunter, and gymkhana. She now lives and rides in South Africa, working as a trail guide with Wild Coast Horseback Adventures. Her interests are primarily in the areas of DIY horse ownership, trail riding, barefoot horses, endurance, competitive trail riding, and South African breeds.