FAQ Riding

3-Day Eventing: Learn the Lingo

Eventing terminology for horse shows
Written by Michelle Greene

Master the Terminology of Three Day Eventing

The Kentucky 3 Day Event, America’s most famous eventing competition, celebrated its forty-fourth year at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington in 2022. If you’re interested in this sport, as a rider or spectator, you may feel overwhelmed by the ‘foreign language’ athletes use.

In this article, we will break down key vocabulary for this exciting discipline, so you’re prepared for the next big event!

What is eventing?

Eventing is a shortened version of the term “3-Day Event” and it encompasses all three disciplines in a combined trial.

The Three Phases:

#1 Dressage

The word “dressage” is a French word that means “training.” In a dressage test, a horse and rider execute a predetermined pattern that showcases their partnership through balance, flexibility, and obedience.

Dressage is in itself an Olympic sport and the FEI states it is the highest form of horse training. But it is also the first phase of a 3-Day Event, or combined trial.

Learn about Dressage in our Rookie Guide

#2 Cross-Country

Cross-Country is the 3-Day Events’ most iconic section. This test of endurance and skill has horse and rider traveling on a course jumping over natural obstacles and even going through water.

It is the second phase of a 3-Day Event and is only found in this sport.

Horses can receive points for refusals (e.g. 20 points for the first refusal, 40 for the second refusal).

#3 Show Jumping

In the final phase of a 3-day event, you will see a horse and rider enter an arena and attempt to complete a course of obstacles within the time. If a horse jumps clear and in the time allowed, they have “no faults.”

These jumps, in contrast to the cross-country phase, are brightly colored and rails can be easily dropped.

In fact, a dropped rail is a fault and will affect a rider’s total time/score. Show Jumping is also a separate Olympic sport.

Learn about Show Jumping in our Rookie Guide

How is eventing scored?

In eventing, each phase is scored separately and then all of the scores are tallied together.

The dressage score is the most complicated to score—as each movement gets a score and then it is divided by a percentage. It is important to know that unlike the traditional dressage competition, the lower the dressage score is in an Eventing competition—the better.

If you’d like a detailed conversion chart check this one out from US Eventing.

Both show jumping and cross-country are scored by faults and time.


Dressage. Photo Cred: Canva

Dressage Terminology


This is what you use to cue your horse. Aids can be your legs, hands, or even a dressage whip.

Flying Change

This is when a horse is cantering on one lead and then switches to the other mid-stride. This often occurs across a diagonal in a dressage test.


When a horse and rider are completing a leg-yield the horse is moving both forward and sideways. This is considered a basic lateral movement for dressage.


As defined by FEI Dressage, “Rein-back is a rearward diagonal movement with a two-beat rhythm but without a moment of suspension.

Each diagonal pair of legs is raised and returned to the ground alternately, with the forelegs aligned on the same track as the hind legs”.

If you’re a visual learner, here is a video from Dressage Hub.


Is also known as haunches in. This is when a horse bends in the line of movement. The haunches move into the inside track in the direction the horse is moving. This is the first step of learning a half-pass.


Once you have an understanding of the travers, you can begin to work on the half-pass. While a travers is on a straight line, a half-pass is the same movement but across a diagonal.


This impressive move is when a horse stays in one place and their forehand moves in a full circle. Pirouette is a French term used in ballet for a turn, and it really does look like the horse is turning! This move can be completed at the walk or canter.


This move requires absolute balance, cadence, and collection. In this move, the horse “trots” but does not move forward.


Performed in upper level dressage tests, this movement is an extremely powerful and impulsive trot. It is most notably characterized by extension of the forehand.

Cross country gallop

Cross country gallop. Photo Cred: Canva

Cross Country Terminology

Optimum Time

Plainly put, the optimum time of a cross country course is the best time frame for completion by the horse and rider. Depending on what level you compete at, your optimum time will change. You can find all the timetables for different levels here.

Time Limit

This is the maximum time allowed to complete a course. If you go over the time limit, you will be eliminated.


A ditch is an obstacle that is an opening in the ground. They are usually rectangular in shape and are marked with poles at the front and back so you can see the width of the ditch.


A drop jump has a distinct change in downward elevation and is often found at the tops of hills in a course. This jump requires a great partnership as the horse won’t be able to see the landing easily at the top of the drop.

This jump shouldn’t be practiced often (it puts a lot of stress and strain on your horse) and when you do a drop jump, you should treat it unlike any other jump—you don’t want a lot of speed or arch to this type of jump.


Imagine giant stairsteps carved into the side of a hill. This is, essentially, a set of banks. Banks can be jumped going upward or downward.


A refusal is when a horse does not jump the obstacle. You also see refusals in show jumping.


In contrast to a complete refusal, where the horse stops, a run-out is when a horse moves out of the way of the jump.

Water Obstacle

This is an all-encompassing term for any part of the course with water. Sometimes, a water obstacle will just be the water itself, and the horse and rider will need to go through it.

Other times, there may be a jump that drops into water and the pair will need to go through the water and then jump out of it. (Personally, I think water obstacles are the most fun to watch!)


This is shorthand for cross-country.

Hunter Trials

These are cross-country only events for the horse and rider! They have varied levels of competition.

Log fence

Log fence. Photo Cred: Canva

Log Fence

This is an obstacle that is made up of a horizontal tree trunk, or a configuration of multiple horizontal tree trunks for added height if you are competing at a higher level.


This jump is shaped like a triangle, and the horse is asked to jump over the pointed area of the jump. Ideally, you will jump the more narrow part of the corner. This is a really great video about preparing for and riding your horse through a corner jump.


A coffin jump is a variation of a ditch, with a raised vertical on either side.


This style of jump looks like a ramp. The ramp can begin on the ground or can be elevated. Also, in more advanced courses, you can find a ditch in front of this type of jump.


This is a set of banks or could refer to a step table, which is a jump with a large spread that has steps incorporated into the design.

Brush Fence

Take a vertical jump—add an excess of greenery and you’ve got yourself a brush jump! These often look like a hedge with small wooden elements. Sometimes, these jumps are intricately trimmed and can even create shapes!

Tyre Fence

These jumps have some kind of tire involved in their construction. At lower levels, it may be a collection of tires in a row.

Roll Top

These jumps have a table-like appearance, but the top section of the jump is curved (hence the name). This is an inviting jump and variations of this can be seen in the hunter ring.

Roll top fence

Roll top fence. Photo Cred: Canva

Show Jumping Terminology


The most common jump, a vertical, is a single pole/bar between two standards.


These jumps are two verticals right next to each other—this creates a wider jump (or spread). This style of jump is common in both showjumping and cross-country courses.

Jumping oxer

Jumping oxer. Photo Cred: Canva


Standards are the pieces of a jump on either side that hold the middle pole up. Standards are often made of wood and have multiple holes drilled so that the jump cups can be raised and lowered to different heights.


A round is a course completed by one horse and rider pair.

Walking the Course

When a rider walks the course, they are going around the arena, usually in the pattern of the course, and measuring strides between jumps, looking at the obstacles, and making a plan for the best way to execute their round.


This is a term that is used when there are multiple jumps in a row that are jumped in quick succession. A triple combination would have three jumps—and they are noted on the course as Jump 13a–13b–13c.


A bounce is a combination of two jumps that have no strides between the two obstacles. The horse will land and then immediately jump the next jump.


A knockdown happens when a rail falls while a horse and rider are jumping an obstacle. In the show jumping phase, a knockdown equals four faults.


A rollback has the horse and rider start in one direction of the course and then quickly turn (or roll) in a different direction to complete the second jump.


There are two different types of jumps referred to as jokers:

  • The first kind is a jump that is natural in color (instead of brightly painted), so it is harder for a horse to judge the height and spread.
  • The second kind is a special jump that is a little taller than all other jumps in a round. If you complete the joker jump during a specific round, you receive more points.
Show jumping

Show jumping. Photo Cred: Canva

Fun Facts: The USEA requires three horse inspections plus vet exams during the course of a 3-Day Event. These occur before dressage, after phase C of the cross-country course, a full vet exam immediately after the cross-country phase, and before the show jumping phase.

Parting Thoughts

Three different disciplines, full of their own terminology and challenges, come together in Eventing to create an amazing showcase of athleticism, endurance, and partnership!

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About the author


Michelle Greene

Michelle began riding through Pony Club at age 5 and continued training through high school. After a hiatus for school and family, she's now back in the saddle with her hunter/jumper.