Express Eventing comprises three phases – dressage, showjumping and cross-country – but that is where the similarity to traditional eventing ends.
Dressage to music
The dressage phase of Express Eventing involves a radically different test for event riders with freestyle dressage to music. Riders are encouraged to express both their own personality and that of their horses through the music of their choice. There are a number of compulsory movements and riders need to demonstrate significant creative and musical flair to do well in this first phase.
Two dressage judges mark the technical competence of horse and rider and the accuracy with which they ride their test, while a third judge marks for artistic impression. After each test, the artistic judge shares his or her thoughts on the performance with the audience, before the total score is revealed.
The technical judges each provide a mark out of 25 (maximum total of 50 marks), while the artistic judge awards marks out of 30.The total score for each rider is then converted to penalties by subtracting the rider’s score from the maximum score possible (80 marks) to give a ‘penalty score’. So, for example, if the leading rider had a score of 77.5 marks, he or she will carry forward 2.5 penalties to the second phase of the competition.
Cross-country in an arena
The riders jump a course of solid natural fences ranging between 1.15m and 1.35m, depending on the type of jumping effort. Penalties are incurred for refusals, with 10 penalties for a first refusal, 15 for a second and elimination after the third. There is an optimum time of approximately 425 metres per minute, with riders needing to complete the course within five seconds, above or below, this optimum time to avoid additional penalties. Every second outside of this window incurs 0.25 penalties.
At the end of the cross-country phase, the penalties incurred by each horse and rider are added to the dressage penalties to give a new total score. This is then carried forward to the final phase of the competition.
Showjumping with a twist
Riders complete the day by attempting a 1.20m show jumping course, which tests how careful their horses really are after the cross-country. Every pole knocked down can prove expensive. To allow riders to climb the leader board, there is an alternative to the last fence on the course called the ‘eraser fence’. This is 10 to 15cm bigger than the rest of the course and those riders that jump it clear can erase four penalties from their score. However, if a rider attempts the fence and knocks it down, four penalty points are added to their score. The rider with the least penalty points after the showjumping is the overall winner of the competition.