The major championships in equestrian sport run in a four-year cycle.
Year 1: European Championships
Year 2: World Championships
Year 3: European Championships
Year 4: Olympic and Paralympic Games
The Olympic Games is overseen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), with British athletes competing for the British Olympic Association (BOA) under the banner of Team GB.
The Paralympic Games is overseen by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), with British athletes competing for the British Paralympic Association under the banner of ParalympicsGB.
All equestrian disciplines are run with input from the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for equestrian sport.
The next Olympic Games will be held in the Tokyo in the summer of 2021, following a 12-month postponement as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Each equestrian discipline at an Olympic and Paralympic Games has team and individual medals up for grabs, with gold, silver and bronze medals awarded to the combinations that make it onto the podium.
Vet inspections are carried out before the start of competition and again towards the end of competition to ensure that all horses are fit to compete.
Dressage is a test of horse and rider's ability to perform a range of movements in harmony, across the gaits of walk, trot and canter. Seven judges mark the test from different points around the arena, which measures 60m x 20m. At an Olympic Games, qualified nations can put forward teams of three horse and rider combinations, plus one travelling reserve who can be substituted in at any point until two hours prior to the start of the team final following illness or injury to a team horse or rider. If a nation isn’t able to qualify a team, they can put forward one individual horse and rider combination, subject to eligibility and qualification criteria.
The Grand Prix test used a qualifying event for the team and individual competitions. Combinations perform a set test, with judges marking each of the movements out of 10. The scores are then added up and combined with additional marks for the riders’ seat and aids, before being converted to an overall percentage score.
To decide the nations that qualify for the team final, the scores from all three team riders will be combined to produce a final overall score. The top eight teams, including any who are tied for eighth place, will qualify for the team final, the Grand Prix Special.
Riders compete in the Grand Prix in six groups, which are decided based on the FEI World Rankings list. To qualify for the individual final, riders must finish in the top two in their group, or be one of the six next best-placed combinations. If a qualified combination has to drop out before the individual final, the space will be filled by the next best-placed rider.
The top eight teams – a total of 24 combinations, assuming there isn’t a tie for eighth place – will ride the Grand Prix Special. This test is slightly more demanding than the Grand Prix test, but is scored in the same way. Riders must submit music to be played while they ride their test, but this isn’t judged as part of the competition.
The results of Grand Prix Special determine the allocation of the team medals, with all three scores counting towards the final result. No scores are carried forward from the previous round.
The top 18 combinations in the Grand Prix will go forwards to the Grand Prix Freestyle, following a rest day after the Grand Prix Special. The Freestyle test sees combinations ride a floorplan set to music of their choice, based on a list of required movements, with additional marks given for artistic merit and degree of difficulty.
The results of the Grand Prix Freestyle determine the allocation of the individual medals. No scores are carried from the previous rounds.
Eventing is a three-phase competition that's often likened to a triathlon. It's run over a period of four days and tests a combination's athleticism, bravery and harmony. The first two phases of team and individual competition are run concurrently, with separate rounds of the final phase being run for each competition.
Teams are made up of three horse and rider combinations, plus one reserve combination who can be substituted in during the competition provided certain criteria is met. All three scores count towards the team medals, and horses and riders must complete the competition together as a pairing.
All combinations complete a predetermined test of movements in front of three judges. The judges award marks out of ten for each movement and, after combining the scores to give an overall percentage score, the score is then converted into penalty points (the higher the percentage, the lower the penalty score). For example, a percentage score of 70.00% becomes a penalty score of 30.00
Competitors tackle a course of around 40 solid obstacles, which can include logs, ditches, water, drops and corners. Penalties are incurred during this phase for a refusal, a run-out (at a fence) or for exceeding the time allowed, and these are added to the combination’s dressage score. Falls of horse or rider results in elimination.
Following a vet inspection to ensure that all horses are still fit to compete, combinations take on a short course of colourful fences. Penalties are added to their score for knocking down an obstacle, refusal at a fence or exceeding the optimum time. Riders can be eliminated for a second refusal or a fall.
The first showjumping round on the final day will decide the team medals, with the winning team being the one with the lowest combined three scores from all three phases.
A second showjumping round is run later on the same day to decide the individual medals. It is open to the top 25 combinations at the conclusion of the team showjumping round. Combinations must have completed all three of the previous phases, rather than coming in part-way through as a substitution. Scores are carried over from the previous rounds, and the combination with the lowest total score will win.
The individual winner is the combination with the lowest number of penalty points accrued across the competition. In the team event, the scores of the three best-placed riders are added together to calculate the overall result.
The showjumping competition is contested over several rounds to decide team and individual honours. Combinations tackle set courses of at least 12 knockable obstacles, some of which might have multiple elements, with the aim being to leave the fences up and finish inside the optimum time. Nations can put forward a team of three combinations, plus one reserve combination who can be substituted in between the team qualifying and final rounds, with the three highest scores counting towards the final team result.
All competitors contest the first round, which acts as a qualifier for the individual final. There is no jump-off in this round, and competitors must complete the course within the specified time or accrue time penalties. The combinations are ranked from lowest score to highest, with equal placings permitted.
The 30 best-placed combinations after the qualifying round will go through to the individual final, although the number can be increased if there’s a tie for 30th place. If a horse or rider is unable to content the final round, they will be replaced with the next best-placed combination.
No scores are carried over for the individual final, with all combinations starting on a score of zero. Once all combinations have jumped, the medals will be decided by the riders with the fewest accrued penalty points – in the event of a tie for first, second or third place, a jump-off against the clock will be used to decide the final placings.
The first round of the team competition follows a similar format to the qualifying round of the individual competition. All 20 teams will take part – a total of 60 riders – and no scores will be carried forward from the individual competition. The placings will be decided based on the combined penalty points accrued across the team, with the team with the lowest combined score awarded the highest placing.
The 10 best-placed teams will go through to the team final. In the event of an equal placing for the last qualification spot, the combined times of the combinations in the previous round will be used as a tie-breaker. If a horse or rider isn’t able to contest the final round, teams can substitute in their reserve combination up to two hours before the start of the team final. Teams that withdraw before the start of the final round will not be replaced.
All combinations start the final round on a score of zero. Once all teams have jumped, the medals will be decided by combining the accrued penalties of all team members. In the event that there’s a tie for first place, a jump-off against the clock will be used to decide the medals. All three combinations on a team will jump, but only the fastest time will count. For any other equal placings, the combined times and penalties for each combination on the team will be used to decide the ranking.