An eventing competition that resembles the current sport was first held in 1902, at the Championnat du Cheval d’Armes in France, the first occurrence of eventing in the Olympics was in 1912 when Count Clarence von Rosen, Master of the Horse to the King of Sweden, devised the first event.
The object of the event was to test Cavalry Officers’ chargers for their fitness and suitability. Dressage originally demonstrated the horse’s ability to perform on the parade ground, where elegance and obedience were key. Cross-country began as a test of stamina, courage, and bravery over difficult terrain, important for a charger on long marches or if the horse was asked to carry a dispatch across country. The show jumping phase sought to prove the horse’s continuing soundness and fitness after the difficult cross-country day.
The Olympic eventing competition was originally open only to male military officers in active duty, mounted only on military charges. Each Cavalry Officer was required to carry 182 pounds and ride with a double bridle except for the steeplechase. On the first day, each rider had to complete a long distance ride of 33 miles followed by a cross-country test of three miles over natural obstacles with a 15-minute time limit. On the second day, officers rode over a steeplechase course. The third day was devoted to show ring jumping, and the fourth day to dressage. The ten minute dressage test utilized seven judges. The test included a collected and fast walk, collected and fast trot, rein back, gallop, pirouette and jumping. Reins could be held in either one or both hands.
In 1920, in Antwerp, the test was changed a little. The dressage phase was eliminated and another endurance phase added. The first phase was 28 miles of roads and tracks followed by a three-mile cross-country course over eighteen natural obstacles to be completed in a total time of three and a half hours. 12 1/2 minutes of the total time were allotted for cross-country. This was followed by a day of rest, which was followed by another endurance test of 12 miles of roads and tracks to be completed in an hour. A 2.4-mile steeplechase ridden at 550 meters per minutes followed on the third day. After another rest day, an obstacle jumping course was ridden.
The Paris Olympics in 1924, established the present pattern for the three-day event. The dressage included six-meter circles; half pass, halts, rein back, and many transitions up and down between ordinary and extended gaits. The only difference between the present three-day test was a Phase E at the end, which was a run-in of 1.25 miles to cool the horse down.
The teams for the Olympic Equestrian Games were furnished by the army. The army in those days had 14 regiments of horse cavalry, thousands of horses, and a cavalry school at Fort Riley, Kansas. The teams turned out by the army had some success. In the first Equestrian Games in Stockholm the USA was third behind Sweden and Germany. The U.S. Team was fourth at Antwerp in 1920, and Major Sloan Doak was the individual bronze medalist in Paris in 1924. The U.S. won the team gold medal at Los Angeles in 1932 and Lt. Earl F. Thomson was the individual silver medalist. Click for complete U.S. Olympic Results.
The first civilian three-day event held in the U.S. took place in 1949 and was run in conjunction with the Bryn Mawr Horse Show. In 1953, it was decided to organize a miniature event based on the Olympic three-day formula. Rules were written, and a course was developed at the steeplechase course in Nashville in 1953. There was only one level, which would equate to the training level under current standards. The trial was a huge success and it became the first continuous one-day event.
Eventing continued mostly unchanged until 1963 when the 10-minute halt was introduced, to occur after the completion of phases A, B, and C. It took place in a marked out area (the 10-minute box), where the horse was checked by two judges and one veterinary official who would make sure the horse was fit to continue onto phase D. If the horse was unfit, the panel would pull it from the competition.
In 1967 Phase E was also eliminated from the competition. The next major change did not occur until 2004 and 2005, with the creation of the “short” or “modified format,” which excluded phases A, B, and C from endurance day. The last Olympic Games that included the long, or “classic”, three-day format was the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, while Rolex Kentucky, the Badminton Horse Trials, and Burghley Horse Trials ran their last long format three-day in 2005. The short format is now the standard for all international competitions.