The Competition

Vicarage Vee FenceBadminton Horse Trials is one of the toughest and most exciting equestrian events – the pinnacle of the world’s 3-Day-Event calendar. As the name suggests horses and riders complete the competition over 3 days, each day consisting of a different discipline or phase.

Horses and riders must complete a dressage test demonstrating Obedience, Discipline, Accuracy and Elegance. They need to be fit and athletic to complete a 4 mile cross country ride jumping solid man-made and natural obstacles within a set time. Finally they must complete a course of show-jumps designed to test their agility and accuracy at speed.

Before commencing the competition each horse is “trotted up” before an inspection panel of a vet and the Ground Jury to ensure the horse is sound and fit enough to compete (The First Inspection). A further inspection takes place the morning after the cross-country phase prior to the Jumping test. This ensures horses are still sound and fit enough to complete the competition (The Final Inspection).

International Events are graded according to level of difficulty. The higher the grade the more complex and physically demanding each phase becomes. Stars are awarded to indicate the Event’s Grade. Badminton is a 5 Star Event, the highest grade and one of only 7 such events in the world. Badminton is the oldest and generally accepted as the most prestigious  event.

Both riders and horses must qualify by completing other similar grade events in order to compete at Badminton. Qualification can take several years to achieve.



Phase One: Dressage (Thursday & Friday)

William Fox-Pitt - DressageDressage is the first phase of a 3-Day-Event where riders must complete a ‘test’ of set movements between markers in a dressage arena.  Badminton’s Dressage test contains 26 movements of varying complexity. The ‘test’ is judged by 3 judges (the Ground Jury) sitting at different points of the arena. Each movement carries a maximum of 10 marks; additional “collective” marks out of 10 are awarded for Paces, Impulsion, Submission & Rider giving a total maximum possible score of 300 good marks. Penalties are added for failing to perform movements and ‘errors of course’
The average score from the three judges is then expressed in two ways, as a percentage (Good Marks), which enables spectators at a glance to see how well each rider has performed; and as a penalty score (bad marks), which enables the score to be used with the cross country and show jumping penalties to add to a Final Score.
The Penalty score is calculated thus:
(Average Good Marks Percentage – 100+ Errors) X 1.5 = Penalty Score
e.g. (75.6 – 100 + 0) x 1.5 = 36.6 (example below)
This coefficient is designed to apply the desired influence the dressage phase should have on the competition as a whole. This co-efficient is set by the Sport’s Governing Body (FEI).  The lower the penalty score the better.
With between 80 and 90 riders competing, some riding two horses, the Dressage Phase is held over 2 days (Friday & Saturday).

Faults / Errors
100 LORD KILLINGHURST Andrew Nicholson (NZL) 231 77% 239 79.67% 226 75.33% 77.33% 32.6 1
92 CORNERMAN Pippa Funnell 205 68.3% 211 70.3% 220 73.31% 70.61% 39.4 2


Technical Details:

The dressage arena is 20m x 60m situated in the main arena. Various points in the arena are marked with letters so that the rider (& judges) knows where each movement is to be performed.  Each test takes approx. 7 ½ minutes. The letters H, C, B above refer to the position of each judge, ie that they are sitting close to that particular letter that marks a spot around the dressage arena.

The penalty score is carried forward to the Cross Country Phase.

Phase Two: Cross Country Test (Saturday)

Andrew Nicholson - Cross CountryThe Cross Country Test is the most physically demanding and exciting phase of the competition.  There are about 45 “Jumping Efforts” on the course. Penalty marks are added at the rate of 0.4 for every second exceeding the optimum time which is deliberately difficult to achieve.  A time limit of twice the optimum time is also imposed.  Exceeding this time limit carries automatic elimination. Penalty points accrued during the cross country test are designed to have the greatest influence on the overall competition. It must be completed at an average speed of 570 metres per minute as laid down in the Rules. This calculated with the length of the course provides the optimum time. Penalty marks are added for each second over the optimum time.

Faults/Errors Penalty
1st Refusal at a fence 20 points
2nd Refusal at a fence 40 points
3rd Refusal on the Course Elimination
Fall of Horse and/or rider Elimination

Results Example

No. Horse Rider Dressage Cross Country Show Jump Total Diff. Place
Pens. Place Pens Place Jump Time Pens
96 TAMARILLO William Fox-Pitt 35.4 (2) 21.6 (1) 4 61.0 1
100 LORD KILLINGHURST Andrew Nicholson (NZL) 32.6 (1) 28.8 (2) 0 61.4 0.4 2

The penalty marks accumulated for the cross country test are added to the dressage penalty marks and carried forward to the jumping test on the final day.

Phase Three: Jumping Test (Sunday)

William Fox-Pitt - Show JumpingAfter the physical demands of cross country day, horses and riders must then demonstrate speed, accuracy and agility in the jumping test by completing a course of show jumps up to 1.30m high and as wide as 2.30m. This requires both horse and rider to be extremely fit and calm. Many events are won and lost on the final day when the pressure is on in front of the 16,000 or so spectators filling the arena. Further penalties can be picked up for knocking down the delicately balanced fences or not completing within the optimum time.


Faults/Errors Penalty
1st Refusal/disobedience 4 points
2nd Refusal/disobedience Elimination
Knocking down an obstacle 4 points
Fall of Horse and/or rider Elimination
Time Faults see technical details

Any penalties are added to the score carried forward to provide the final results.

Results Example
No. Horse Rider Dressage Cross Country Show Jump Total
Pens. Place Pens. Place Jump Time Pens. Diff. Place
96 TAMARILLO William Fox-Pitt 35.4 (2) 21.6 (1) 4 61.0 1
100 LORD KILLINGHURST Andrew Nicholson (NZL) 36.6 (1) 28.8 (2) 0 61.4 +0.4 2


Average Speed Distance Optimum Time Excess Time Penalty per sec. Jumping Efforts Maximum Fence Height
375mpm 500 – 600 m 80 – 96 secs 1 15 1.30m