The first recognized level of eventing is novice level. Horses must be at least 4 years old. This level is designed as an introduction to the sport for both competitor and horse.
In the dressage phase, the test requires the rider to be able to demonstrate correct working gaits at the trot and canter, as well as medium, and free walk on long rein. Figures may include 10-meter half-circles and 20-meter circles at the trot and canter. Finally, the rider must demonstrate the ability to stretch the horse's frame on a long rein-affectionately known as the "stretchy circle" where the horse exhibits the pull of the reins from out of the rider's hand while lengtheningthe horse's frame and stretching down and out while remain his pace and balance on a 20 meter circle at the trot.
The cross-country course may include "relatively simple, straightforward obstacles, solid in appearance, and with true ground lines" which "invite bold, forward movement to provide a positive experience." Solid fences are a maximum of 2'11, with brush fences being allowed at 3'3, and a maximum spread of 4'11. Drop fences can be no more than 3'11. Only combinations of two strides or greater are allowed (no bounces or one-strides) and the fences must be straightforward. Questions such as ditches and water must be in their simplest form: ditches are only riveted on the take-off side, and water is normally a simple flagged pass through a puddle. There can be a small drop into water over a riveted bank (or a small bank out of the water) but these may only be 20 inches in height. No other obstacles in and out of water are permitted for novice. Speed at novice is 300 to 400 meters per minute-the equivalent of a good show jumping canter or hand gallop, and there can be 12 to 20 jumping efforts. Fence numbers are black on a white background.
Show jumping allows for 8 to 12 jumps, including verticals and oxers, and one combination with two jumps (no triples). All fences must have true ground lines, and are jumped at 300 meters per minute, or show hunter round canter. Water jumps, banks, slopes, and ramps are not permitted.
Training level is designed as a progressive step of greater difficulty than novice though still straightforward and simple. The dressage test is meant to demonstrate deeper understanding of the mechanics of the horse and dressage and may require lengthening of the stride at the trot and canter, as well as introducing the 10-meter trot circles and 15-meter canter circles.
Cross-country may be more technically difficult than that at novice, but will not be too demanding as the horse and rider are still considered to be at an elementary stage of training. Solid fences may be 3'3 in height, with brush fences at 3'11 and a maximum spread of 3'11. Speed is 400 to 450 meters per minute, more reminiscent of a true gallop or hunting pace, though far from racing speed. One-stride combinations and triple combinations are now allowed, but bounces are not, though you can have "bounce steps" or a combination of banks up or down with a bounce distance between them (up banks are 3'3, down banks nor more than 4'7). Corners and false ground lines are not permitted. The water fence may become more complex, including a true jumping effort on the in or the out, but not both. The larger obstacle can be 2'8, but the opposite one must be no more than 1'8. Fence numbers are white on a black background.
Show jumping requires two doubles, or a double and a triple combination. It may include banks. It may not include water jumps, slopes, ramps, or obstacles with false ground lines.
Preliminary horse trials are designed to test horse and rider in a regular training program; it is also considered the first stepping-stone of international or FEI-level competition. Riders must be at 14 years of age, and horses at least 5.
The dressage test may require medium gaits at the trot and canter and the introduction of the leg yield, shoulder in, rein back and changes of lead through the trot and ten meter circles may be used to demonstrate suppleness and balance.
Cross-country is meant to test the application of skills on the flat to fences at speed -- lengthening and shortening of stride, balance and suppleness on sharper turns, and boldness and athletic ability of horse and rider. Corner fences and narrows are introduced, as well as more substantial banks, a two or three stride sunken road, and a simple bounce. Speed is 520 meters per minute-a true forward hunting pace, with 18 to 28 fences. Solid fences are 3'7, brush fences are 4'3, and maximum spread is 6'7. Drops may be 5'3. Fence numbers are white on a green background.
Show jumping at preliminary tests accuracy and control over fences. Fences are larger and more difficult, and combinations play a greater role, though bounces are not permitted. Undulating terrain with slopes and ramps can be introduced.
Intermediate truly begins to require a horse and rider that "have it all." The horse must have obedience, speed, boldness, agility and scope. The rider must have the technical proficiency to bring out these qualities in the horse. Because of this, Intermediate is the first level which requires certain qualifications to compete. Horses and riders must have completed at least four preliminary horse trials (three of which without cross-country penalties) in the previous 24 months. Riders must be 16 years old, and horses must be five.
The dressage test begins to really test the finite controls of the rider over the horse, including medium and collected gaits. The canter work specifically becomes more complicated, with walk-canter transitions, canter-halt, simple changes and counter-canter among the new requirements.
Cross-country begins to ask more terrain questions, and includes more difficult combinations, including bounce combinations. Accuracy and adjustability become more important. Water jumps can also include "water-to-water" combinations, wherein a horse negotiates from one pond or water area to another via a bank or island. Solid fences are 3'9, with brush fences set a 4'7 with a maximum spread of 7'10. The speed is a brisk 550 to 570 meters per minute, with 22 to 32 jumping efforts. Fence numbers are white on a red background.
Show jumping requires adjustment of stride and speed, and continued technical proficiency, from 350 to 375 meters per minute.
Advanced horse trials are the highest national level of competition. They are meant to test and prepare horse and rider for three and Four Star Three-Day Events and international competition. Occasionally, a level called advanced intermediate is offered as a transition, which includes advanced level dressage and show jumping, and intermediate cross-country. Riders must be at least 18, and horses at least 6, and must have completed at least two intermediate horse trials with no cross-country jumping penalties during the previous 24 months.
The dressage test may include extensions in all paces, half pass at trot and canter and single flying changes.
On cross-country you will find big jumps and fast speeds. Solid fences can be 3'11 and brush fences 4'7 with a maximum spread of 9'2. Combinations become more challenging, including bounces in to water. Drops can be 6'7, and fences into water can be 3'3 with a drop or 3'11 without. Speed is 570 to 600 meters per minute a true gallop. Fences numbers are white on a blue background.
In show jumping, speeds are increased (to 375-400 meters per minute) and the relationship between the fences becomes more important-not only combinations, but also turns and lines between single fences.
Remember in the Cross Country part of Eventing there are Red or White Boundary Flags - These shall be used to mark the starting and finishing lines, to mark compulsory passages, and to define obstacles. They are placed in such a way that a competitor must leave a red flag on his right and a white flag on his left. In cases where courses for two or more levels of competition are marked at the same time, only those flags which form part of the course for the relevant competition are to be considered to be in effect at any one time.
Yellow Directional Markers - These shall be used to show the general direction to be taken and to help competitors find their way. Where necessary, they shall be superimposed with the first letter or color of the level. Passing close to them is not obligatory.
Start and Finish Signs - In addition to the red and white boundary flags, the starting and finishing lines shall also be marked by distinct signs.
Stopping Points - These shall be marked by a peg painted in a vivid color, surveyor's flags, or by a sign.
Obstacles with elements or options also have in addition to the number a letter (A, B, C, etc.). Each compulsory passage shall be marked with the first letter of the level and numbered consecutively.