What is the equine discipline of 3-Day Eventing?
3-Day Eventing (also known as horse trials) is an equestrian event where a single horse and rider combination compete against other combinations across the three disciplines of dressage, cross-country, and show jumping.
The trials take place over a period of 3 days, hence being called ‘3-day eventing’.
Eventing is generally considered the most all-round test of a horse’s athletic ability and a true test of horsemanship.
Famous 3-day horse events around the world
Badminton Horse Trials (UK)
Badminton Horse Trials have been held for over 70 years and represents the pinnacle of achievement in many 3-day event riders across the world. The trials, held at Badminton House in South Gloucestershire on a yearly basis are attended by over 200,000 spectators each year and consists of elite eventers and their horses. Prize money of over £375,000 is shared amongst the winners with the winner taking a whopping £100,000.
Kentucky Horse Trials (USA)
This annual event is held in Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington in Kentucky USA and attracts the very best riders from all over the world. With spectators reaching over 80,000 the trials are one of the most famous and tightly fought events in 3-day eventing with prize money of $400,000 being share amongst the winners.
World Equestrian Festival Aachen (Germany, Europe)
This annually held tournament is widely recognised as the world biggest equestrian event with over 360,000 spectators attending each year to cheer on their favourite horses and riders. Prize money across all events tops 3.5m euros!
As well as the elite level events we mention above there are many other well attended and well respected 3-day eventing horse trials across the world. With only the very best teams qualifying for these 5-star events many horse trials take part across the calendar year for all standards of riders.
Why are 3-day eventing horses at risk of injury?
The discipline itself is designed to test the rider and the horse, the higher the level the more risk horses have in developing an injury as the courses are tougher and the jumps are higher.
Event horses are prone to lacerations, bumps and bruises as a result of jumping static jumps and manoeuvring at high speeds, often on uneven ground.
In this article we take a closer look at commonly found injuries found in event horses and what many riders do to try and help.
Injuries often experienced in eventing horses
The discipline of 3-day eventing demands a lot on the competing horse. Each discipline within 3-day eventing uses differing techniques which all have a varying physical impact on the horse.
Prevention and wellbeing is key to keeping horses in the best shape possible - both pre and post exercise.
Injuries from travelling with your horse
Not just from competing but the fact that many horses travel long distances to attend horse trials raises the issue of supporting the horse when travelling. Travelling in the back of a horse box for long distances, without the ability to lie down or move can naturally lead to complications. Some horses, particularly after competitions are prone to fetlock swelling or filling.
Preventing injuries when travelling can be a challenge; many injuries reported are due to a transport related accident but occasionally your horse may get injured by kicking out when travelling. Ensure your trailer is regularly serviced, check the tyre pressures and provide your horse with plenty of forage for the journey. Take time to inspect the vehicle each time and that it is clean and free from mould.
Horse rugs can be valuable in preventing your horse from rubbing on the side of the trailer and help keep their muscles warm. Ensure they are not overly hot and sweating though as this can lead to them overheating.
Many riders like to bandage their horses legs for travel to help support the legs and there are many travel-boots on the market which protect the horses legs whilst travelling. A good, well-fitted head collar is an important piece of tack for travelling horses as well as a tail guard. Many riders now like to look at advanced magnetic bands; this technology supports the horse whilst travelling and have shown to help reduce leg filling and inflammation without creating a thermal reaction in the horse body (heat).
Many sport horses including eventing horses report regular swollen fetlocks both in front and hinds legs from their horse ‘standing around’ for long periods of time, often seen after long travel times between trials. This often referred to as “filling” and is very different from “inflammation”. The filling, which is usually around the fetlock or cannon bone area, is not a direct cause of stiffness but it can restrict joint movement; it is however associated to the natural healing process of the horse and as such should be carefully investigated before using products or medications. If the fetlock swelling is hot to touch then this could indicate more serious underlying issue such as acute synovitis; inflammation that appears suddenly in a joint.
Foot injuries in eventing horses
Foot pain in eventing horses is a common problem. Bruising of the sole is commonly diagnosed as the source of foot pain following the cross country phase, especially in Thoroughbred or Thoroughbred-cross horses with flat and/or thin-soled feet. It is widely known that ‘shoe loss’ often occurs more in eventing horses than found in other sports horses. Shoe loss can often lead to the hoof wall breaking up creating further problems for the horse.
Foot imbalance often contributes to foot pain. Because of this, regular and high standard farriery is incredibly important in maintaining the soundness of an eventing horse. A healthy horse has healthy hooves.
Occasionally, direct trauma to the surface of a sole can lead to the horse being severely lame as the result of bruising to the bone, sole of frog. If you have ever experienced a bruised heal from exercise you will know the pain this can cause. This pain will likely result in lameness and is often resolved following a few days of rest and in some cases using anti-inflammatory medications.
If your horse experiences an issue on route to a competition then they will not be able to compete.
Wounds and lacerations in event horses
Unlike many equine disciplines, event horses are often prone to traumatic lacerations (cuts and wounds) during a competition, with the most common injury being overreach injuries to the heel bulbs, as well as abrasions and lacerations to the stifle and carpus (knee joint). This is usually as a result of direct trauma from jumping and touching cross country fences.
As with any wound which occurs during the competition season, there is usually pressure to get the wound healed and to get the horse back into training and out competing as soon as possible. Therefore, aggressive early management of lower limb wounds with a bandage or a cast, over a period of weeks, depending on the severity and location of the wound and the decision of the vet is often applied.
Treating any wounds both in training and after an event is of paramount importance. It is important to always carry a first-aid kit with you at all times and if any wounds are found to treat them with disinfectant and clean dressing.
Injuries following exercising in event horses
To compete at high levels eventing riders spend considerable time in cardio training with their horse; allowing them to complete cross country courses in the fastest time possible and jumping over jumps cleanly. With regular training, injuries are experienced more often than with other less demanding disciplines.
After any active exercise it is important to inspect every aspect of your horse. Run your hands down each limb and spine and look for anything unusual including cuts, muscle swelling or any abnormal heat.
Inflammation and swelling of a joint and a reduction in the horse’s mobility following flexion of their joints could indicate that the joint may have an injury and require further attention. Joint conditions are often seen in older eventing horses so many look to prevent joint issues with a variety of ongoing treatments and therapies.
Horses in the discipline of eventing can be prone to developing splint injuries, as a result of an interosseous ligament injury.
Injuries to tendons and ligaments in eventing horses
The harmony between an eventing horse and their rider requires the equine athlete to have balance, suppleness, power and focus. To enable the horse to be collected, have balance and freedom of movement, extra load is taken onto the hindquarters, which in turn increases the strain on the skeleton and soft tissue structures in these areas.
Moving at high speeds or on uneven ground and making tight turns in a showjumping ring puts the horse at higher risk of experiencing ligament and tendon injuries.
The most commonly reported tendon or ligament issues in eventing horses is damage to the suspensory ligament in both the fore and hind limbs - particularly in the upper area, proximal suspensory desmitis.
Digital Flexor tendons are used to propel a horse forward when jumping and as such are prone to DDFT or SDFT injuries in eventing horses and represent over 40% of injuries found in sports horses.
The pain associated with suspensory ligament injuries is often transient and short-lived. It is common in short term injuries that the horse may “look and feel better” and may be returned to work only to have the lameness return. A rest period of three months would be typical for relatively moderate injuries. Horses with more chronic or severe injuries may require longer periods of time off, in some cases approximately a year. In cases of acute injury where there are no definite ultrasonographic abnormalities of the ligament, the horse may respond reasonably well to anti-inflammatory medications, with the purpose to reduce inflammation or swelling of the ligament. Shock wave therapy is now widely used to treat ligament issues with a view to reducing the recovery period. Horses affected with proximal suspensory ligament injuries in the hind limb appear to have the worst prognosis, often suffering from chronic lameness or re-injury after returning to work. The prognosis remains poor even with other forms of treatment. This challenge has led to the development of surgical operations and holistic and natural alternatives where possible.
Other widely reported injury problems associated with evening horses are injuries to the coffin joint, hock injuries and sacroiliac pain.
Long term degenerative injuries found in eventing horses
The lower limb joints of experienced event horses, in particular the coffin and fetlock joints, are commonly affected by osteoarthritis (OA) symptoms in the forelimbs of eventing horses.
Bone spavin is a term used for osteoarthritis and pain in the distal intertarsal and tarsometatarsal joints of the hock and is often found in elderly 3-day eventing horses towards the end of the career or in retirement. Bone spavin may cause overt lameness or poor performance. Horses with this condition may have an expressive free trot, but a poor canter, and in particular have problems in more collected gaits, where there is increased loading of the hock.
Navicular and Ringbone are also more common in animals who have led an active lifestyle, including an eventing horse so require ongoing care and attention. As many event horses will suffer from tendon or ligament injuries, developing long term conditions such as tendonitis is also more common than with field horse.
Traditionally used treatments supporting eventing horses
Providing eventing horses with recuperation, rehabilitation and rest is the foundation of ongoing treatment for eventing horses. This includes cooling down after competing, often resulting in riders using cold or ice products to help reduce the temperature within the muscles.
Traditional magnets should not be used in a horses recovery and rehabilitation stages as they produce a thermal reaction in the horses system, resulting in heat. This can be seen using thermal imaging technology. Understanding when to use hot or cold therapy on a horses injury is important.
Physiotherapy sessions can be extremely beneficial for maintaining your horses joint condition and particularly useful for detecting early signs of lameness.
Gathering a good reputation in the eventing world is the introduction of advanced magnetic technologies. These new forms of magnetism create no thermal reaction and are ideal for use both pre and post exercise. Advanced magnetism targets inflammation and aids the natural healing process and are endorsed by some of the worlds top event riders and world-renowned equine vets.
Using medications in eventing horses
In some acute cases, and when the horse is able to be rested from competition, vets will prescribe anti-inflammatory NSAID medications.
Medicating before a 3-day event competition is a complicated process due to the rules and regulations within the sport. If a horse needs anti-inflammatory medications and is scheduled to compete in a competition, the rider must discuss the options with their veterinarian beforehand.
Different drugs or medications take different times to clear from the horse’s living system. If a concoction of drugs are used at the same time the detection periods can often be unpredictable and can lead to disqualification. With the exception of the permitted medications allowed by, a horse must be “clean” at the time of competition.
Because of this many 3-day eventers look at alternative therapies and natural solutions to support their horse both from an ongoing perspective and when looking to treat a specific injury.
Supporting your 3-day eventing horse is an ongoing and vital task in ensuring you have a happy and sound horse.
In most cases, treating eventing horse injuries can be a long and expensive process with a strong emphasis on recovery and rehabilitation.
Managing your horses diet and priding them with all the right tools to perform at their best is important. If you detect ay signs of injury or changes in the horse demeanour, willing to compete or fly over jumps then seek medical advise immediately.