Olympic Equestrian - Rules, Judging and Officials

Learn more about the rules of Olympic equestrian competitions

Olympics Day 11 - Equestrian
Anky Van Grunsven of Netherlands riding Salinero competes in the Team Dressage Grand Prix Special on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Alex Livesey/Getty Images


The rules used in Olympic Equestrian competitions are the international rules as set out by the FEI. They are the same rules used in international competition for all FEI sanctioned competition such as the World Equestrian Games.

While some portions of Olympic equestrian sports such as dressage are based on subjective judging--the opinion of the judge, others are based on timing and faults or penalties.

Here are some of the basic rules.

Olympic Equestrian Scoring

Show Jumping

Keep pen and paper handy, watch the time clock (clocked to be one-hundredth of a second), and you should be able to track the rider's scores at home. Jump-offs are held to determine winners if there is a tie. The jumps, while imposing looking, are made to fall if the horse hits any portion of one.

General Rules

  • A ground jury consisting of various judges and officials and qualified according to FEI standards inspects the course and judges the competition.
  • Horses must be at least 9 years old for Olympic competition.
  •  A bell is used to communicate with the competitor and is used to signal various events such as when they may enter the arena, a halt or continue in case of an interruption or to indicate the rider is eliminated.
  • Red or white flags are used to mark obstacles or mandatory turns.
  •  Jumps generally are categorized as spreads, verticals or water jumps. Jumps may be set up in combinations.

    Faults and Penalties

    •     Four faults are given for each jump knocked down. (A rail, or one or more parts of the jump fall to the ground).
    •     Four faults are given if one or more hooves leave an impression on the lath surrounding a water jump.
    •     Four faults are given for the first disobedience (refusal to jump, run out).
    •     Elimination: Horse (shoulders and haunches touch the ground) or rider falls.
    •     Elimination: Second disobedience (refusal).
    •     Elimination: An uncorrected deviation from the course.
    •     Elimination: Exceeding the time limit.
    •     One penalty point for every four seconds or portion of a second exceeding the time allowed in the first and second rounds and jump-offs not against the clock.
    •     One penalty point for each second or portion of a second exceeding the time allowed in a jump-off against the clock.


    Dressage judging, both in the dressage competition and the eventing dressage phase is perhaps the most subjective of all the Olympic equestrian sports. FEI rules outline the standards for each gait, and element of the dressage test. Five judges, positioned around the outside of the 20mX60m (21.9 yds. x 65.6 yds.) dressage ring, give each element a score, usually from 0 to 10 with some elements being given greater weight by multiplying the score or "coefficient."The ideal score is 100%.

    Rules regarding the type of tack and dress that may be used are very strict. Competitors are disqualified if all four hooves land outside of the dressage arena, the horse refuses to perform for over 20 seconds, or horse or rider falls.

    Penalties are given to riders who go off track, do not salute properly and other minor infractions. These are deducted from the overall score. At the Olympic level penalties of this type are rare.


    Rules for the stadium jumping and dressage phases of the eventing are similar to those used for the individual sports. Cross country jumps are very imposing and not designed to fall or come apart should a horse hit one, although this is slowly changing because of the many deadly accidents that happen to both horse and rider. There may be verticals and spreads made of natural and man-made materials and the course can include ditches, hills, streams and banks. Judges sit at each obstacle and record any infractions.

    General Rules

    For the cross country phase an 'optimum time' is established. There is no benefit to finishing earlier than the optimum time, but penalties are given if the rider exceeds the optimum time.

    Riders may remount after a fall.


    •     First disobedience such as run outs, refusals and circling to re-aim at the obstacle: 20 penalties
    •     Second disobedience: 40 penalties
    •     Third disobedience: elimination
    •     Fall of competitor at an obstacle: 65 penalties
    •     Fall of horse: elimination
    •     Second fall of the competitor: elimination

    Elimination may occur if:

    •     Jumping or incurring a fault at an obstacle in the wrong order or passing through a compulsory passage in the wrong order.
    •     The horse is lame or exhausted at the Second Horse Inspection.
    •     Unapproved tack and equipment.
    •     Error of course not corrected.
    •     Missing an obstacle or compulsory passage.
    •     Jumping an obstacle already jumped.
    •     Jumping an obstacle in the wrong direction
    •     Abuse of horse--excessive whipping, spurring, illegal equipment.

    You will find all of the rules regarding FEI disciplines, including the three Olympic disciplines on the FEI website. Click on the individual sport name and choose "Rules."

    Read more at What is Olympic Equestrian?

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