Early Days

Eventing Explained: Competition Levels

I’m excited to bring you a new post series where I will go over various aspects of the sport of Eventing. I hope to cover everything from the basics to the finer points, and help distinguish between rules and traditions. If you have a specific topic you’d like me to cover, please leave a comment or email me!

Our first topic: USEA Recognized Competition Levels

Newbies to eventing often get the competition levels confused. After all, 4 of the 6 levels’ names are basically synonyms for the word “easy” (I wrote an early post on it, in fact). Each of the 3 phases of eventing (Dressage, Show jumping, and Cross country) have specific rules for each level.

In the USA, the 6 basic competition levels for recognized events are, in order from lowest to highest:

Beginner Novice

Beginner Novice

  • This is the lowest competition level. Horses must be aged 4 or older, riders can be any age. No qualification (show experience or scoring record) is required.
  • Dressage is equivalent to Training Level under USDF (US Dressage Federation) and requires for walk, trot, canter, free walk, and 20m circles. 
  • Show jumping is 9 to 11 obstacles at a speed of 300 mpm (meters per minute), with max height 2’7″.
  • Cross country is 14 to 18 obstacles at speed between 300 and 350 mpm, course distance between 1400 and 2000 meters. Max height is 2’7″, or 3′ for brush jump, max drop of 3’3″.

In my opinion, every sound horse has the physical ability to get through a horse trial at BN level. USEA (US Eventing Assoc.) advertises BN as the “introductory” level, and the courses are designed to be very straightforward.  If the horse and rider have experience jumping but no eventing experience, this is a suitable level of competition. However, when you have a green-on-green pairing where the rider and/or horse is brand new to jumping, I suggest starting off at a lower, unrecognized level.

BN house at Galway Downs


  • Horses must be aged 4 or older, riders can be any age. No qualification is required.
  • Dressage is equivalent to Training Level and is looking for walk, trot, canter, free walk, and 20m circles (no material difference from tests at BN).
  • Show jumping is 9 to 11 obstacles at a speed of 320 mpm, with max height 2’11”.
  • Cross country is 16 to 20 obstacles at speed between 350 and 400 mpm, total course distance between 1600 and 2200 meters. Max height is 2’11”, or 3’7″ for brush jump, max drop of 3’11”.
I think the vast majority of sound horses have the physical ability to go Novice. The courses are presented in a very straightforward, inviting way. Many trainers and experienced riders, when bringing along a young or green horse, will skip over BN and go Novice. Newer riders on experienced mounts can safely go Novice. Either the horse or rider should have experience eventing though.

Novice hanging log at FCHP

  • Horses must be aged 4 or older, riders can be any age. No qualification is required.
  • Dressage is equivalent to First Level and adds trot and canter lengthenings and 15m circles.
  • Show jumping is 10 to 12 obstacles at a speed of 325 mpm, with max height 3’3″.
  • Cross country is 20 to 24 obstacles at a speed between 420 and 470 mpm, total course distance between 2000 and 2600 meters. Max height is 3’3″, or 3’11” for brush jump, max drop of 4’7″.
This is the first level that really starts to introduce “questions” into the courses to make it more challenging, such as jumping while on a significant incline or decline of a hill, and having combination jumps. Most training courses include a “half-coffin” complex, which is where a jump is placed just a few strides before or after a ditch obstacle.

I think a majority of sound horses have the physical and mental ability to go Training. Even though no qualification is required, I do not think this level is suitable for either horses or riders brand new to eventing – even if very experienced in other disciplines. I suggest doing at least 1 Novice outing first.

Training chevron at FCHP

  • Horses must be aged 5 or older, riders must be 14 or older. Qualification is required.
  • Dressage is equivalent to First Level and asks for shoulder-in, 10m circles, counter-canter, and backing.
  • Show jumping is 11 to 13 obstacles at 350 mpm, with max height 3’7″.
  • Cross country is 22 to 30 efforts at a speed of 520 mpm, total course distance between 2200 and 3120 meters. Max height is 3’7″, or 4’3″ for brush jump, max drop of 5’3″.
I think the name of this level laughable. Prelim is a very challenging level and a number of horses and riders will never compete at this level (Jimmy Wofford has stated that any horse can go Prelim – well, maybe if he is riding it!).

Qualification is required for a reason: these courses are tough. Its not so much the height as the technical questions being asked. For example there is typically a coffin complex: a jump, 2 or 3 strides to a ditch, then 2 or 3 strides to another jump.

I think many sound horses have the physical ability to go Prelim but may lack the heart. The questions are challenging, so both horse and rider need to be skilled and brave to get through successfully. Personally I don’t think I’ll go Prelim. I can school single jumps that are prelim height, but the courses are very intimidating.

Prelim jump at Galway Downs


  • Horses must be aged 6 or older, riders must be 16 or older. Qualification is required.
  • Dressage is equivalent to 2nd Level and includes collected and extended gaits and travers.
  • Show jumping is 12 to 14 obstacles at 350 mpm, with max height 3’11”.
  • Cross country is 26 to 34 efforts at a speed of 550 mpm, course distance between 2600 and 3575 meters. Max height is 3’9″, or 4’5″ for brush jump, max drop of 5’11”.

Despite the misleading name, this is a very, very, very challenging level.  It takes a special horse and a very talented rider to go Intermediate. The questions are very technical, the speed is very fast. At this level most of the competitors are trainers or professional riders – amateurs are in the minority.

Intermediate jump. Very deep and off a downhill approach.


  • Horses must be aged 6 or older, riders must be 18 or older. Qualification is required.
  • Dressage is equivalent to 3rd Level and includes half-pass and flying changes.
  • Show jumping is 13 to 15 obstacles at 375mpm, with max height 4’1″.
  • Cross country is 32 to 40 efforts at 570mpm, course distance between 3200 and 3990 meters. Max height 3’11” or 4’7″ for brush jump, max drop of 6’7″.

The only level with an appropriate name, although “Super Duper Advanced” might be more appropriate. The jumps are ginormous, the questions are cringe-worthy, and the speed is insane. It takes a truly amazing partnership of a team to go this level.

Advanced jump at Galway, off a sharp turn after an uphill gallop.

I hope this helps you get a sense of the competition levels in the US. Despite the synonymic names (I made that word up) there are clear cut differences between the levels.

What about “Intro” divisions, “T3D” and “P3D”? How about CIC versus CCI? What about stars****? I’ll answer these and many more on future Eventing Explained posts!

USEA/USEF Rulebook
Discover Eventing
USEA Dressage Tests

22 comments on “Eventing Explained: Competition Levels

  1. I think you're being very ambitious about what horses are capable of. ;-) There are lots of ammy friendly stock types in my part of the world who happily do intro/grasshopper stuff but don't have the scope for BN.

    And yeah, it's weird that it takes scope for 2'7″, but when you're 14.1 hands of downhill AQHA, that is what you're looking at.

    Good series though. :-) Will you explain the difference between Prelim, Intermediate and Advanced as opposed to *,**, and ***? Or CCI vs CIC?


  2. Very exciting series! Looking forward to the other posts!


  3. I kinda agree with SB — for example, many horses have the ability to do a SINGLE fence at prelim height, but they lack the physical ability to do a course of prelim fences — either in stadium or XC. To me that's pure physical ability and not heart. It probably seems like splitting hairs, but I'm a bit of a pedant so…

    I also find it really interesting that the USEA dressage tests skip certain elements that USDF inserts at lower levels. The stretchy trot circle, for example, is on Training 2 and 3, whereas it doesn't show up on a USEA test until Training level (when they have also incorporated First level movements).

    Oooh another thing that could be interesting is to talk about the rules changes and the differences between courses at different venues. And rated vs. nonrated courses! Looking forward to reading more.


  4. love this – tho i'd have to agree with SB – some lower levels aren't as easily accessible for non-TBs… tho i'm fairly sure my mare would go BN (maybe even N???) if i ever get my act together haha


  5. I'm looking forward to the rest of this series!


  6. This is really helpful – I've been exposed to most of it before but as someone who doesn't event, I love the refresher.


  7. Thanks for this. It is very informativee. I decided a few months ago that I wanted to go the eventing route but it was not till this month I narrowed down my ultimate goal of Novice level. I could never narrow it down because I didn't know the levels. I was so confused. In Figure Skating, preliminary is the first/intro level and novice is way more advanced, and then getting them confused with USDF levels, and ugh! I stumbled onto your other blog post about levels just recently (this week), and could finally put a level to jump height and have a better understanding of the levels. This post is even better. I look forward to the series, and more posts on eventing.


  8. Thanks for the informative post! Great stuff.


  9. Thanks for breaking this all down, I can't wait to hear more. :)


  10. I'm going to have to disagree with commenters and agree with you–I do think any horse is capable of going BN. Horses can walk over 2'7″ if it really comes to that.


  11. Good point! And yes, I'll do the higher levels in another post. This one was quite long enough as is =)


  12. Great suggestions for future posts! And I agree completely about doing one fence vs doing a course.


  13. Thanks! Yes, just a generalization that sound horses can do a course of 2'7″ jumps, even small and poorly-built horses. Based on the videos and photos you share, your mare absolutely can go Novice (at least!) but when you are ready of course. It takes a team =)


  14. That was my thought. Not sure I've ever met a sound horse who couldn't handle 2'7″ jumps (and that's max height – many are smaller), even small and poorly-conformed horses. We have tons of QHs and “backyard” mixed-breed horses that do BN out here. Not always the prettiest rounds, but they get 'er done.


  15. Thank you! =]


  16. Thank you! Yeah, other sports tend to have better-suited level names. =P


  17. Very informative — thanks so much for breaking it all down. From a weenie amateur, I've always thought it was intimidating that recognized levels START at 2'7″ … like, I am nowhere near confident enough to jump a XC course at that height, haha!


  18. Thanks! Well remember that is the max height, many jumps will not be that high. Unlike in stadium where all the jumps are basically same height, XC has varied sized and shaped jumps, many of which are quite welcoming to the horses (roll-tops, etc).


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