Horse Competition Types Explained

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Last Updated on December 1, 2021

For thousands of years, humans have been riding horses in competition, and over the centuries many different horse competition types have emerged. From competing to see who has the fastest horse or who can jump the highest obstacle through to highly specialized sports such as dressage, horses can be adapted to many different sports.

Let’s take a look at all the different types of horse competitions, and see what each one entails!

Horse Racing

Horse racing has been taking place for thousands of years, and this test of speed is still as popular today as it was in ancient times. There are two types of horse racing, either over jumps or on the flat.

Races can either be short, also called a sprint or a longer race which tests the horse’s stamina. Horses are normally raced against others of similar ability, to give a thrilling finish to the race. This is the reason why horse racing is still such a huge attraction for gambling fans!

Show Jumping

Showjumping is a competition where a horse and rider must jump through obstacles, normally in an enclosed arena or field. The course is carefully created to test the skill of the horse and rider. It will have many different components, depending on the level of difficulty of the competition.

The types of jumps will include upright fences and spreads, and there may be ditches under or in front of some of them. There will be individual jumps and also some in pairs – a double – or threes – a treble. The route between fences will involve corners and changes of direction.

Depending on the country and level of competition, there are many different rules to showjumping. Most commonly, the first round is untimed, and any horse and rider which gets a clear round will go through to the next round.

A clear round is one where every fence is jumped at the first attempt, without knocking it down. If a fence is knocked down, or the horse refuses to jump, then faults are incurred.

The second round is normally a shorter version of the first and is timed against the clock. The fastest horse and rider to get a clear round are the winner.


Dressage is one of the most beautiful and intricate equestrian sports, and at the top level, it is a joy to behold. In a dressage competition, each horse and rider will complete a set series of movements at different paces – this is called a dressage test.

At a basic level, the movements will include circles and changes of direction. The horse and rider must change pace at set points, and the aim is to complete each movement in a calm, balanced and supple manner.

Higher-level dressage also includes more intricate movements, where the horse may move sideways, backward, and even appear to almost dance in one place. It can take a horse and rider combination many years to achieve this level of controlled athletic ability.

horse competition types


Eventing is the equine version of the human triathlon. During this competition, the horse and rider compete in three different activities – dressage, show jumping, and a cross country round. Eventing is one of the ultimate tests of a horse and rider’s skill, athleticism, and endurance.

These three disciplines are either all completed in a one-day event or over three days. The three-day event has a longer cross-country section that tests the horse’s endurance. In some competitions, this also includes a roads and tracks section and a steeplechase.

The showjumping and dressage elements of eventing are as described previously. The cross country section is a longer course of jumps over countryside terrain, normally completed at a faster speed than showjumping. These jumps are made to look more like natural objects, such as piles of logs, hedges, and large ditches.

A high-level eventing horse must be multi-skilled and have a particular temperament. It needs to be able to tackle a difficult cross-country course with a bold and enthusiastic manner, and then be calm enough to perform a perfect dressage test. It also needs to be talented enough to jump a complex show jumping course without incurring any faults.

Western Horse Competition Types

Western horse riding is rising in popularity and with it many different types of horse competition. These include:

  • Reining – where the horse and rider complete a pattern of movements at high speed. These include circles, spins, sliding stops, and changes of direction. The judge scores the horse and rider combination according to the smoothness, accuracy, and speed of their performance.
  • Cutting – this is a sport where the horse and rider need to separate, or cut, an individual cow from a herd.
  • Barrel Racing – this rodeo sport requires the horse and rider to navigate around three barrels, with the fastest being the winner. There are penalties for knocking over a barrel.

Team Horse Competition Types

  • Horse Polo – the best way to describe polo is to imagine hockey on horseback! Two teams of four riders compete for up to two hours to score as many goals as possible. Each player has a mallet used to knock the ball towards the goal.
  • Team Chasing – this equestrian sport involves a team of riders racing around a cross-country course.

Specialized Types Of Horse Riding Competition

  • Showing – this horse competition judges horses on their looks, movement, and confirmation. The horse may be shown ridden or in-hand. A judge will examine each horse closely to select the best possible one in each class.
  • Endurance – a long-distance horse race, which can cover up to 100 miles in one day.
  • Gymkhana – this sport is traditionally associated with fun games for children, although it is highly competitive and very fast! Gymkhana games involve completing a course of obstacles in the fastest possible time.
  • Equestrian Vaulting – this ancient sport has evolved since Roman times and is often thought of as trick riding. The best way to describe vaulting is similar to gymnastics on horseback!


So, as we have learned, there are many different types of horse competition to suit all riders and horses. Horses are incredibly athletic animals and when partnered with a talented rider they can achieve great things. Watching a top-level horse competition is a thrilling experience for anyone!

We’d love to hear your thoughts about horse competition types – do you enjoy the thrill of competing? Or perhaps you dream of entering a top-level competition one day? Add a comment below and we’ll get back to you!

Next up, learn more about Do Horses Have Nipples?

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