The 2021 Olympic eventing format — all your questions about penalties and substitutions answered

The Olympic eventing format used in Tokyo in 2021 is going to be different to any we have experienced at previous Olympics. Teams will have just three combinations, with all three scores counting, but there are complex rules allowing a reserve to be substituted into the team after the competition starts, in certain circumstances.

We all know the FEI rulebook can be an impenetrable tome, so we have laboured at the coalface of the rules, so you don’t have to.

Here are all your questions about the 2021 Olympic eventing format answered, plus some examples of how it will work in practice.

What penalties do riders receive for not finishing a phase?
A rider receives 100 penalties for not completing the dressage; 200 for not completing the cross-country; 100 for not completing the showjumping.

Can a combination carry on in the next phases if they don’t complete the dressage or cross-country?
Sometimes. If a horse is eliminated or retires in the dressage or cross-country, it can continue in the next phase(s) — carrying the appropriate penalty for team classification — unless it has been eliminated for lameness, a horse fall, dangerous riding, abuse of horse or disqualified.

When can a horse and rider be substituted and what’s the penalty?
A combination who are eliminated, retired or withdrawn may be substituted by a reserve pair for medical or vet reasons in any of the three tests after the start of the competition. This incurs a 20-point penalty for the team. Only one substitution is allowed per team. The reserve horse must have passed the first horse inspection.
No substitution is allowed where the combination has been eliminated for dangerous riding or abuse of horse or disqualified.

Can a reserve rider be substituted onto an original horse or an original rider be substituted onto the reserve horse?
No. The same riders and horses always stick together as a combination.

Can a rider ever be substituted without penalty?
Yes, up to two hours before the dressage starts, including if a horse fails the first horse inspection. If a horse passes the first horse inspection but is then withdrawn without penalty before the dressage starts, that horse can later be substituted back into the team (incurring 20 penalties).

What if a horse fails the second horse inspection?
It can be substituted with the reserve horse (incurring 20 penalties) if the team has not already made a substitution and the reserve horse has been accepted at both the first and second horse inspections.

Could a combination win an individual medal without completing all the phases?
No. Riders who have been disqualified or eliminated continue in the other phases only for the purposes of team classification; they are out of the running for individual honours. Where a substitution takes place, neither the original pair nor the replacement combination will be eligible for the individual competition.

Anything else we need to know?
If teams finish on equal penalties, priority is given to the team with the same three riders and horses completing the three tests, without substitution.


• Joe, Jimmy and John all pass the first horse inspection for Nation J, as does their reserve, Joseph.
• John’s horse goes lame in the evening, after the trot-up. Joseph is substituted into the team, without penalty.
• Joe, Jimmy and Joseph all finish their dressage.
• Joe and Jimmy finish the cross-country, but Joseph is eliminated for cumulative refusals.
• Joseph is given 200 penalties for failing to complete the cross-country.
• Joe, Jimmy and Joseph’s horses all pass the final horse inspection and go on to complete the showjumping.
• Nation J’s score is the total of Joe, Jimmy and Joseph’s penalties for all three phases (with Joseph’s penalties for cross-country being 200).

• Helena, Henry and Hector all pass the first horse inspection for Nation H, as does their reserve, Harriet.
• Helena, Henry and Hector all finish their dressage.
• Henry completes the cross-country, but Helena falls off and Hector has a horse fall.
• Helena and Hector both receive 200 penalties as their cross-country score, because they did not complete.
• Hector cannot continue to the showjumping as a horse fall rules a combination out of continuing in the competition. The team substitute in Harriet, incurring 20 penalties for a substitution.
• Henry, Helena and Harriet’s horses pass the final horse inspection and they all complete the showjumping.
• Nation H’s score is the total of Henry and Helena’s penalties for all three phases (with Helena’s penalties for cross-country being 200) + Hector’s dressage score + 200 for Hector’s cross-country + Harriet’s showjumping score + 20 for making a substitution.

More examples below…

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• Thomas, Tilly and Tim all pass the first horse inspection for Nation T, as does their reserve, Tamsin.
• Thomas, Tilly and Tim all finish their dressage.
• Tim and Tilly complete the cross-country, but Thomas is eliminated for dangerous riding.
• Thomas incurs 200 penalties for cross-country. He is not allowed to continue to the showjumping, nor can he be substituted. He therefore also incurs 100 penalties for non-start/non-completion of the showjumping.
• Tim and Tilly pass the final horse inspection and complete the showjumping.
• Nation T’s score is the total of Tim and Tilly’s penalties for all three phases + Thomas’s dressage score + 200 for Thomas’s cross-country + 100 for Thomas’s showjumping.

• Sarah, Sally and Sonia all pass the first horse inspection for Nation S, as does their reserve, Sam.
• Sarah, Sally and Sonia all finish both the dressage and cross-country.
• Sarah and Sally’s horses pass the final horse inspection, but Sonia’s horse is lame so is not presented. Sam’s horse is substituted (incurring a 20-point penalty); he passes the final horse inspection.
• Sarah, Sally and Sam all complete the showjumping.
• Nation S’s score is the total of Sarah and Sally’s penalties for all three phases + Sonia’s dressage and cross-country penalties + Sam’s showjumping penalties + 20 for making a substitution.

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