Cross-country is one of the three phases in the Olympic horse sport of eventing, also known as horse trials.
It is considered the unique selling point of eventing. Horse and rider “cross the country” at a canter or gallop, taking on obstacles as they go. The fences will include obstacles such as steps, drops, ditches and water as well as conventionally shaped jumps.
Eventing penalties are given on the cross-country phase for jumping faults such as refusals and also for going too slowly and, at some levels, too fast.
Eventing takes place as both one-day events and three-day events. At both, the first phase is always the dressage, where horse and rider perform a set routine which is marked by a judge or judges, depending on the level of competition.
At a one-day event, the showjumping is usually the second phase and the cross-country comes last as the third phase. Occasionally the showjumping is the final phase at a one-day event.
At a one-day event, all three phases are generally completed in one day, although (confusingly) sometimes this isn’t the case, particularly in a large class when some or all of the dressage might need to take place the day before the jumping phases.
At a three-day event, the cross-country will always be the second phase, with the showjumping as the last element. The dressage usually takes two days at a three-day event (traditionally Thursday and Friday), with the cross-country and showjumping taking a day each (traditionally cross-country on Saturday and showjumping on Sunday).
As well as being a phase of eventing, cross-country can be used to describe various other competitions where horse and rider “cross the country” at speed – for example, hunter trials are competitions in which cross-country is the only phase and there may be some challenges you might meet in the hunting field such as opening a gate as well as jumps.
There are also cross-country races in National Hunt racing, such as the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Another form of cross-country race is contests such as the Melton Hunt Club Cross Country Ride and the Yeomanry Ride. These have their roots in hunting and all the contestants ride the course at the same time – or in a few different waves for different sections – crossing natural country with obstacles such as hedges and walls at speed.