An event starts with the dressage phase. Each competitor memorises and then completes a dressage test. This is a specified sequence of compulsory movements in an arena which is 20 metres wide and 40 metres or 60 metres long depending on the level of competition. The test is judged by one or more judges which award marks out of ten for each movement. Errors of course or disobedience of the horse can result in elimination.
The show-jumping phase consists of a challenging course of knockable jumps. The objective is to jump clear around the course within a specified time limit. If a competitor knocks down or refuses a fence, or they are not within the specified time, penalties are accumulated. Elimination can occur as a result of cumulative refusals or a fall of horse or rider.
The Cross-Country phase is a course consisting of between 18 and 30 natural solid fences, similar to those you'd find in the hunting field, but purposely built. Competitors have to navigate their way around the winding, hilly terrain, clearing every fence and crossing the finish line within the optimum time. If a competitor refuses or falls they will accumulate penalties, or face elimination. They also have to keep a close eye on the clock. Whilst there is no benefit to going too fast and beating the optimum time, there are heavy penalties for exceeding the time limit. In this phase, it pays to keep a close eye on the clock.