The two most common types of penalties are jumping penalties and time penalties.
- Jumping Penalties: Jumping penalties are assessed for refusals and knockdowns, with each refusal or knockdown adding four faults to a competitor’s score.
- Penalties for knockdowns are imposed only when the knockdown changes the height or width of the jump. If a horse or rider knocks down a bottom or middle rail while still clearing the height of the obstacle, providing the rails are directly underneath the top rail, they receive no penalties. Penalties are assessed at the open water when any of the horse’s feet touch the water or white tape marking its boundary. If a rail is set over the middle of the water, faults are not accumulated for landing in the water.
- Refusals: Refusals now are penalized four faults. Within the last several years, the FEI has decreased the number of refusals resulting in elimination from three to two, and this rule has trickled down from the top levels of FEI competition to all levels of horse shows (at least in the United States).
- A refusal that results in the destruction of the integrity of a jump (running into the fence instead of jumping it, displacing poles, gates, flowers, or large clumps of turf or dirt) will not receive four faults for the knockdown, but instead the four faults for a refusal and an additional penalty while the timer is stopped for the repair or replacement of the jump. A refusal inside a combination (a series of two or more fences with one or two strides between each element) must re-jump the entire combination.
- Time Penalties: In the past, a common timing rule was a 1/4 second penalty for each second or fraction of a second over the time allowed. Since the early 2000s, this rule was changed by the FEI so that each second or fraction of a second over the time allowed would result in 1 time penalty (e.g. with a time allowed of 72 seconds, a time of 73.09 seconds would result in 2 time faults).
- Combinations: A refusal at any of the jumps in combination results in the horse having to repeat the entire set of obstacles, not just the element refused. So a horse may jump “A” and “B” without issue, but have a refusal at the third fence (C), at which time the rider would have to circle and return to jump fence “A” again, giving the horse a second chance to refuse or knock down “A” and “B”. Despite being considered one obstacle, each element may result in penalty points if knocked down. Therefore, if each of the three fences in a triple combination were knocked down, the rider would receive 12 faults (4 per fence, instead of 4 faults for the entire obstacle.