Horse Jumping From the Fields to the Olympics

Since the time when man has first mounted a horse for transportation, war, or hunting, he has valued this animal's intelligence. A horse can be trained for a wide range of jobs, from pulling a hearse to fancy riding that looks more like a dance. And horses have always needed to be able to take a good jump over barriers or water.

But the real need for horse jumping did not happen until about the eighteenth century in England, when hunters starting to go after foxes needed animals to jump fences. The sport has become very popular, even though few horse jumpers are actually out hunting foxes. For almost one hundred years, horse jumping has been a Summer Olympic sport.

In the Beginning

Gentlemen had always hunted in England, and much of the gentry rode a horse to do it. The horse had to be speedy, and able to run through underbrush. But that changed in eighteenth century England. Landowners began to get solid title to their land, and they did something quite unheard of; they put up fences, walls, and hedgerows.

The hunt would continue, of course, but now horses needed to jump and clear fences as much as five or six feet high. The breeders went to work and soon the image of a horse jumping over a rock wall carrying a red-clad hunter became an English icon.

Horse Jumping for Fun

No doubt the hunters liked the exhilaration of the hunt and prided themselves on good horsemanship and fine stunts. The sportsmen of other countries saw this and started to train their horses to jump as well, and incorporated horse jumping into races. On the continent, cross-country races began to include certain hedges, and sometimes walls built specially for the purpose. By the start of the 20th century, it was a common sport among horse fanciers.

Today's equestrian jumping events can be complicated, and amazing to watch. There is a horse high jumping competition, for example, in which some horses can leap over barriers seven feet high. Other obstacles include fences set close together so the horse must sometimes jump without a running start. A horse and rider lose points if the horse knocks down part of the barrier. Horse riders must train themselves and their animals for years so that both can work together well enough to complete these stunts.