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Horse Jumping History, Competition Courses and Eventing Shows

Jumping began early in France, when cross country races combined running with jumping and ran literally across the country in forerunners of today's speed derby. Although the races were fun for participants, they didn't make great observer sports, since the crowd would have had to follow the horses on their fifty or hundred kilometer runs. It didn't take long for the French to realize that horseback jumping in an arena both satisfied spectators and made money for everyone else.
The British took up the call to jumping when, in the 18th Century, the Enclosures Act resulted in a landed class that owned fields which had previously been open. Typical of landed gentry, they fenced off their fields and then had to learn to jump fences when engaged in fox hunting. Jumping became a sport in its own right, and in 1907 was introduced as a competitive sport in England. Today, jumping is an equestrian sport in Grand Prix held worldwide and with its own place in the Olympics. Some things have changed: most recently, fox hunting has been banned in England. Earlier than that, experts in jumping discovered that the typical English riding saddle, with its
long stirrups, inhibited the movement of a jumping horse. A new saddle, with shorter stirrups and a forward seat was introduced to enable horses to center their gravity properly with a person riding.

Riders and horses can be trained on jumps starting early, with beginning jumps being little more than poles laid a couple of inches off the ground. Horses, like any reasonable creatures, prefer to walk around poles, stone fences, or rails: jumping isn't the first thing they decide to do. A novice rider, by his own tension and excitement can even hamper a horse who might otherwise take a jump by tightening the reins, leaning back or otherwise indicating through posture that jumping is something to be worried about. Horse trainers, when they discuss a horse's natural inclination to jump, talk about braveness or boldness; qualities any good jumper has to have to be successful. When considering whether to train a horse to jump, trainers also pay attention to horse's balance, impulsion and judgment of distance. Like people who learn to high jump, horses must have both a natural sense of jumping and good training to help them learn things about distance and breadth.

Horse jumping isn't relegated to a particular equine breed, but Arabians and warmbloods like sorrel, paints and American Quarter horses, Belgian Warmbloods and Hessens have made excellent jumpers. Jumping, like dressage, can't be learned with tips, but requires an experienced trainer. Jumps must be set up correctly for the horse's gait and the number of strides between jumps are considered when setting up a training course. As jumping competitions become more advanced, the number of strides between jumps may be shortened, forcing horses and riders to plan when approaching a jump. A course with tight turns, jumps set closely together and a variety of obstacles is trickier than a straight course with widely spaced jumps. With time, jumping height and distance or breadth can be increases, but one mistake too many people make is to ask too much of the horse too quickly. As the horse gains experience, harder courses can be undertaken, but it takes time for a horse to gain both experience and confidence. Early negative experiences with jumps that are too high, too broad or set too closely together can harm your horse's confidence and make it harder to teach him to jump.

Show jumping equipment includes white fences, cross poles and trays for the water obstacle jump called the Liverpool. Poles may be set above each other, called vertical, or set together horizontally to increase the depth of the jump. In this case, the jump is called an oxer. When there are number of jumps with a certain number of strides between them, the jump is called a combination. These are just a few of the jumps used in show jumping: horses may be asked to cross pools of water, or even to jump a wall.

Read the next horse riding sport article on Horse Reining.
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