When it comes to horseracing most people instantly think of flat racing – fast speeding horses dashing along a straight flat stretch of turf or sand. But there is another type of race, one that has more excitement and uncertainty. It is steeplechasing.
Steeplechasing makes the outcome of a race that much more interesting. The fastest horse is not necessarily going to be the one to cross the finish line first. Huge hedges, ditches and fences block the way. The horses are required to show speed and stamina in getting around the course first, but they also need to avoid being taken down by the obstacles or indeed another flailing horse, as happens all too often.
Primarily found in Ireland (the place of its origin), the United Kingdom and North America, the name came about because the sport used to take place across open countryside. Rather than a specific racetrack, horse and rider were required to simply head for the church steeple crossing any obstacles that were in their path. Nowadays this is not allowed and the sport has been transferred to maintained tracks with carefully placed obstacles.
The Grand National
The most famous race in this genre is the English Grand National. Run every year at Aintree racecourse, it has provided a severe test for every horse and rider since its inception in 1836. The race is over four miles long, and there are thirty fences that the horses have to jump, including the infamous Becher’s Brook, an obstacle that has taken down many a horse. Known for the difficulty in predicting a winner, the Grand National remains the race that any steeplechaser wishes to win. Sadly though, due to the severity of the course, a number of horses do get injured and are subsequently put down.
Due to their extreme difficulty, jump races are considered to be the ultimate test for both rider and horse.