Steeplechase is an equestrian racing sport that consist of competing horseback through a long-distance race with fences and various obstacles. Originating in cross country races that took place in Ireland, horses would go from one church steeple to another, which is where the name “Steeplechase” came from.
Steeplechase races do not take place on a track. They are about 4-6 miles long and are specifically designed courses that consist of water jumps, hurdles, and fences known as ‘National Fences’. These fences are man-made and designed by the National Steeplechase Association. They are made of a steel frame with plastic “brush”, foam-rubber roll, and a green canvas on the takeoff side. They are portable and used for different races that usually take place on the East Coast.
What is a Steeplechase horse?
Steeplechase horses are Thoroughbreds, most being geldings, that must have official Jockey Club registration papers. Although this breed is most known as being flat racing horses, they have the perfect combination of speed, stamina, and jumping abilities to perform in this sport. These horses usually start off as flat racing horses, which can help to condition their bodies to help them stay sound when they diversify sports and begin jumping. A Steeplechase horse usually begins at 4- or 5-years-old, continuing until they are 9-years-old, and have a cut-off age at approximately 12-years-old.
Training for Steeplechase
Horses usually train in the country settings with natural obstacles. In America, this often takes place from Pennsylvania down to Tennessee. Since steeplechase races are at a slower pace than flat races, the ultimate goal for training is to keep the horses fit so they can finish the 4-6 miles
successfully all while clearing all obstacles. In this case, many trainers will enter their horse in a flat race on turf to maintain physical ability.
Steeplechase jockeys are usually heavier and taller than flat race jockeys, having a weight limit of 135 pounds. Although most competing are professional jockeys, there are amateurs that can participate in these races. Many jockeys come from Europe, gaining experience before coming to the United States. Jockeys are required to have certified helmets, chest protectors, and can carry padded whips all to protect both themselves and their horse.
Enjoying the Sport
This sport is a perfect representation of “Thoroughbred racing with a twist”. There are many popular races such as the Grand National in England, the Irish Grand National, the Maryland Hunt Cup, and the Queen’s Cup. Getting to watch such an exciting event of a race like this is a great opportunity to see horses compete with speed and coordination to the best of their ability.