If you are new to equestrian sports, here are some tips to help get you familiarised with the wonderful world of showjumping.
Beginner's guide to showjumping
Welcome to the glamorous world of showjumping; an Olympic sport populated with the world’s most impossibly agile and impressive equines and the gorgeous glitterati of the horsey world. It’s a sport where both the cost of the horses and the prize money on offer, often reaches into the millions of Dollars, and everything is won or lost with a clip of a hoof and the margins for error are very small indeed. Showjumping is both egalitarian and intriguing.
It’s one of the only sports on the planet where women not only compete equally with men, but often win. It’s a world where up-and-coming 19-year-olds compete against vastly experienced 70-year-olds. It’s a sport where family dynasties are common, with training secrets and techniques passed down through the generations, in fact, competitions can and often do, include father versus child and even grandfather versus grandchild.
What’s the point?
Each horse and rider combination attempts to successfully complete a course of approximately 15 jumping obstacles on the first attempt, without stopping (called a refusal) or knocking them down (called a pole down). The winner then takes home the often-gobsmacking prize money, the prestige and of course the title and overall FEI points if the competition is internationally accredited.
How it works
This all sounds relatively simple, right? Well it’s surprisingly complicated. Each course is designed by a highly-qualified experts whose job it is to challenge the riders, and push them to test the skills.
The course-builders’ arsenal is extensive. They might add unusual jumps – these can be bright, wide, or set close together (a combination), or they can ‘play’ with the distances between the jumps, forcing the rider to take risks or make difficult decisions. Those in the know often say that the sport is really about riding the ‘strides between the jumps,’ and at the highest levels, this is certainly true!
How does the scoring work?
Riders attempt to jump a clear round, but will accumulate ‘faults’ for each minor mistake. If a horse knocks down a jump – four faults. If the horse refuses to attempt the jump, this is also four faults.
If a rider has three refusals, they are then eliminated from the competition and if the rider or horse falls, or they spend longer than 60 seconds at a jump they are also eliminated.
The overall winner is decided based on the type of class of the competition – be it a two-phase, accumulator, a speed round, joker or puissance. This will become clearer the more you watch the shows.
A course design from the Al Shira'aa Horse Show 2020
So that’s it then?
Well, not quite. Most big competitions are held over several days and offer numerous tests of horse and rider. The lower classes are generally for the younger riders still learning the ropes, or experienced riders with new or young horses in preparation for the higher more difficult classes.
The highlight of the event is of course, the Grand Prix, where the finest horses and most experienced riders compete for impressive prize money, and sometimes an opportunity to qualify for more prestigious events such as the Olympics or World Championships.
I’m not that into horses, why should I come along?
There’s no two ways about it, top level showjumping is REALLY impressive. An FEI accredited event offers incredible international jumping guaranteed to keep horse lovers entertained and those who can’t tell their fetlock from their forelock captivated.
Although showjumping is typically classy with a capital ‘C’, in the UAE it is a sport that embraces a wide range of fashion and taste, and unless you are in the VIP area, you won’t be out of place in jeans and tee-shirts.
There are essentials though, and these include; great sunglasses, sun-screen and a hat (you will be outdoors), and of course, good footwear- you’ll want to visit the various shop stands of equestrian and lifestyle products, and events such as these are often held on sand or grass.