Showjumping. It’s fast, fun and fantastic to watch — in fact, the perfect spectator sport. If you sat on the edge of your armchair and cheered as Scott Brash, Peter Charles, Ben Maher and Nick Skelton galloped and jumped their way around the Greenwich arena in 2012 to secure GB’s first Olympic team show jumping gold medal since 1952, you’ll know.
That quartet certainly did a lot to put show jumping back on the agenda for a lot of us after its sad demise from terrestrial TV channels a few decades ago. But if paid TV – where most of today’s showjumping competitions are now located — isn’t your bag, then why not get out and watch it live? You’ll be spoilt for choice — especially now that the fabulous equestrian extravaganza that is the Olympia horse show is coming up.
There were an astonishing 2,599 show jumping shows in the affiliated calendar in 2014, which equates to 399,897 starters over 3,453 competition days — and that doesn’t even include all the unaffiliated fixtures held throughout the country. Most of these shows also offer free entry to spectators, so what’s not to like?
What this bumper number means is that on any one weekend there could be two dozen affiliated fixtures, or more, in venues as far apart as the north of Scotland and the Kent coast, as well as in the numerous British Showjumping Areas (usually divided on a county basis) in between. So you won’t need to drive too far to find one. If you are keen to find one that won’t entail a lengthy trip, log on to the British Showjumping website.
While you can guarantee plenty of sporting action at a variety of levels, if you go local, you may not be able to spot a famous face. For that you need to head to a major fixture, and there are plenty of these to choose from, too.
December brings everyone’s favourite — Olympia. As its strapline suggests, this is the best equestrian Christmas party, and the vast indoor arena boasts a great festive feel. However, tickets for the limited number of seats sell out fast and if you don’t want to be disappointed, book early.
Olympia is a CSI5* competition, so the crème de la crème of the sport as international fixtures affiliated to the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) are coded with a star rating. Five stars is the highest due to these contests’ top level prize-money, while the horses have to negotiate jumps around the 1.60m mark.
If you feel confident contending with London’s traffic or the underground, Olympia Exhibition Centre in west London is easily accessible and once inside you will be transported into a world of horsey displays and some top level sporting action, including myriad show jumping classes contested by leading names.
The speed classes and jump offs against the clock always jack up the excitement factor, as does the famous puissance, high jumping for horses. In this class, the winner is the horse who can jump the imposing red wall at its highest level — generally around the 7ft mark — which, by the way, even the riders think is BIG.
In January, a new fixture, the CSI4* Liverpool International Horse Show (January 1-3, 2016) is coming to town. The publicity says it will be ‘world class sport spectacular entertainment’, and if the website (www.liverpoolhorseshow.com) is anything to go by, it looks like it is going to be sensational.
If you are lucky, you may spot celebrities as well as horses at May’s Royal Windsor Horse Show, where a member of the royal family or two are often in attendance.
Hickstead’s June Derby Meeting is a CSI4*, as well as being an iconic event and probably the most famous outdoor show jumping fixture in the world. Little is as exciting as watching horses jump down the terrifying Derby Bank, through Devil’s Dyke and over the unusual Road Jump. The Derby is an extra long course that stays the same year after year and, despite this, it never fails to work its magic on the venue’s live audience, providing thrills and spills and barely one sought after clear round each year.
Also in June, the Bolesworth CSI4* has attractions over and above the showjumping to keep any non-horsey friend happy. They can experience zorbing on the lake, helicopter rides and a zip wire while you watch the stars in action over the coloured poles. And don’t forget the shopping. This venue boasts at least 130 trade stands, so enough to keep any shopaholic entertained.
The Global Champions Tour is a relatively new five star event and has its UK leg in July at beautiful Syon Park in west London. This event features top 30 ranked showjumpers from around the world competing in big ticket locations around the world. This is the place to spot World, Olympic and Continental champions battle it out for the top spot.
The Royal International Horse Show is a long running fixture at Hickstead and takes place in July. This venue hosts a leg of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Jumping Series, an exciting team event which recently saw eight squads jumping for the first prize.
In October all roads lead to Birmingham — to the NEC to be precise and the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), which is billed as the UK’s biggest indoor equestrian event with a shopping experience to match.
If you are new to the action, you will soon understand it, as the appeal of showjumping is its simplicity. Riders accrue four penalties for each fence their horse dislodges, or for a foot in the water at a water jump. A fall of horse or rider incurs elimination. The combination must complete the course within the time allowed, or be penalised for every second they exceed the optimum.
If you attend a blue riband show, you will generally be watching Grade A show jumpers. The grading refers to the horses, not the riders, and it is worked out on the amount of financial winnings that horse has, so a Grade A mount will have banked anything over £2,000 in prize-money.
So there you have it. An exciting sport held in venues with the wow factor, practised by stunning horses and talented riders, which is also easy to understand. Happy watching!
Image: Robert Whitaker and USA Today at the London leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour in July 2015, by Stefano Grasso, courtesy of the Longines Global Champions Tour