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Horses are incredible athletes that surpass many animals in their natural abilities. Not only are they among the fastest mammals on Earth, but can also clear large obstacles relative to their size.
That being said, horses were not exactly made for jumping. Their rigid backs and large bodies put them at a disadvantage compared to lighter animals like cheetahs or gazelles that can easily leap up in the air.
At the same time, many sport horses today have been selectively bred for centuries for their jumping ability.
It’s always a thrilling experience to watch these horses perform in show jumping competitions and show off their outstanding talent for the sport.
How High Can a Horse Jump?
An average untrained horse can jump 2 to 4 feet, whereas competitive show jumping horses can jump 5 to 7 feet. The world record highest horse jump is 8 ft 1.25 (2.47 m).
There have been many examples of smaller horses or ponies jumping impressive heights, both with and without a rider.
Jumping is an activity enjoyed by many horse riders. Therefore, most horses receive basic training in this skill and can jump smaller obstacles without difficulty.
Various equestrian sports involve jumping, such as show jumping, eventing, steeplechasing, hunting, and agility. Out of these, show jumping is the most popular discipline and is practiced worldwide.
In show jumping, horses and riders must clear a course of fences in a pre-determined order. The pair that jumps the course the fastest with the fewest poles on the ground wins the competition.
Horse Jumping Records
In the 20th century, several horses and riders made history by setting jumping records that still stand today. These prominent athletes gained worldwide recognition for their resilience and dedication to achieving the unachievable in the sport of show jumping.
As mentioned earlier, the record for the highest horse jump is 8 ft 1.25 in (2.47 m), set by Captain Alberto Larraguibel Morales and Huaso ex-Faithful on February 5, 1949. After two years of training, the pair performed their historic jump in Vina del Mar, Chile, clearing the fence on the third attempt.
Watch Morales and Huaso perform their legendary jump below:
While 8 ft 1.25 in is considered to be the official world record in show jumping, an unofficial record was set by American Fred Wettach Jr. and King’s Own in the 1920s. Apparently, the pair cleared an 8 ft 3.5 in (2.53 m) fence with room to spare.
However, since the jump didn’t happen during a sanctioned competition, it doesn’t count as an official record despite 25 witnesses.
Other Horse Jumping Records
German Franke Sloothaak and his horse Optiebeurs Golo hold the world record in puissance or high jumping. In June 1991, the pair successfully jumped a 7 ft 10 1/2 in (2.40 m) wall during a competition at Chaudfontaine, Belgium, breaking Sloothaak’s previous record of 7 ft 8 1/2 in (2.35 m).
Puissance is a branch of show jumping equivalent to high jumping in athletics. Each competition has five rounds with a starting height of 5 ft 7 in to 5 ft 11 in (1.70 to 1.80 m). After the first round, the fences are raised each round and can reach heights of over 6 ft 7 in (2 m).
In North America, the puissance record holder is Anthony D’Ambrosio and his gray Thoroughbred Sweet’N Low. During the 1983 Washington International, D’Ambrosio and his horse jumped 7 ft 7 ½ in (2.32 m), a record that stands ever since.
Meanwhile, the puissance record in Great Britain is 7 ft 7 5/16 in (2.32m), set by Nick Skelton and Lastic at Olympia Horse Show in 1978. It took the pair three attempts to clear the daunting sloping fence that was typical in the competition before the red brick wall.
Last but not least, the jumping record in Miniature horses is 3 ft 6 ½ in (1.08 m), credited to the palomino mini Castrawes Paleface Orion.
While this height is not difficult to achieve for most horses, Miniature horses are typically less than 34–38 inches (86–97 cm) tall, making this record a truly impressive feat.
How High do Horses Jump in the Olympics?
Show jumping was first introduced to the Olympics at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games. However, for the first fifty years, only male cavalry officers were eligible to compete at this level. Female participants were not allowed in the games until the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
In the Olympics, horses jump fences 5.2 ft (1.6 m) high. Whereas, the maximum width of all fences is 6.5 ft (2 m), except for triple bar fences (7.2ft or 2.2 m wide) and water jumps (14.76 ft or 4.5 m wide).
Olympic show jumping competitions consist of five rounds, with riders collecting points in each round. Penalties are given for jumps knocked down, hooves in the water, refusals, and running overtime. Moreover, only horses older than seven years are eligible to compete in the Olympics.
The fences are also 5.2 ft (1.6 m) in Grand Prix show jumping, the highest level of the sport after the Olympics.
These competitions have complex and challenging courses requiring the highest level of training and concentration from both horse and rider.
Also read: 11 Best Showjumping Horses of All Time
What’s the Farthest a Horse Can Jump?
The farthest a horse ever jumped was 28 ft or 8.4 m, a feat performed over a water obstacle by Andre Ferreira and his horse Something. The record was set at the National Event “Rend Show” in Johannesburg, South Africa, on April 25, 1975.
Water jumps are the widest obstacles in show jumping and can be up to 16 ft (4.8 m) in length. These jumps are typically rectangular water ditches with a small fence on one side.
Also read: 12 Best Horse Breeds for Jumping
Do Horses Like Jumping?
We often hear professional, and hobby riders claim that their horses love jumping. However, others argue that this claim is invalid since the riders send their horses over the jumps, so what is the truth?
Most horses do not like jumping and will only jump obstacles if they cannot go around them. At the same time, some horses do enjoy jumping and will even complete an obstacle course all on their own.
While horses might enjoy jumping at a steady pace, they will rarely go over obstacles at full speed for fear of injury or death. This is a major issue in jump racing, where horses are galloped over obstacles at high speed without being allowed enough time to assess the fence.
As a result, many horses fall and injure themselves during these races. According to RSPCA South Australia, nearly 20% of jumping horses fail to finish the race for many reasons.
Why Do Horses Refuse Jumps?
Horses can refuse jumps either by coming to a sudden halt in front of the fence or by changing direction at the last second before the jump. There are many reasons why horses might refuse a jump, with some being more common than others.
Most horses refuse jumps because they are in pain or they are being asked too much. After several refusals, riders should examine the horse’s health as well as their own riding and reduce the height if necessary.
A common reason why horses refuse jumps is a previous injury or bad experience they associate with jumping. Their reaction is merely a survival mechanism that protects the horse from further harm and shouldn’t be mistaken for laziness or defiance.
If refusals are becoming a real issue, assess your horse’s musculoskeletal condition and soundness. If all seems fine but you’re still suspicious, consult your vet, physio, or massage therapist for advice.
Moreover, rider tension, imbalance, or approaching the obstacle at the wrong angle might also read to refusals.
If there is no physical issue, it’s worth asking an experienced friend or instructor to watch you jump and share their insights.
Another scenario could be that your horse is not mentally prepared for what you’re asking or lost his confidence. In this case, it’s a good idea to return to the basics and practice flatwork or pole work for a while.