In the UK and Ireland, jumps races are often referred to National Hunt Racing. Horses that move from the amateur point to point races move into the National Hunt races.
While point to point amateur races are almost always three miles, except for maiden races, the National Hunt races vary by type. The Chase is a race that lasts two to four and a half miles. The fences the horses jump throughout the course are at least four and a half feet high. In hurdling, the distance run is between two and three and half miles. The jumps are hurdles and stand a little shorter and three and a half feet tall.
Jumps Racing in the United States
Jumps races in the United States are divided into two categories: hurdles and timber. Hurdles races are generally 2 to 3 mile races. The jumps are National fences, made up of plastic steel generally. Some races use natural materials for fences including pine and even tall hedges for a more official hunt feel. For safety reasons, much of the jump can be brushed. The horse will not incur serious injury if the total jump height is not cleared entirely, which is a possibility with jumps that stand at least 52” high.
Timber races are generally set on a longer course than hurdle races. Usually, races take place across three to four mile tracks. Timber jumps are very sturdy, and often do not contain and yielding brush material. Timber jumps are solid wood and can stand as high as five feet tall.
Jumping in Stride
One of the most important aspects in jumps racing is jumping in stride. When a horse jumps in stride, the jump is in pace, and thus at the fastest possible speed to continue. Jumping off pace will interrupt the rhythm of the horse’s movements and, if the horse has not been trained to jump off-pace, can be dangerous. Horses cannot jump quite as high or as far with an off-pace jump, so the horse runs to risk of failing to clear the jump.
Hunters will count paces as a way to determine the horse’s stride. The average stride of a horse is 4m. Knowing the specific stride distance of a jumper horse can be essential in jumps racing. The distance of each stride can also be lengthened when the horse is traveling at faster speeds. Before entering competitive point to point racing, the rider must understand the pacing of the horse.
In hurdles, the horse is making a more flat jump to clear the hurdles. Because timber jumps are so solid, the horse must make an arched jump in order to successfully clear the obstacle. It is important, in jumping, to also account for the landing. The horse must have enough space to land evenly, so that it can continue its stride with a full burst of speed.
Cutting into the jump must be done before approaching the jump so that the rider can straighten out the stride. Pacing beforehand will help. The rider keeps the rhythm and counts the strides. In hurdle racing, the horse jumps most of the hurdles in stride. Horses in hurdles are also trained to jump out of stride, since the hurdles are often approached out of stride. In timber racing, the horses must land in stride because of the arcing nature of the jumps. If a timber racing horse jumps out of stride, the momentum will virtually stop, then start again. Jumps racing requires speed and agility, as well as excellent timing to complete the course.