More show than jump

I grew up in a small village and fox hunting was a feature of life. Some people loved it, others hated it.

As a child I was fascinated and terrified by the horses and riders who’d gather on the Green before setting off across the fields. Once, when a hunt climaxed close to my primary school playground, my teacher led us from the classroom so we could see what was happening. I don’t remember him passing any comment on the scene: dogs yelping, horses breathing hard, loud voices, smeared faces. But it’s a strong memory of my early schooldays.

The roots of equestrian jumping can be traced back to fox hunting.

Until the early 1700s most farming was based on large or open fields, where tenant or yeoman farmers cultivated scattered strips on land. Gradually, some land was enclosed and agricultural holdings became consolidated, through informal agreements, into individually-owned or rented fields.

Crispin prepares for his third Freyathlon event
Crispin prepares for his third Freyathlon event

The Enclosures Act sped up this process, and the large, communal fields were divided up hedges and fields. Between 1604 and 1914 more than 5,200 enclosure Bills were enacted by Parliament and the land affected totalled about 6.8 million acres or more than a fifth of the total area of England. This improved the agricultural productivity of farms, but it also changed the rural landscape and hastened the exodus of agricultural workers from the land to seek work in the towns.

And, while horse riders had previously galloped across open fields in pursuit of their quarry, the arrival of hedges and fences meant they could now develop a new skill – jumping.

Olympic jumping

The horse made its first appearance at the Olympic Games in 680BC – when chariot racing was introduced – and was first included in the modern Olympics programme in 1912. Women first took part in equestrian jumping at the 1956 Games in Stockholm.

Show jumping tests the ability of the horse and the rider to jump over a series of obstacles (10-16 jumps) within a set time. The aim is to finish with the fewest penalties, which are awarded for jumps knocked down, falls, touches, and refusals to jump.

Unicorn and rider
Unicorn and rider

The course

I was never going to be allowed to jump so I came up with an interpretation, featuring Crispin – star of the Freyathlon modern pentathlon and stand-out performer in the Freyathlon equestrian eventing.

The equestrian jumping took place at the same venue as the eventing, and required some audience participation.


Equestrian jumping. 8 July 2016

Forster Memorial Park

Cost: Free, not including audience refreshments