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Steeplechasing: Get All the Facts

Apr 9, 2008
A steeplechase is a horse race over brush obstacles on a prescribed course. The term is sometimes used broadly to mean any kind of race over obstacles of whatever nature - on a course or cross-country. The term "Steeplechase" originated in the 18th century when it was usual for the sporting gentry to race cross-country from a designated point a distance of approximately four miles to "Yon church steeple".

Hence, such a race was termed a steeplechase. These point-to-point races, if the desirable shortest course was followed, naturally required jumping fences. Ultimately, the majority of races over fences were confined to smaller areas, prescribed courses and more or less standard obstacles - with a church steeple no longer required for reference. The name, however, stuck.

Point-to-Point - A point-to-point is actually a race across natural country and natural obstacles from one specified point to another (and sometimes return) over any route the rider chooses to follow. Today, however, the term generally refers to a jumping race over natural country but between a flagged course.

Hunt Race Meeting - A series of races usually over brush, hurdle and timber, under the auspices of a recognized Hunt and governed by National Steeplechase and Hunt Association rules.

Hurdle Race - Prior to 1950, a hurdle race was one over a prescribed course in which the obstacles were "sheep hurdles," panels of light wood fencing with brush set in them, inclined "away" at an angle of 15 degrees from the perpendicular. Since that time, hurdle fences are smaller size replicas of the brush type of fence, a frame of wood filled with cedar and brushed with the same material on the "take off" side. The height of these is 4' 4" whereas a regular brush fence is 5' 2" high.

Obstacles (Fences) - The obstacles in jumping races are usually timber (post and rail), brush (hedge) and hurdles (described in a preceding paragraph). There are substantially more steeplechase races over brush and hurdles than over timber.

The height of the usual steeplechase obstacles in the United States (including hurdles) is from 4' 4" to over 5 feet. (However, on some big brush courses, the obstacles are six feet high.) Brush is usually 3 to 3&1/2feet wide.

A water jump is prescribed as being a minimum of 6 feet wide and 2 feet deep with a fence not less than 2 feet high on the take-off side.

Each of the obstacles on a steeplechase course is flagged. A small red or blue flag indicates the inside of the course - that it should be jumped with the flag on the rider's left. Small white flags are placed on the opposite side of the obstacle (indicating the outside of the course - that it should be jumped with the flag on the rider's right).

Length of Courses - A steeplechase run at a racing establishment or track is usually 2 to 22 miles. Hunt race meetings over natural country are frequently about 4 miles. For hunters, the minimum is 22 miles over brush and 32 miles over timber. In steeplechases, at least four obstacles per mile are required.

Riders - Steeplechase riders use a much longer stirrup than flat race jockeys and ride more in the saddle than the former. Steeplechase riders are required to wear a light, but strong, plastic skull cap under the silk.

Riders other than professionals are generally referred to as "Mr."

Weight - The minimum weight permitted in any steeplechase is 130 pounds and, in races exclusively for hunters, the minimum is 145 pounds. Amateur steeplechase riders in a hunt race frequently weigh in up to 170 pounds and quite generally from 150 to 160. However, except when an amateur rider is up, a horse may not carry more than five pounds over the prescribed weight.

The Steeplechase Horse -The steeplechaser is not a distinct breed - most of them, however, are Thoroughbreds.

Horses are not permitted to run in a steeplechase until August 1 of the year in which they are three years old. The age of steeplechase horses in top competition ranges all the way from 3 to 10 years.

Now you know all about it, its time to join a steeplechase.
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