How high a horse can jump will, obviously, depend on the size of the horse – you cannot expect a Shetland to clear a five bar gate! Breed also helps to determine how high a horse can jump, as some breeds have been bred for it over the centuries and are generally better at it. When you get into the world of professional show jumping and cross country, the fences get extremely high, sometimes a foot or two taller than many full grown men.
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How High Can A Horse Jump?
On average, most horses can jump around 3 feet without training, but they will need incentive to do so – either another horse in another field that they want to get to, or food, or possibly fear – all these things can induce them to jump great heights. Apart from those reasons, a horse’s jumping ability is usually down to good training and practise.
A good jumping horse will have two qualities – the physical ability to get his body up into the air, and a mental combination of courage and spirit. He must also have a desire to be careful, and to not touch the top of a jump with his hooves or body. This last ability can set a good jumper apart from a bad one – it’s all very well to get the height right, but if you trail a hoof every time then you’re going to knock down a rail and miss out on the medals!
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How Horses Jump?
A horse will canter (or gallop, in the case of racehorses or hunters) towards a jump, then his gait will change as he draws his hind legs further under him to take advantage of the spring of his powerful hindquarters.
He must then continue an upward, vertical motion with a forwards, horizontal motion, to clear the jump. He will lower his withers and his shoulder blades will tuck backwards under the saddle, in order to extend his front legs forward. His forward momentum will propel him over the jump and his tucked up legs will help him avoid knocking down poles, in a similar way to the way a pole vaulter jumps.
Each horse jumps differently; some have weaker areas which they then compensate for with other parts of their bodies – for example Milton, a champion show jumper ridden by John Whittaker, would not push off as much with his weaker front feet as some others, but he used his powerful quarters and extremely flexible back to compensate.
Different Types Of High Jump
The High Jump used to be an attraction at shows, where horses would be put to fences of truly staggering heights. Although we don’t see that so much nowadays we do still have the Puissance class, which includes only two fences – a warm up and the appropriately named Great Wall. The current record for a Puissance class is held by Franke Sloothaak, who cleared an impressive 7 feet 10” on a horse called Leonardo.
The average top level show jumping height is around 3-4 feet, with the higher levels topping 6 feet. In horse racing, the biggest jump is officially The Chair in the Grand National – it is a six foot fence with a five foot 2” ditch. Steeplechase races tend to have lower fences, because horses are going so much faster – the idea behind racing is speed rather than clearing big obstacles.
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Highest Ever Horse Jump
The official world record for the highest horse jump ever is held by Huaso (previously Faithful) who jumped 8 foot 1./4”, ridden by Captain Morales in Chile in 1949.
It was a jump off between Huaso and Chileno; each horse had three tries at the fence – Chileno crashed through the fence and understandably retired, Huaso refused his first attempt, knocked the rail on his second then cleared the height on his final try.
There is another record, however – an unofficial one as it was not recorded, although it was witnessed by 25 people and a photographer – and that is held by King’s Own, ridden by owner Freddy Wattech Jr. in the 1920s, who jumped 8 foot 3 1/2”. The horse cleared this astronomical jump with room to spare, and photographic evidence exists of this impressive event.
Best Horses For Jumping (Not Only Show Jumping)
All Warmbloods are great show jumpers as we explained in this article. In addition, you can also consider:
- The Thoroughbreds, though they are primarily considered to be racing horses, make very good jumpers too. They have a lean, wiry athleticism, and generally have a bold, courageous temperament.
- The Quarter Horse, because of its well muscled hind end, is another great contender for jumping well. They are also eager to please, and have been bred for their willing temperaments for centuries.
- The Arabian is a smaller, slimmer horse than either a Thoroughbred or a Quarter Horse, but they have a great deal of agility and are well known for their fiery temperaments which make them more than happy to tackle a big fence. This temperament makes them less suitable for beginners, however.
- The Trakhener is similar in appearance to the Thoroughbred, and it is a hardy horse with a beautiful jump. They also have docile, willing temperaments, meaning that they are easy to train and will throw themselves at whatever you ask.
- The Appaloosa makes the list as well, because they are strong and determined, and very happy to try their best. Their more docile tempers make them ideal for younger, less experienced jumpers too.
All that being said, you don’t have to own one of these five horses in order to have a long and enjoyable jumping career. Lessons are a great place to start, and as with anything in life, the more you practise the better you will get.
Jumping is great fun, and horses can make it look completely effortless. They are impressive jumpers, and can become even more so with the right training and exercise. Some breeds are better built for jumping than others, and even in between different individuals of the same breed there can be striking differences in terms of jumping ability.