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Timber Racing: America’s “Point-to-Point”

Timber racing is an American form of steeplechase or point-to-point racing. The difference is that this type of jumps racing uses stationary, wooden rail fences instead of brush hurdles. In the United States, timber racing is mostly conducted in the mid-southern states and along the East Coast. It is considered a very “blue blood” form of horse racing, and the people who participate in it do it for the love of the sport and the tradition. There is no purse to win.

This Form Of Racing Has A Rich History

The general air around a timber race is reminiscent of the point-to-point races enjoyed by English aristocracy. Spectators often arrive dressed to the nines. Women wear large and flamboyant hats. Refreshments include champagne, chilled white wine, crab cakes and other delicacies.

Timber Racing Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

Timber racing courses are several miles long and feature many challenging fences to jump. The most prominent timber racing event is called the Maryland Hunt Cup. This is a 4 mile long race with 22 fences. Some are as tall as 5 feet high.

The horses that compete in timber races are often “failed” racehorses. The qualities needed to succeed in a flat race are quite different from those needed to succeed in a timber race. Horses who have been deemed too temperamental and too fiery for flat racing are often perfect for the unique challenges of timber racing.

Last year’s Maryland hunt cup champ, Senior Senator, is an example of this type of horse. He was uncontrollable as a flat race horse because he could not tolerate the confined life of professional racehorse.

As a timber racehorse, he is able to spend a great deal of his life in open pasture. This better suits his temperament. Additionally, the challenges of jumping are more suited to his temperament and abilities than the challenges of flat racing.

The Maryland Hunt Cup – A Jockeys Perspective

Timber racing jockeys are amateurs. Very often, they are descendents of others who have enjoyed point-to-point racing. The maximum weight of a timber race Jockey is 165 pounds. Many must work out furiously in order to attain the ideal weight in time for the race. Quite a few of these amateur jockeys are “weekend warriors” who hold rather mild-mannered professions during the week.

The amateur jockeys who participate in timber racing say that they are drawn by the tests of their abilities, the challenges to their bravery and the sheer adrenaline rush that accompanies participation. Injuries to jockeys are frequent and often severe, but most choose to lick their wounds and come back for more.

Jockeys are most frequently unseated and injured when their horses refuse to take a jump. This can result in the jockey being propelled over the jump and onto the other side. This type of fall can result in injuries, but far worse injuries are incurred if a horse trips and falls on a rider or if the rider is run over by another horse.

Timber Racing Terms

1. Outrider

This person monitors the course to gather up horses who have lost a rider and to keep spectators from wandering into harm’s way.

2. Making Weight

This term refers to jockeys’ efforts to get into shape in time for their ride. Jockeys often diet strictly and exercise vigorously to lose weight and get fit for the challenges of timber racing.

3. Race Stewards

These people are the race referees. They perch high above the course in a “stewards stand” to watch the action. The stewards have the final say in judging fouls.

Can Anybody Participate In Timber Racing?

Technically yes, but it’s important to realize that this is rather a snobby activity. The people who participate in it have been doing so for generations, and the horses they enter are not grade stock. Timber racing horses are typically valued at $25,000-$100,000.

Even if you’re not able to afford to officially participate in this lofty activity, there’s no reason why you couldn’t set up unofficial timber races at your local stables or among your friends.

If you’re interested in jumping, setting up cross-country tracks with fences of a height that will suit you can be lots of fun and reminiscent of the old-fashioned Irish steeplechases which literally ran across country from the steeple of one church to the steeple of another.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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