Jump Racing

“There is a common misconception that the horse is a natural jumper, possessed of a flexible and supple body capable of maintaining balance at all gaits and speeds. The reality is very different. In fact, of all athletic animals, the horse has been provided with a very inflexible carcass of great bulk and weight. Apart from the trunk providing anchorage for muscles responsible for limb movement, its weight is a serious handicap to rapid and flexible progression, like a motor car with a very heavy chassis” [1]


Additionally, horses have a blind spot extending to 90–120 cm (3–4 ft) in front of the nose, meaning that obstacles briefly disappear from sight before a horse jumps. Unsurprisingly therefore, “Unless trained to jump, horses generally avoid ditches and horizontal obstacles” [2].

In hurdle racing, however, horses are required to jump obstacles up to one metre in height, whilst carrying a minimum weight of 64 kg (jockey and saddle, plus handicap weight). In a steeplechase, horses jump over fences at least 1.15 m high [3]. Jump races are usually also longer than flat races. Horses that are tired or crowded by other horses have a greater risk of falls.

Because of such factors, the risk of fatality in Australian jump racing is almost 19 times than in flat racing. Catastrophic limb failure - the main cause of horseracing deaths - is 18 times greater, with cranial (head and neck) or vertebral (back) injury 120 times greater, and sudden death (e.g. from heart failure) 3.5 times greater [4]. Because of these severe risks to horses, jump racing has ceased in all but two Australian states, Victoria and South Australia. However, it still continues in New Zealand, and our horses also continue to die in Australian events. Two of the three horses that died in the opening weeks of the 2016 jump season were from New Zealand: Cliff's Dream and Fieldmaster.

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1. Smythe RH and Goody PC. (1993). Horse Structure and Movement (3rd Edn.). London: J.A. Allen.

2. McGreevy (2003). Equine Behavior. London: W.B.Saunders.

3. Ruse K, Davison A and Bridle K. (2015). Jump horse safety: reconciling public debate and Australian Thoroughbred Jump Racing Data, 2012–2014. Animals, 5(4), 1072-1091.

4. Boden L, Anderson JA., Charles KL, et al. (2006). Risk of fatality and causes of death of thoroughbred horses associated with racing in Victoria, Australia: 1989–2004. Equine Vet J. 38, 312–318.