Use of the horse in the fundamental activities of humankind - war, transportation, and hunting - developed over centuries, and changes to the equipment used – saddles and bridles, bits, horseshoes – gradually gave rise, in Europe and in Asia, to very elaborate battle techniques based on the horse.
In the 14th century, Europeans began to take interest in the academic and military aspects of the equestrian art, while the English turned toward more sporting uses of the horse, especially racing and hunting.
In the 19th century, when mechanical engines began to replace horses in both work and transportation, the sports aspects of equitation, many of them derived from military traditions, came to the fore. Today, the popularity of horse racing and equestrian competitions provides the means to finance breeding and preserve the diversity of horse breeds.
To produce horses that are well suited to the way they will be used, the best stallions and mares are selected for breeding from their results in competition.
About 200 breeds have been created and registered in studbooks (genealogical records) for their aptitudes and physical characteristics. The Sell Français, English Hunter and German Hanoverian are recognized for their exceptional talents at jumping.
Despite their natural talent, competition requires solid experience acquired over 4 years of training. Before the competition season begins, the pulmonary and muscular capacities of the horses, used to the maximum on course, are built up by galloping sessions (for respiration) and long trots (for the propulsive muscles).
In jumping competitions, the aim is to jump obstacles as quickly as possible without knocking them down, and the rider’s skill is an indispensable complement to the horse’s muscular strength. This form of equestrian sport was created in the mid 19th century during mounted hunts in the English countryside, where natural obstacles – brush fences, ditches and walls – abounded.
The first international jumping competition took place in Paris in 1900, where it was first included in the Olympics. The Olympic Grand Prix is among the Games’ most anticipated events.
There is a minimum speed of 350 to 400 m/min (about 382 to 437 yd/min). Today’s courses, created by specialized course designers, are between 700 and 1,000 m (between about 765 and 1,100 yd) in length. A course is composed of 12 to 15 obstacles, including at least 3 combinations.