The History of Show Jumping Up to 1936
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The History of Show Jumping Up to 1936

A history of Show jumping up to 1936, continued in another article. This includes information on the Olympic Games and international horse shows of old.

This is a complete history of show jumping from the beginning until modern times and is continued in another article, which starts after 1936.

Show jumping is a relatively new idea as it only began to achieve recognition in the second half of the eighteenth century, and even then it was slow to gain ground. The first mention of it is in a French cavalry manual in 1788.

The “Enclosure Act” of the eighteenth century, (making what was once common land the responsibility of owners), brought more fences and this necessitated in individuals riding across country, jumping the fences, in order to get to their destination. However these were natural jumps and it was another one hundred years before show jumping, as opposed to steeple chasing, was officially recorded. (Steeple chasing is over “natural” fences while show jumping is man made jumps.)


Ireland was the front runner for show jumping when in 1865, at the Royal Dublin Society Annual Show, there were competitions for “wide” and “high” leaps. In 1866 there were competitions in Rome and Paris too, but although the competitions started at the shows, the competitors went out into the country to jump. In 1875, nine years later, the famous French Cavalry School at Saumur included in its programme, an exhibition of Show Jumping.

In England jumping was primarily part of an agricultural show and was first officially recorded at a five day show at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, London, in 1876. The winners were decided “solely on skill” by a Master of Foxhounds, as this enabled the most diplomatic result, (it couldn’t be seen that a local squire was beaten by one of his tenants), and thus even when a few rules were introduced, style was still of paramount importance.

In the United States the National Horse Show was started in Madison Square Gardens, New York, in 1883, and this show continued to thrive.

By the turn of the century show jumping was firmly established and Germany held shows in towns all over the country. In the second modern Olympic Games in Paris in 1900, there were three show jumping competitions – a high jump, a wide jump and prize jumping. (Polo was also included in these games.)

The following year, 1901, saw the first recorded official international show jumping in Turin, with the German and Italian army officers pitting their skills against each other.

In London, at Olympia in 1907, the first International Horse Show was held. This was the forerunner to the Royal International Horse Show, (and a show still runs at Olympia today). The Earl of Lonsdale directed the show, with a board made up of men from Europe and America. There were two disciplines, the long and the wide jump and substantial prize money was offered for both competitions. Two Belgian riders, (Haegemann and Van Langendonck), who had won at the Olympic Games and again in Holland repeated their victory and dominated this show. Tommy Glencross won the high jump and later he was to play an important part in developing show jumping in Britain.

In 1906 the Swedish Count, Clarence von Rosen, put a proposition to the Congress of International Olympic Committee – that Equestrian Sports should be permanently included in the Olympics. (This was brought about because there had been none in the 1904 Games in St. Louis). The founder of the Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin asked him to put a more detailed proposal to the next congress in 1907. He did, suggesting that dressage, equestrian pentathlon and a game called “Jeu de Rosa” should make up the equestrian programme to be included in the Games permanently.

The British members of International Olympic Council agreed that these three events should be included in the Olympic Games in London in 1908, and the committee of the International Horse Show agreed to run them – provided there were a minimum of twenty four competitors from six different countries. They actually got eighty eight entries from eight countries. At the last minute the equestrian events were dropped from the programme. Whether this was because they could not cope with the large numbers, or for some other reason, is unknown.


Van Rosen didn’t give up, and as the next Olympics were in Stockholm, in his own country, a committee was formed with himself as secretary-general and Prince Carl as president. They produced three events for the 1912 Olympic Games; a “three day event”, dressage and show jumping.

In 1909 the first show in Lucerne was held, with the Italians, Germans, French and Belgians in opposition to the Swiss team. The same year the National Horse Show in New York introduced show jumping to its programme, and a team of five British army officers captioned by Major J. G. Beresford, won the event. Four years later at the same show, the first military team event was held, and this was the forerunner to The Nations Cup.

In London at the International Horse Show in 1909 there was a team competition, and the King Edward VII Cup was won by the French. The Czarist cavalry came to London and had a hat trick of wins for the cup, 1912 -1914. Their captain, Captain Paul Rodzianko took the cup back to Russia, and it has not been seen since.

In 1910 the first international show in Buenos Aires was held, with riders from Italy, Spain, France, and the South American countries taking part.

At the Olympic Games min 1912, the show jumping was judged under new rules. Marks were given for each fence and deductions made for any mistakes. These rules were so complicated that each fence had to have its own judge. Each country was allowed to enter four competitors for the team event and six for the individual. Furthermore, in the team event only the top three scores would count – the way it still is today. Belgium, Chile, France, Germany, Britain, Norway, Russia and Sweden entered a total of thirty one riders in the individual competition, which was won by captain Caricor of France, while Sweden won the team medal.

The next year Germany founded the Olympic equestrian Committee, but the war brought all sport to a standstill.

In 1917 the United States formed the American Horse Show Association, to represent the States in international affairs.

Federico Caprilli

In 1920 at the Olympic Games in Antwerp, two Italian riders trained by Federico Caprilli, won the gold and silver awards in the individual competitions. (There were no British riders present due to a “cattle disease ban”.) The same year the International Show in London reopened.

Federico Caprilli changed the way riders rode their horses over jumps. Up to that point the rider had “sat back” in the saddle, believing this was saving the horses legs on landing, but it also jabbed the horse in the mouth and caused severe balance problems. (Horses use their head and heck to balance.) The new method, called the “forward seat” had shorter stirrups and the rider leaning forward. This took pressure off the back and gave the horse a longer rein, thus allowing it to balance. This style has been used ever since.

backward seat  forward seat

Although equestrian sport was now recognised as part of the Olympic movement, the sport had no ruling body of its own, even though Baron Pierre de Coubertin encouraged the creation of world federations for each sport, so that they could standardise their rules. Commandant Georges Hector of France drew up the status for the Fédération Équestre Internationale, (F.E.I.) , which was adopted at a congress in Paris in November 1921. Sweden, France, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Japan, Norway and the United States were the founder members with Switzerland joining in 1922.

Toronto Winter fair started in 1922, and five years later the first Canadian Nations cup was held.

The British Show jumping Association was founded in 1923, with Lord Lonsdale as president and Colonel V. D. S. Williams, (father of the famous television commentator Dorian Williams), as secretary.

At the first Olympic Games to be held under F.E.I. rules there were a record ninety-nine riders from seventeen countries, with Sweden winning the team gold and a Swiss rider the individual gold.

Britain joined the F.E.I. the following year, 1925, and in 1926 in Ireland the Royal Dublin Society introduced an international jumping event in their schedule. In 1926, at the London International, Fred Bantecou from America, won the King George V Gold cup. Jack Talbo-Ponsonby was the first man to win this cherished cup three times, having his first victory in 1930 when Mike Ansell also had his first international success. Jack Talbo-Ponsonby went on to become Britain’s finest course builder.

The next Olympic Games held in Los Angeles were not a success, with only thirty-four riders from six countries present. At the subsequent games in Berlin in 1936, Germany proved its superiority by winning the team and individual awards in the Show Jumping, Dressage and Three day Event.

Then came the war.

Photos of author and courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Comments (7)

A really good article worth reading. Nice information regarding show jumping.

Great article, Jill, on the history of something I kew very little about until reading this. I love horses, horseback riding (Western Style), and the Western Rodeo.

A very worthwhile read.

Ranked #1 in Horses

Good background on horse show jumping, it is big business now!

Great info and photos!

Don't know much about horses but I enjoyed your article.

Once again well researched and great pictures.