Wondering which breeds are the best jumping horses?
Showjumping is one of the most fascinating equestrian sports. It involves a high level of athleticism, technique, and style for both the horse and the rider.
Unfortunately, not all horse breeds can excel in this sport. In this post, I discuss some of the best jumping horses and what makes a good jumping horse.
READ MORE: What Kind of Horses Are There?
Types of Horse Jumping
Before I discuss the best horse breeds for jumping, let’s first review the types of jumping horses participate in.
Showjumping is an equestrian sport that involves a horse and a rider jumping over obstacles, also known as fences, within a set time. Faults (points) are awarded based on whether the horse attempted to jump over the obstacle, whether he made it without knocking the fence over, and whether he did it within the stipulated time.
When the horse exceeds the stipulated time on the course, it’s known as a Time Fault. If they knock over the barrier or refuse to jump, that translates to a jumping fault.
The showjumping course can range from simple to complex, but both the rider and horse are judged on those three metrics – ability, execution, and time.
Hunter jumping was adopted from England’s foxhunting sport, and it became popular in the United States especially, where they are called hunters. Working hunters is popular in the UK and Ireland, but there are several differences.
Hunters and show jumping may look similar, but they differ in how they get scored. As I’ve mentioned, showjumping uses an objective system, but hunter jumping is more subjective.
Hunter horses are judged on their jumping technique and style.
Showjumpers are purely scored by time and faults. Their technique or the rider’s style does not matter if the horse scores zero faults.
Hunter and jumping are often pitted against each other. But they both take skill and perfection on both the horse and the rider.
As the name suggests, cross-country horse-jumping involves horses galloping through the countryside. The obstacles involve jumping over ditches, through water, and over natural fences.
The rider and the horse are judged on how well they tackle the obstacles and how well the rider paces the horse consistently throughout the course.
This form of jumping is less strict compared to show jumping, but a horse can still be eliminated if it refuses to jump over the obstacles, if the rider fails to jump in the required order, or the rider chooses to retire the horse.
Time faults and speed faults (when the horse runs too fast) are also factors in the scoring.
The Best Show Jumping Horses
The Arabian horse breed is one of the oldest horse breeds, dating back more than 3500 years.
They were kept mainly by the Bedouin people in the Middle Eastern deserts for war.
Other countries also fell in love with the breed and started using Arabian Stock to improve their breeds.
That’s why most modern breeds descended from their breed.
They are known for their well-built body, endurance, and speed. Over the years, several types of Arabian horses have emerged. The main types include Egyptian, Polish, Shagya, Crabbet, Spanish, and Russian.
The Shagya types and the Anglo-Arabian (a crossbreed between an Arabian and a Thoroughbred) have longer legs and are some of the best Arabians for show jumping.
The Arabian is a good choice for lower-level jumping. However, they can’t compete with the abilities of some warmblood breeds that you will meet later on.
The Thoroughbred is one of the most popular breeds of racehorse, so it’s no surprise that they would be great for jumping events.
Some of the fastest horses of all time are Thoroughbreds. These include Secretariat, Man O’ War, and Winning Brew (currently holding the world’s fastest horse record).
This breed originated in England when Arabians and Barb horses were imported and developed through selective breeding to produce some of the best racing horses.
Eventually, other countries became interested in the breed. The Thoroughbred played a part in developing their local horses, particularly the jumping warmblood breeds.
Their speed, stamina, and strength make this breed successful in most of the equestrian sports it participates in.
American Quarter Horse
With a history dating back to the 1600s, the American Quarter Horses are some of the oldest breeds in the United States.
During that era, colonialists crossed horses of Spanish origin and those of English origin to develop horses that could participate in quarter-mile races.
That’s also how they got their name.
Over the years, Quarter Horses have been selectively bred to improve their performance and speed, with the fastest Quarter Horse speed recorded at 55mph.
The modern Quarter Horse is stocky, muscular, fast, and agile, which are all excellent qualities for a sport horse. Their fast-turning abilities make it perfect for barrel-racing, but they also utilize this capability when participating in various horse jumping competitions.
Originating from Lower Saxony (formerly Grand Duchy of Oldenburg), the Oldenburg horse breed does not shy away from dressage or jumping competitions.
These horses were first bred as carriage horses. They were known for their power, dedication, and coal-black color.
To develop a powerful carriage horse, breeders also leveraged the characteristics of the Spanish, Barb, Neopolitan, Hanoverian, and Thoroughbred.
The success of the Oldenburg breed is thanks to Anthony Gunther’s efforts, where he imported fine horses from other parts of the world and allowed them to mate with the local horse breeds.
Oldenburgs were exported widely as carriage horses. However, automobiles replaced carriage horses, and they had to fit in other sectors.
And that’s when breeders crossed them with Thoroughbreds, Trakehners (more about this breed later), and Hanoverians to develop a lighter horse.
Modern Oldenburgs are compact, powerful, and have expressive gaits. They are best suited for showjumping as well as dressage.
Even though this breed is relatively new (about 100 years), it has risen to compete with some of the oldest horse breeds.
It originated in the Netherlands from two horse breeds; the Gelderland from Gelderland and the Groningen which originated in Groningen.
Both of these regions developed horses that were suitable for their type of work. For instance, Gelderland’s soil is soft, and a horse doesn’t have to be that large. So they developed a light carriage-horse with a good temperament.
On the other hand, Groningen has heavier soils, and they need a huge draft horse for their farm work. These two breeds later came together and became the Royal Warmblood Horse Studbook of the Netherlands (KWPN).
Like the Oldenburg, machinery replaced the need for carriage horses; the only other option was to use them for sports or leisure.
To make the Dutch Warmblood a sports horse, breeders used Thoroughbreds, Hanoverians, Trakehners, and many other breeds – this explains their athleticism and good temperament.
Today, Dutch Warmbloods excel in dressage, eventing, and showjumping. The World Breeding Federation of Sport Horses (WBFSH) ranks them in first position based on the latest rankings.
Often standing at 17 hands tall, with an athletic build, and charming temperament, the Trakehner is another excellent horse for showjumping, dressage, and other equestrian disciplines.
This is thanks to the Arabian and Thoroughbred blood infusion.
This breed descended from Old Prussian horses known for being hardy, especially during the Middle Ages. They extensively used them to improve other horses for military purposes as well as for farm work.
The Trakehner stud farm was established in East Prussia in 1731 by King Fredrick William I of Prussia. In the 1800s, they added Arabian, Hanoverian, and Thoroughbred horses to help improve the breed.
Local farmers crossed their horses with the mares from this farm, developing one of the best horses for the army. The Trakehner population also grew to tens of thousands.
However, this breed suffered a significant setback during The Flight (Der Track), an exodus during the Second World War. Locals had to travel with their horses to escape the Soviet Military.
The conditions were not ideal, and most of the horses drowned in the Vistula Lagoon.
The breeding program was later re-established to develop the modern Trakehner we have today. They’ve also been used to improve other warmbloods, as I mentioned earlier.
Germany is not only good at producing powerful cars. They’ve also developed some of the best horses, such as the Hanoverian.
This breed has an impressive record in various equestrian disciplines, including showjumping and dressage.
In 2005, 2008, and 2009, a Hanoverian horse named Shutterfly won the World Cup showjumping competition three times. For Pleasure is another Hanoverian horse that participated in the Olympics, and his team went ahead to win two gold medals.
Several other Hanoverians have also won gold medals in the Olympics.
Like most showjumping horses, the Hanoverian is athletic, has elastic gaits, is strong, muscular, and quite powerful. So, where did it get these qualities?
This breed dates back to the 1700s when George II bought fine local horses and improved them with Holsteiners, Thoroughbreds, Prussians, Neopolitans, and other fine horse breeds.
Initially, Hanoverians were bred for pulling coaches, military use, and even farm work. But by the end of WWII, the use of horses for farm work was diminishing.
So, breeders focused on turning them into sport horses. Thoroughbreds, Trakehners, and Anglo-Arabians have played a significant role in developing the Hanoverian horse we have today.
The Holsteiner is also from Germany, mainly Schleswig-Holstein, and it dates back to the 13th century.
For a long time, these horses were bred for farm work and war by the Uetersen Monks.
Later, local farmers and officials took over the breeding, which involved the infusion of the Spanish and Neopolitan bloodlines.
They became quite popular due to their high-set necks and strong legs, making them outstanding jumping horses. They were also quite famous for their elegance and had great driving-horse qualities.
With the development of Thoroughbreds, automobiles, and good roads, the Holsteiner needed to adapt. And this meant the infusion of Yorkshire Coach horses and Cleveland Bays to develop a good carriage/coach horse.
This breed almost became extinct after the wars but was later re-established, and the American Holsteiner Association helped to ensure the breed thrived. Modern Holsteiners still feature a muscular build and high-set necks.
They are quite popular in showjumping competitions, having been ranked in top positions by the WBFSH several times.
Irish Sport Horse
The traditional Irish Sport Horse is a cross between a Thoroughbred and an Irish Draught.
They have not been around for that long since the first crossing took place in 1923, but they have quickly grown popular in foxhunting, showjumping, three-day eventing, and pleasure riding.
This is because they bear the athleticism, good temperament, and endurance of their parent breeds. They were originally bred for transport, farm work, and hunting.
This explains why they are athletic and brave but can still comfortably hang around people, including kids.
However, not all Irish Sport Horses are direct crosses between Thoroughbreds and Irish Draughts. Combinations with other breeds such as Trakehners, Hanoverians, and Selle Français are also taking place.
As a result, the original Irish Sports Horse risks fading away, but people who value the original breed strive to make sure it thrives. Irish Sport Horses with a higher Thoroughbred blood percentage tend to do better in high-level competitions.
Also known as Saddle Horses or the Cheval de Selle Français, the Selle Français breed/type was formed in the 1950s in France when breeders brought various half-blood horses together to create one breed.
These half-bloods resulted from French local horses crossbreeding with Thoroughbreds, Anglo-Arabians, Norfolk Trotters, and French Trotters.
Each region had developed its distinct type of horse since they all had different native horse breeds. The main varieties that merged include the Vendeen, the Charolais, and the Anglo-Norman. So, when machines replaced horses, they joined to develop a sports horse.
The Selle Français have diverse qualities, which they gained from the native horses used for war and versatile breeds such as the Thoroughbred.
That’s why for you to register a horse as a Selle Français, the registries consider the parents, nationality, performance, gait, and conformation.
Generally, a Selle Français has a strong hindquarter, long neck, deep chest, and a muscular build. They are mostly available in chestnut or bay solid colors.
They are good at showjumping, dressage, and eventing. They’ve also been instrumental in improving breeds such as the Oldenburg and Holsteiner.
As the name suggests, this breed originated in Belgium. It was developed in 1937 when the Government allowed breeders to develop saddle horses and join the Netherlands, France, and Germany in this process.
Before allowing it, the Belgian Government was more inclined to preserve the Brabant draft horse and develop horses mainly for farm work.
Being a draft horse, the Brabant is quite large and heavy and not that athletic. To make it lighter, breeders leveraged the Dutch Warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, Gelderland, Selle Français, Holsteiner, and Hanoverians’ qualities.
You’ll realize that these are some of the best jumping horses, which would explain the instant success of the Belgian Warmblood in showjumping.
They have a long neck, strong hindquarters, can reach 17-hands tall, and have a muscular build. Big Ben, one of the greatest show jumping horses of all times, was a Belgian Warmblood.
Together with Canada’s Ian Millar, Big Ben went ahead to win gold Olympic gold medals, world cups, and many other jumping competitions.
What Makes A Good Jumping Horse?
Horse jumping isn’t about how fast a can horse run. Good jumping horses should have the physique (strong legs, muscular body, long neck, etc.), which allows them to launch into the air and propel forward.
They require sharpness and reflexes to complete a clean jump without knocking the barriers.
Based on their breeding and physical qualities, horses may jump differently. Therefore, the rider and the horse should be in sync.
The rider should understand the mechanisms of jumping, and how to coordinate the horse based on his strengths and weaknesses. How much the rider weighs and how they position themselves on the horse also affects how well the horse can jump.
Excellent training also plays a significant role in turning a young horse with the right qualities into a world-class jumper. Of course, the horse has to be trainable too.
Best Jumping Horses FAQ
How High Can a Horse Jump?
The highest height of a fence in show jumping is 5.25 feet (1.6 meters), but 8 feet (2.47) Meters is the current World Record of how high a horse can jump. It was set in 1949 by a Thoroughbred named Huaso.
Which Horse Breed Can Jump The Highest?
Horses with the best jumping qualities and excellent track records in jumping events include the Hanoverian, Dutch Warmblood, Oldenburgs, and Selle Français.
Can a Friesian Horse Jump?
Yes, but not as high as the competition-grade showjumping horses. Friesian horses are large, heavy, and not bred for jumping, so some may get injured, while others may not achieve the finesse required in various jumping. Friesian horses are better suited for dressage and harness. But you may find lighter Friesians being advertised as jumping horses.
If you’re looking for the best jumping horse for any jumping event, you can’t go wrong with the breeds I’ve just reviewed. Due to the interbreeding and infusion of various horse bloodlines, many other horse breeds excel in jumping events. How high a horse can jump in competitions depends on its build, coordination, training, and rider’s skill.
- “History.” Www.holsteiner-Verband.de, www.holsteiner-verband.de/en/association/holsteiner-horse/history. Accessed 16 July 2021.
- “Horse Breed: Oldenburg.” Globetrotting, 3 July 2017, www.globetrotting.com.au/horse-breed-oldenburg/. Accessed 16 July 2021.
- “Horse of a Lifetime: Big Ben.” FEI.org, 10 Mar. 2021, www.fei.org/stories/100-years/horse-lifetime-big-ben. Accessed 16 July 2021.
- PracticalHorseman. “Hunters, Jumpers – What’s the Difference?” Expert How-to for English Riders, practicalhorsemanmag.com/training/difference-between-hunter-and-jumper. Accessed 16 July 2021.
- “Show Jumping | Equestrian Event | Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 2020, www.britannica.com/sports/show-jumping.
- “Studbook Rankings.” WBFSH, www.wbfsh.com/studbook-rankings.
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Peter was always been fascinated by horses. He got his first horse, a Morgan Horse, when he was 13 and he has been learning about them since then. He loves contributing on this blog to share what he learned so far. Find him on: FACEBOOK