The word Grand Prix is French and is often used to designate the highest and most challenging level of competition in a particu-lar sport. Show Jumping is second only to soccer as the most popular television sport in England. In America, the sport is coming of age, showing astounding growth and popularity in the past ten years. The United States Equestrian Team's Silver team medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the Bronze individual medal at the 1992 Olympics, the Silver team medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, along with the team and individual Gold medals won at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, has thrust this sport into the spotlight.
The inaugural Grand Prix in the United States took place in 1965 in Cleveland. Over the years, a circuit of events has formed and the number of Grand Prix events has steadily increased from eight events per year in the late 1960's to over one hun-dred events per year currently offering several mil-lion dollars in prize money.
Show jumping is easy to understand. The chal-lenge is simple and straightforward. Horse and rider must complete a course of 15-20 obstacles incurring the least amount of penalty points to win. Should a horse refuse a jump, lower the height of a jump, or be slower that the time allowed to complete the course, penalty points (or faults) are incurred. Three refusals or a fall of horse or rider is cause for elimi-nation. Knocking down a fence incurs four faults, a refusal is three faults, and time faults are incurred at a rate of one-quarter fault for every second over the time allowed. Each course is unique and needs to be studied before the competition because the course will ride differently for each horse and rider combi-nation. The riders and horses must negotiate the course at the correct angle, height and speed to clear fences without incurring faults. Riders must also take into consideration the ever-ticking clock. If the rider is too fast and becomes careless the horse may lower a fence and receive faults. If the rider is too cautious they may receive time faults.
Good course designs present technical difficul-ties to horses and riders using a variety of jumps, colors, and distances. A course designer's goal is to set up a challenging course that only a half dozen or so horses can complete without faults setting up a jump off situation where the horses come back and compete over a shortened course in a timed jump-off where the fastest clean ride wins.
The horses compete as equals. Any breed and any sex can compete, ages range from 6 to 20 years. Some breeds tend to be faster and more agile, while other breeds tend to be more powerful. The trick is to find the right mix of all the good qualities and through diligence in training, create a horse that is athletic and able to handle the technical rigors of todays courses.
In the past, jumping was considered to be a sport only for the wealthy, but today this has proven to be a misconception. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of private owners of pleasure horses and sport horses. Currently in the United States there are about 8 million horses and 27 mil-lion riders.
Show jumping is one of the few sports where men and women compete as equals, with riders coming from all socioeconomic backgrounds and ages varying from 12 years to 60 years of age.