The incredible physical capabilities of the horse had been recognised when the enforcement of the Enclosure Act in the eighteenth century meant that riders had to jump fences to take the shortest route on their journey. Cavalry schools in the 19th century at Pinerolo and Tor-di-Quinto in Italy, the French school in Saumur and the Spanish school in Vienna focused on a backward seat when jumping for safety purposes (as seen in old hunting pictures), and long length stirrups (steeple chasing). The Italian Instructor Captain Federico Caprilli heavily influenced the forward seat with his ideas that the forward position would not impede the balance of the horse negotiating obstacles. The agility and ability of the horse soon became clear, forming a new and exciting form of horsemanship – show jumping.Competitions were soon underway and a show jumping class was held in the first international horse show to be staged in England, at Olympia in 1907.

Most participants were of a military background, with inter country competitions for a team trophy; this later developed with sufficient civilian show jumpers for some of the competitions to be divided into Military and Civilian sections.

The inclusion of the equestrian events in the Olympic Games, as they are now, was due to the efforts of the Master of the Horse of the King of Sweden, Count Clarence von Rosen in 1906, who proposed that they should be included in the Olympic Games in London in 1908. It was agreed they should be held in conjunction with the International Horse Show at Olympia. However, although some 88 entries from eight nations had been received the committee abandoned the idea at the last moment. Sweden was asked by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to draw up the rules. The IOC accepted these but equestrian sport was not introduced until 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden, when the host country was the winners.

The judging decisions were arbitrary – some marked according to severity of obstacle others on style. Prior to 1907 no marks were deducted for refusals though a competitor may have been asked to continue to the next obstacle for the sake of the spectators.
Competitions could continue for as many rounds as the judges saw fit and often those with the least knockdowns were not even in the line up.

Such questionable decisions led to the formation of the BSJA.

Countries held show jumping competitions under their own rules; it was not until the formation of the FEI and many years on that all international competitions came under the same ruling in each country. Even in those days the current ‘disregarding’ those already qualified came into play with restrictions on competitors who had already won a 1st prize. Courses, however, were built with little imagination. A common display would include two straight fences down each side of the arena with either a triple bar or water jump down the centre.

Original Rules in 1925

  • Refusing or Bolting at any fence – 1st 2 faults, 2nd 3 faults, 3rd Debarment
  • Fall of Horse or Rider or both – 4 faults
  • Horse touches a fence without knocking it down – ½ fault
  • Horse upsets fence with fore limbs – 4 faults
  • Hind limbs – 2 faults
  • Water jump Fore leg in -2 faults
  • Hind leg in -1 fault
  • Upsetting or removing the water fence – ½ fault

(These idiosyncrasies of more faults for fore limbs were based on the values held in the hunting field where if a horse were to be careless with his front legs he would be more inclined to tip up and less so with the hind legs.)

Water jumps were a minimum 15 feet in width though often the water had drained away by the time the last competitor had competed.

High Jump would start with a single pole at a height of 5ft (1.52m) but this style of competition was abandoned due to horses considering the easier option of going under the pole and endangering the rider therefore more poles had to be added to save noble heads.

In the early days the time element did not count and it was some years before a competitor was penalised for circling between obstacles.

The British Show Jumping Association (BSJA) was formed in 1921 and incorporated in the companies act on 31st December 1925. In 2010 the Association rebranded and is now known as British Show jumping (BSJ).