Show jumping also known as "stadium jumping", is a relatively new equestrian sport. Until the Enclosure Acts which came into force in England in the eighteenth century there had been little need for horses to routinely jump fences. But with this act of parliament came new challenges for those who followed fox hounds. The enclosures act brought fencing and boundaries to many parts of the country as common ground was dispersed amongst the wealthy landowners. This meant that those wishing to pursue their sport now needed horses which were capable of jumping these obstacles.
In the early shows held in France, there was a parade of competitors who then took off across country for the jumping. This sport was, however, not popular with spectators as they could not watch the jumping. Thus, it was not long before fences began to appear in the arena. This became known as Lepping. Fifteen years later, Lepping competitions were brought to Britain and by 1900 most of the more important shows had Lepping classes. Ladies, riding side-saddle, had their own classes.
At this time, the principal cavalry schools of Europe at Pinerolo and Tor-di-Quinto in Italy, the French school in Saumur and the Spanish school in Vienna all preferred to use a very deep seat with long stirrups when jumping. This style of riding was perhaps more secure for the rider, but it also impeded the freedom of the horse to use its body to the extent needed to clear large obstacles.
The Italian Instructor Captain Fiederico Caprilli heavily influenced the world of jumping with his ideas that a forward position with shorter stirrups would not impede the balance of the horse negotiating obstacles. This style, now known as the forward seat,is commonly used today. The deep, Dressage-style seat, while useful for riding on the flat and in conditions where control of the horse is of greater importance than freedom of movement, is sometimes referred to with disparagement as a "backward" seat in some jumping circles.
The first major show jumping competition held in England was at the Horse of the Year Show at Olympia in 1907. Most of the competitors were members of the military and it became clear at this competition and in the subsequent years that there was no uniformity of rules for the sport. Judges marked on their own opinions. Some marked according to the severity of the obstacle and others marked according to style. Before 1907 there were no penalties for a refusal and the competitor was sometimes asked to miss the fence to please the spectators. The first courses were built with little imagination; many consisting of only a straight bar fence and a water jump. A meeting was arranged in 1923 which led to the formation of the BSJA in 1925.
People unfamiliar with horse shows may be confused by the difference between show hunter classes and jumper classes. Put simply, hunter classes are judged subjectively on the smoothness, manners, style and way of going of the horse as it jumps relatively natural-looking obstacles such as unpainted fence rails. Conversely, jumper classes are scored objectively based entirely on a numerical score determined only by whether the horse attempts the obstacle, clears it, and finishes the course in the allotted time. Jumper courses are often colorful and at times quite creatively designed. Hunters have meticulous turnout and tend toward very quiet, conservative horse tack and rider attire. Hunter bits, bridles, crops, spurs and martingales are tightly regulated. Jumpers, while caring for their horses and grooming them well, are not scored on turnout, are allowed a wide range of equipment, and riders may wear less conservative attire, as long as it stays within the bounds of the rules.