For those who watch Cheltenham and wish it could be them, point to point is the amateur equivalent. Based on the rules of racing, it has developed as a training ground for young riders (16 years and over) who wish to enter the jump racing industry.
This is a form of jump racing for amateurs and horses which hunt. As with steeplechasing, the fences are made of birch and on average 4.5 feet high. Each race must have 18 fences, which include two ditches. The majority of races are 3 miles long. There are races for different abilities, ranging from maiden to open races. Top horses will qualify for Hunt Cups held over professional courses such as Aintree and Cheltenham.
There are 110 point to point courses across the UK. Most of these courses are prepared on farm land, but some professional courses also have a separate point to point track. Like National Hunt racing, you will run around a set track, have a standing start and finish line.
The majority of races can only be entered by horses registered with Wetherbys – this means thoroughbreds or part-thoroughbreds. There are some specialist races open to other breeds, such as Hunt Members races, but thoroughbreds are the perfect breed for racing.
If you have a horse that can jump, and is fit enough to do this over 3 miles, you will need to qualify him to compete. This means taking him hunting for a minimum of four days. Once completed, you must get a Hunter Certificate from the Master of Foxhounds.
If you wish to ride your horse, or anyone else’s in a point-to-point, you must get a Point to Point Authority (PPA) certificate. To qualify for this you must obtain a medical certificate from your doctor to prove you are fit enough to ride. This must be renewed every five years. You must also have hunted for a number of days with a registered Hunt. The PPA require you to get a certificate signed by the Master of Foxhounds to prove this. The British Horseracing Authority also offer training courses for riders, teaching them the basics of race riding, and how to fall safely.
In the UK, all riding and training is done by amateurs. You can train your own horse. Make sure you prepare him for the types of jumps he will face, and improve his fitness and stamina.
If you do not feel able to train or ride your own horse, then you can find people to help. Although there are no professional trainers, you can find liveries in your area who can take in your horse and train him appropriately. By regularly hunting, you can find someone through a recommendation who will suit your horse’s character and your aims.
The best way to find a jockey is to visit a point to point event in your area. Look at the riders, their skills, weight, and then approach them to see if they would be interested to take a ride. It is better to find someone locally, as they can then come and school the horse before the race to get to know him. Jockey’s in point to point are amateurs, so don’t be too upset if they refuse.
As the owner, you will be required to ensure your horse is qualified, and entered in races in time. Keep copies of all of your documentation, and your horse’s passport to prove his identity. Unlike real racing, you do not need to register colours. When entering a race you will be asked to describe the colours the horse will wear, so make sure you find a silk or cross country shirt that your rider can wear that matches your description.
You will also need to make sure your horse has the right equipment; a strong, lightweight racing bridle fitted with an Irish or running martingale. A light National Hunt racing saddle, surcingle and breast girth should also be purchased. Some jockey’s will prefer to ride in their own saddle, but he will also need to train in one.
Even though the courses are smaller and more rural, the race day routine is the same as professional racing. You will need to make sure your horse arrives in plenty of time before the race, to settle and soothe any nerves as well as to prepare for the pre-race requirements.
If you are riding, you will need to bring a groom to help you through the day. They will be able to lead up your horse for any parade, as well as help tack up as you organise your entry details. Always walk the course before racing starts, and study how the track is riding. Be ready to adapt to weather conditions – if muddy, bandage up the horses tail, if warm, make sure your groom has cool water to wash him down with after the race. It is always wise to do some research on your opposition so you can develop your own tactics. Having hunted your horse, you will know how he jumps and competes in a field of horses. Researching the other horses will give you an idea of who will be up with the pace, and who may come from behind. Ride your race, but always know where the others will be.
If you have employed a jockey, make sure you brief them on exactly how to ride your horse and any tactics you want them to follow. If you horse has any bad habits, such as jumping left or being naughty at the start, warn them in advance. The more they know, the better they will ride.
After the race, make sure to check your horse over fully for any nicks or scratches. Walk them off to ward off any stiffness. When giving them water, make sure it isn’t too cold.