Top Jockeys Swap National Hunt Racing for Showjumping

Showjumping and national hunt racing are two very different disciplines. While they share obvious characteristics, each has its own distinct set of challenges and while speed is associated with both, achieving a place on the winner’s podium necessitates diverse skills that underline why they are unique.

Yet, some talented horse riders in recent years have bridged the gap between racing and jumping. Just last year Grand National-winning jockeys AP McCoy and Sam Waley-Cohen competed at the Lambourn Open Day.

No Strangers to Alternative Pursuits

Jockeys are no strangers to applying their skills to other pursuits. Frankie Dettori, who most famously won all seven races on British Champions’ Day at Ascot on September 28, 1996, became a charismatic TV personality and gameshow contestant. Lester Piggott became a popular pundit, Mick Kinane became a top manager, and Gary Stevens, who earned multiple Kentucky Derby wins, became an actor, appearing in films such as Seabiscuit and Luck.

Elsewhere, AP McCoy is a keen player of casino games and was the guest of honour at the 2017 Chips 4 Charity poker tournament. Dettori appears keen also, lending his name to the slot game Frankie Dettori’s Magic Seven Jackpot. Like the abundance of casino blackjack games you can play online like Lightning Blackjack and Blackjack Single Hand, in addition to poker, bingo, and roulette, Dettori’s branded title offers another alternative for slots players. However, mixing racing and showjumping remains a better fit for some jockeys.

Excitement for Event Organizers

Mark Smyly, the chairman of the Lambourn Open Day, noted his excitement around having Grand National hero Sam Waley-Cohen competing against some of the best past and present National Hunt jockeys in the showjumping event. In 2023, renowned participants also included Nico de Boinville, Jamie Osborne, and Marcus Armytage.

The event, which raises money for charity and offers a behind-the-scenes look at racing yards, also invited visitors to check out some of the UK’s top training yards, including those of Oliver Sherwood, Nicky Henderson and Clive Cox. The lineup of events also featured a schooling demonstration, camel racing, and a parade showcasing equine heroes like Coneygree, Battaash, Altior, and Sprinter Sacre.

Harry Skelton is Another to Step into Showjumping

In 2022, top National Hunt jockey Harry Skelton made a triumphant return to showjumping by winning the 1.25m event at the Longines Royal International Horse Show, riding 13-year-old gelding Charming Fellow Z. Skelton, who has a background in showjumping, was thrilled to take part and said the event made him reminisce about his childhood.

Despite his success as a jump jockey, Skelton has revisited showjumping during the quieter summer months of National Hunt racing. He and his wife, Bridget Skelton, have been producing young showjumpers, including the promising four-year-old Chamiousse RBF Z. Skelton spoke to journalists at the event and noted the fun aspect of showjumping and its role as a diversion from his primary career in racing.

In the Footsteps of AP McCoy

Skelton and Waley-Cohen both follow in the footsteps of AP McCoy who, in 2016, was tempted out of retirement by Horse & Hound magazine which proposed that 20-time champion jockey AP McCoy try showjumping, arranging for him to ride Nick Skelton’s Olympic gold medal-winning horse, Big Star.

It ended up being a thrilling experience for McCoy. Nick Skelton, who supervised the session, humorously suggested that McCoy take up showjumping. The idea originated from an Injured Jockeys Fund charity event where Clare Balding jokingly suggested McCoy explore showjumping. Horse & Hound’s Showjumping editor, Jennifer Donald, orchestrated the event, knowing McCoy couldn’t resist riding a top-class horse like Big Star.

While showjumping and National Hunt racing are distinct disciplines, talented jockeys like AP McCoy, Sam Waley-Cohen, and Harry Skelton have successfully bridged the gap, showcasing their versatile skills. Their participation in both sports highlights the excitement and mutual respect within the equestrian community, bringing unique experiences to events like the Lambourn Open Day and the Longines Royal International Horse Show.