Steeplechases are races over a 2- to 4-mi (3.2- to 6.4-km) course that includes such obstacles as brush fences, stone walls, timber rails, and water jumps. The sport developed from the English and Irish pastime of fox hunting, when hunters would test the speed of their mounts during the cross-country chase. Organized steeplechase racing began about 1830, and has continued to be a popular sport in England to this day. The most famous steeplechase race in the world is England’s Grand National, held every year since 1839 at Aintree. Steeplechase racing is occasionally conducted at several U.S. Thoroughbred race tracks. The most significant race is the U.S. Grand National Steeplechase held yearly at Belmont Park.
Hurdling is a form of steeplechasing that is less physically demanding of the horses. The obstacles consist solely of hurdles 1 to 2 ft (0.3 to 0.6 m) lower than the obstacles on a steeplechase course, and the races are normally less than 2 mi in length. Hurdling races are often used for training horses that will later compete in steeplechases. Horses chosen for steeplechase training are usually Thoroughbreds selected for their endurance, calm temperament, and larger-than-normal size.
Point-to-point races are held for amateurs on about 120 courses throughout the British Isles. Originally run straight across country (hence the name), these races are now conducted on oval tracks with built-in fences, often on farmland.
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