How high?! 10 puissance facts you really need to know

  • The puissance is one of the most famous showjumping competitions in the world, designed to push both horse and rider to their ultimate limits as they clear a huge red wall.

    Accuracy and power are key as there is no room for error from either the horse or rider when jumping at such vast heights. The starting height can vary and the wall is raised after each round. The winner is the horse and rider combination that clears the wall at the greatest height in the final round.

    If there is more than one combination left after the final jump-off stage, then the first prize is shared.

    While spectators and riders alike love the thrill of the puissance, did you know these 10 interesting facts about the famous big red wall?

    1. Puissance means “power” in French, which is certainly an apt description of the brave horses who jump over such an enormous obstacle.

    2. It has more than a century of tradition behind it. A puissance competition was held at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris.

    3. The wall is built out of hollow red “bricks” made out of wood. This is to make it safer for the horse and rider, as they easily fall off the wall if knocked.

    4. The puissance is a development of the traditional equestrian high jump competition, which consists of a single, slightly sloping brush fence topped with wooden rails.

    5. Nick Skelton and Lastic  (pictured below) set the UK high jump record in 1978 (before the modern red wall design), clearing 7ft 7” (2.32m). It took three attempts but, 39 years later, Nick’s record still stands.

    6. The world puissance record is held by Germany’s Franke Sloothaak, who cleared 7ft 10 1/2in (2.40m) at Chaudfontaine in Belgium in 1991 riding Optiebeurs Golo. Clearing this height, Franke broke his own previous record of 2.35m, which he set on Leonardo.

    7. The youngest ever winner of the Olympia puissance is William Whitaker, who won it aged 18 in 2008, riding Insultech Leonardo.

    8. Robert Whitaker holds the bareback puissance record after he and Waterstone jumped 2.12m without a saddle at the Stockholm International Horse Show in November 2011.

    9. The Whitaker family have a great record at the big red wall, with John Whitaker winning the most number of puissance competitions at the Olympia Horse Show. Robert Whitaker has won over 20 puissance competitions and 13 consecutively on the impressive chestnut Finbarr

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    10. The world record for the highest ever jump by a horse and rider, stands at a whopping 8ft 1” (2.47m). This was set by Captain Alberto Larraguibel Morales riding Huaso ex-Faithfull, in Chile in 1949. This amazing feat of athleticism took two years of training and three attempts on the day — Captain Larraguibel and Huaso fell after hitting the top rail on their second try, but they landed the jump on their third attempt, and the record still stands to this day.

    The puissance at this year’s Liverpool International Horse Show (28-31 December) will take place on Sunday 30 December. Book tickets >>

    For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine out every Thursday

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