The Cottesmore Leap — and 11 more of the world’s biggest rider frighteners

  • They’re enough to strike fear in the blood of even the most gung-ho of riders – and yet horses seem to take them in their stride. We look at 12 rider frighteners from around the world. How many would you willingly take on?

    1. The Cottesmore Leap at Burghley Horse Trials

    1 Cottesmore Leap

    This fence epitomises the term rider frightener. With a ditch big enough to drive a Land Rover through (3m) and a maximum-height (1.45m) brush, an attacking approach and a good stride are just two of the essentials for clearing this mighty obstacle.

    2. Hickstead Derby Bank

    10 Hickstead Derby

    As if a 10ft6in vertical drop isn’t terrifying enough, some horses have an unnerving knack of leaping straight off. Nicky Boulter had that stomach-churning moment with Estrella De V in 2010 while Ben Maher had to sit tight on Alfredo in the Hamburg equivalent in 2008. Completely terrifying.

    3. Becher’s Brook in the Grand National, Aintree

    2 Bechers Brook

    Named after Captain Becher, who fell at this fence in 1839, the dimensions of Aintree’s most famous fence have been altered considerably in recent years due to safety concerns. But, with a 4ft10in brush, 6ft9in drop and a 0.61m brook on the landing side, jockeys still pay fence six (and 22nd on the second circuit) the utmost respect.

    4. Blackmore & Sparkford Vale Hedges

    3 Blackmore

    One of the “black runs” of hunting, these thick, dark hedges with murky ditches are utterly intimidating – but a massive draw for equestrian adrenaline junkies. Just kick on and don’t look down!

    5. The six-bar, Madrid, Spain

    4 Six bar Madrid

    When the prize-money goes up, so does the fence height and venues such as Spruce Meadows in Canada and Madrid, Spain, are renowned for their cut-throat six-bar competitions. Jumping a 2m-plus (6ft6in) vertical is tough enough, let alone at the end of line of increasingly towering jumps, each off just two strides. This is gridwork for the utterly fearless.

    6. Double hedge, Merano racecourse, Italy

    5 Crystal Cup

    Thrillseeking jockeys can chase some considerable prize-money in the Crystal Cup Cross-Country Challenge. This series takes in 11 fearsome cross-country steeplechases including Cheltenham, the Velka Pardubicka in the Czech Republic (see number 11) and this vast, if beautifully manicured hedge on the Italian leg.

    7. The quadruple bar, Athens Olympics, 2004

    6 Athens

    Triple bars are a common occurrence in showjumping and, despite the width, they jump extremely well. But the rules go out the window come the Olympics and in Athens riders were faced with a triple set of planks — with a square pole on top for good measure, taking it to the maximum 2.2m (7ft2in) width. Luckily for Nick Skelton, the great Arko III took it in his stride.

    8. The jaw-dropping drops in the Pytchley team chase

    7 Pytchley

    Sit back for a ride round the Pytchley team chase at Winwick Grange — the undulating ground means that it’s all about the drops. The Dapper Dobbins Hedgehoppers team show us how it should be done.

    9. The puissance wall

    8 puissance

    The highest wall ever jumped is 2.40m (over 7ft10in) but even your “average” puissance class will still progress to a towering 2m-plus round, making it one of the biggest tests of horse and rider.

    10. Vicarage Vee at Badminton

    Zara Tindall Vicarage Vee

    “This is the worst fence in the world — I don’t think you’ll find anyone who will want to jump it,” said Zara Phillips about the Vicarage Vee while walking the 2016 Badminton track. “It’s such an accuracy thing and you have to get the right line. We practise jumping on an angle all the time at home, but there is no where else that you can practise anything else like this. And why would you want to?

    “It’s a big jump but there are lots of other big jumps. The width isn’t a problem — it’s the ditch and angle that make it such a rider frightener,” she added.

    11. Taxis Ditch, Velka Pardubicka, Czech Republic


    This annual four-and-a-quarter-mile cross-country race consists of 31 obstacle and you’re barely in your stride before facing the most famous — and controversial — of all at fence four, the Taxis Ditch. The hedge alone is 1.50m with a vast 1m deep trench on the landing side.

    12. And finally…

    12 And finally

    Dressage riders may not be faced with anything scarier than the white boards, but Sara Gallop’s gelding Summerhouse Zelham proved he has scope to burn — and who needs a rider anyway?

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