Major show calls time on puissance – but others say the class is ‘as strong as ever’

  • Discussions around puissance classes have arisen after a top US show announced it would no longer run them.

    The Washington International (WIHS) last held a puissance in 2022, with a $25,000 prize pot. Only four competitors took part, of which three combinations; Daniel Coyle and Oak Grove’s Carlyle, McLain Ward and Catoki, and Jordan Coyle and Eristov, finished joint first. A WIHS spokesman confirmed to H&H that the annual show, which took place on 23–29 October this year, will no longer have a puissance.

    WIHS president Victoria Lowell told H&H that “while the class was in its heyday in the 1970s and 80s with a full roster of top riders and specialised puissance horses, it became harder each year to fill the class since most riders focused on the speed final or the grand prix”.

    “The nature of the sport has changed over time, and WIHS organisers want to offer the most relevant classes and ensure that horse and rider welfare and safety are always at the forefront,” she said, adding that although the class will no longer run, the show will recognise it through a “historical tribute” onsite at the Show Place Arena, with the puissance wall on display for photos, as well as a feature in the show programme.

    “We are honouring the horse Sweet’N Low, owned by Donald and Barbara Tober, by inducting him into the WIHS hall of fame as the record-holder in the indoor puissance at 7ft 7 1/2in set in 1983 with Anthony D’Ambrosio, who is now a FEI level four course designer.”

    Over the years the puissance has consistently been known as a “crowd favourite”, and in the UK runs at shows including Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), London International (LIHS), and Bolesworth.

    Commandant Geoff Curran, who won the puissance on Bishops Quarter at the 2022 and 2023 HOYS, and at Dublin this year, said he thinks the class is as strong as ever, this side of the pond.

    “There were 14 entered,” he said after this year’s HOYS win. “And similar in Dublin, and you don’t want any more than that. Maybe people don’t enter horses if they don’t think they’ve got a good chance, which is only right. But the crowd here absolutely loves it, as they do in Dublin, and the riders enjoy it. It’s a bit of fun and a craic, and a job for some horses.”

    Sebastian Hughes, who was sixth in this year’s HOYS puissance, and last year was third at LIHS, told H&H he believes the class still has its place.

    “From a spectator perspective, it’s very easy to follow and you don’t need to be ‘horsey’ to enjoy it. It’s also quite a quick class – there’s usually only 12 to 14 combinations, rather than waiting for 40 horses to jump like in a grand prix. People recognise riders that do it all the time and get behind them, it’s just a wonderful atmosphere on puissance night,” he said, adding that the class also benefits one-horse riders like himself.

    “LIHS is a five-star show so it has the best riders and horses in the world there showcasing showjumping. I only have the one horse jumping at the moment so I’d take him for the puissance and the six-bar, and it’s great because I get to compete against these people like John Whitaker, and it gets me seen on the bigger stage as well.

    “I had good results at puissances at national level at shows like Arena UK, so for HOYS this year I sent an email to the show secretary and asked if I could put myself forward for consideration, and I was invited to attend, which is lovely. I jumped at LIHS last year and hope I’ll get an invite this year.”

    A spokesman for HPower, the organisers of the LIHS and Royal Windsor (RWHS), told H&H the puissance competition requires “specialist horses, with some horses being more rangey and capable of jumping the heights required”.

    “As long as there are horses who fit that mould and enough combinations who wish to compete, we will continue,” he said, adding that the LIHS puissance is an invitational class, and those entering can also enter the six-bar, but not the other classes.

    “This [the puissance] has always been popular among riders, and has always resulted in an exciting class, which is cited as a favourite by our audience,” said the spokesman.

    But the spokesman added that RWHS will not be running a puissance in 2024.

    “This is purely due to timetabling with a very tight schedule, which will also include dressage, reducing the time available for a puissance,” he said, adding that a plan for the 2025 event has not been agreed yet, so no comment can be made whether the class will return to the schedule.”

    A spokesman for HOYS organiser Grandstand told H&H that the puissance is an “iconic feature” at HOYS.

    “Within the UK there’s limited opportunity for visitors to watch a puissance, adding versatility to the show. The showjumping spectacular is always a crowd-pleaser and has the crowds on the edge of the seats, year on year,” he said.

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