Ever since its inception in 1953, the World Championship has sizzled with a real sense of occasion — it feels different, it means something special and everyone remembers it.
However, its unique formula, in which the top 4 riders go through to a horse-swapping final in an almost gladiatorial setting, has been discussed, dismissed and praised in equal measure.
It is an event loved by the crowds, but by no means all the riders. Find out when — and why — it all began.
8 things you didn’t know about the World Championships
1. The change-of-horses formula was invented by the French for their national championship in 1949.
2. The World Championships were first staged in 1953, but separate ones were held for women and men until 1978.
3. In the early days, the fascination of this formula stemmed from the fact that there were only a handful of top riders in Europe — the d’Inzeo brothers from Italy, Pierre Jonqueres d’Oriola from France, Francisco Goyoago from Spain and Hans Gunter Winkler and Fritz Thiedemann from Germany, each with household name horses.
4. It was an annual competition until 1956. There were five finalists in 1954 and, in the early years, any faults a rider had on their own horse had an added penalty of 25%.
5. The BSJA (now BS) was originally opposed to the World Championships format and, as a result, GB was not represented until 1955.
6. The top four riders from the final 30 are given 3min and two jumps to get to know their rivals’ horses before jumping a simplified eight-fence track that still reaches 1.60m.
7. Attempts to replicate the format elsewhere — such as Aachen’s three-way horse swap between the Olympic, European and world champions — have often fallen flat.
8. Riders can use their own saddle, but no changes are allowed to the rest of the tack.
This article was first published in the showjumping special issue of Horse & Hound magazine (3 April 2014), guest-edited by Nick Skelton