The Rise of Showjumping

From a pastime that was once considered a hobby for the rich and famous, showjumping has, in recent years, seen its recognition as a true sport grow exponentially. But having been around for over 150-years, what has caused the general public to suddenly appreciate the intricacies and hard work that it takes to be a competitive athlete in the showjumping arena?

By Nadia Aslam. Photo Therese Alhaug

There are a few contributing factors, and one of these is the ability of some shows to capture the interest and hearts of fans that might not otherwise be exposed to the discipline. One such competition series who has had a large part to play in the rise of Showjumping is The Global Champions Tour.

Spectators are enjoying the LGCT show in Mexico City.
Photo Therese Alhaug

The History of The Global Champions Tour 

Established in 2006 by Jan Tops, the Global Champions Tour has been able to tap into a niche that others before it have failed to do, and that is to see the sport for more than just a display of athletic prowess, but as a family-friendly event that can see the crowds fully invested in their chosen riders and teams.

Building on the format of traditional showjumping, the LGCT has been able to strike a fine balance between keeping the traditions of showjumping alive – to keep equestrians happy, while also adding a little pizazz in order to draw in the spectators, and boy did they succeed on both fronts.

Over the years, they have added new and exciting events, impressive prize money, and continue to ensure that their competitions are held at world-class venues around the globe – the combination of all of this results in an equestrian competition that can be adored by the young ambitious horse rider, or entirely non-horsey alike.

The LGCT competitions are held at world-class venues around the globe, like here at the Al Shaqab Equestrian centre in Doha.
Photo Therese Alhaug

“Where we once saw the top level of equestrian athletes competing for a pittance, the prize money now available to equestrian athletes is more in keeping with other loved competitive sports.”

Exciting Destinations Makes for Exciting Competitions 

When you hear about a horse show, you would be forgiven for assuming that it would be set to take place on a large venue in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rural farms and plenty of farmland. But the LGCT recognised that by running events in areas with low populations, it would, in turn, mean low visitor numbers and a smaller likelihood of growth for the sport.

The smart decision was therefore made to host each of the events — now twenty per year — in or around some of the largest cities in the world. Just a few areas that play host to the Global Champions Tour include London, Paris, New York, and Doha, each of which is abuzz with local residents and tourists alike, so it’s unsurprising to see such large and excited crowds at each of their events.

“The smart decision was therefore made to host each of the LGCT events — now twenty per year — in or around some of the largest cities in the world.”

Each of the LGCT events — now twenty per year — is located around some of the largest cities in the world. Just a few weeks ago, the LGCT series visited Mexico City.
Photo Therese Alhaug

But it’s not just locals and coincidental tourists that you’ll find taking up the seats in the stadiums, with many equestrian sport fans booking family holidays, and weekends away to coincide with one or several events of the season!

How Showjumping Has Changed

Back in 2006 when Jan Tops launched the series, he had a dream that Showjumping would open to all. A longtime equestrian athlete, he wanted to share his passion for one of the most exciting sports of all time – with newcomers and experienced riders alike.

It is largely thanks to his vision and the entire LGCT teams hard work that the world of Showjumping has become what it is today – a respected sport where riders are treated like the serious athletes that they are. From a sport that was considered by many a hobby, to now, a sport that boasts partnerships with some of the largest brands in the world, and benefits from media coverage galore.

Back in 2006 when Jan Tops launched the series, he had a dream that Showjumping would open to all. A longtime equestrian athlete, he wanted to share his passion for one of the most exciting sports of all time – with newcomers and experienced riders alike. Photo Therese Alhaug

Where we once saw the top level of equestrian athletes competing for a pittance, the prize money now available to equestrian athletes is more in keeping with other loved competitive sports. This money trickles down through the industry, helping to improve the lives of the riders, their team, their string of horses, and ultimately help to keep one of the oldest industries thriving.

Comparing it to Other Sport

We have seen other sports use a similar model to the one used by the GCT with great success, and one the most famous of them all would have to be Formula One.

F1 was once a sport that had little in terms of wow factor but has undergone many makeovers over the years to make for a more exciting experience for the crowd, and much like The Global Champions Tour – has approximately twenty events per year each of which takes place in a different location!

Not content to stick to one formula, those at the helm of the sport have worked hard over the years to update, adapt, pivot based on current consumer interests and technological advancements.

Perhaps it is this constant strive towards growth and success that has allowed the sport to grow to be worth the billions that it is today? And if so, I sincerely hope that equestrian sport continues in the same vein.

Where we once saw the top level of equestrian athletes competing for a pittance, the prize money now available to equestrian athletes is more in keeping with other loved competitive sports. Photo Therese Alhaug

Final Thoughts

It’s not just Showjumping that has seen a rise in popularity within the equestrian sporting arena, but it certainly stands at the front of the pack in terms of growth. More and more people nowadays offer up their favourite showjumper with the same readiness that we see from other sports such as football and tennis, and it’s certainly heartening to see.

But becoming content with this would be a mistake, and equestrian show organizers, supporters, and industry professionals alike need to take a leaf out of F1’s book and not get lazy – and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see the sport of showjumping grow to a level that we couldn’t even begin to fathom today.

More and more people nowadays offer up their favourite
showjumper with the same readiness that we see from other sports such as football and tennis, and it’s certainly heartening to see. Photo Therese Alhaug
Nadia Aslam
Nadia Aslam

Nadia has been writing for Equestrian publications for over ten years. Her day job as CEO of Competio, an online show series for riders to compete online via video - www.gocompetio.com, provides her access to travel the world; reporting on events and interviewing riders.

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