At 1.6 meters (5′ 2 -1/2″) the show jumping fences at the Olympics looked enormous to me. It’s hard to imagine the multiple jumping efforts required of these horses over the days of competition.
However, when only a single jump is required, there are some horses that can jump significantly higher. People started keeping track of height records in the early 1900s when high jumping was a popular class. The records that were set for this feat are old ones, but they still stand.
One of the first to achieve fame was Heatherbloom, a Canadian TB foaled in 1895 and owned by Howard Willets of White Plains, NY and ridden by Dick Donnelly.
Although he was only 16 hands, Heatherbloom was an outstanding jumper. His “official” horse show high jump record was 7’10 1/2″, made at Richmond, Virginia. Unofficially he jumped even higher: once in 1902, he cleared 8’2″ for a Harper’s Weekly photo. Another time he cleared 8’3″ at Willets’ farm.
Heatherbloom was so famous in his time that Barnum & Bailey offered $25,000 for him. Willets turned them down. Challenging Heatherbloom for the record is Freddy Wattech Jr., who jumped his horse, King’s Own, 8’3-1/2″. Once again, the record is unofficial, as it did not take place at a sanctioned event. However, it was witnessed by 25 people, including a photographer. The horse cleared the fence with room to spare.
Wattech came from a well-known horse family and was particularly enamored of the high jump. His father bought King’s Own, an Irish bred, as a polo prospect, but it soon became obvious that the horse’s true talents lay as a jumper. It’s hard to imagine riding at that fence and having even the slightest belief that your horse would consider jumping it! The air time over a fence that high is obviously substantial as Mr. Wettach has time to look back and consider the effort.
The “Official” World Record Holder is Captain Alberton Larraguibel Morales, who jumped Huaso 8′ 1-1/4″.
Huaso was a Chilean TB that started life as a racehorse. After he retired, he went to the Chilean Cavalry School where he was trained by Cavalry Officer Major Rafael Monti, who had several horses in training in hopes of setting a new record.
In February, 1949 there was a jump off held for the two most promising of the horses: Huaso (then called Faithful) and Chileno on the show grounds of Vina Del Mar, Chile.
Each horse had three tries at the fence. Chileno crashed through the fence, fell and retired. Huaso refused the first time (who can blame him). The second time he jumped, but knocked the rail. And the third time, s turn at the gigantic 2.47m fence came next. On his first try, he refused. On his second, he jumped, but knocked the rail off with his belly; the third try was the charm and he cleared the fence.
A movie of the jump exists, and it’s an amazing sight.
The high jump is no longer an attraction at shows; the closest thing is the Puissance class, where for the last rounds only two fences are included — a warm up and the great wall. The current record for the puissance is held by German rider Franke Sloothaak, who jumped (a mere) 7′ 10″ on Leonardo.