Point-to-Pointing has been a part of country life in Britain since the 19th century. The sport of steeplechasing began when hunting men raced their hunters across the countryside from one church steeple to the next; or from 'Point-to-Point.
Steeplechasing quickly became more sophisticated. Proper enclosed courses appeared and runners were predominantly professionally trained thoroughbreds ridden by jockeys. Amateur riders suddenly found themselves effectively excluded.
Not wishing to be left out in the cold, local Hunts began to organise their own amateur races from which professionals were banned. Initially, each Hunt had its own rules for such race meetings and it was not until 1913 that the Master of Hounds Point-to-Point Association established a set of universal rules. Lady riders were initially allowed to compete alongside men, frequently riding side-saddle. From 1929 until 1967 however, female participation was limited to races confined to lady riders.
These days the sport is run under the governance of the Point-to-Point Authority and regulated by the British Horseracing Authority. Each Point-to-Point is run at local level by a Hunt or in some cases an official Point-to-Point Club. Whilst some revenue is generated through charging entry fees for spectators, sponsors' involvement and trade stand pitches, meetings are costly to stage. As in many amateur sports organisers are reliant on the goodwill and willingness of supporters to volunteer their assistance on the day. There are plenty of jobs to be filled ranging from course and venue preparation before show day to fence attending at the actual event itself.
Although the majority of horses competing in the modern sport are thoroughbreds they are only eligible to compete if they have been out hunting. Races are generally run over a distance of 3 miles and over birch steeple chase fences of approximately 4 feet 3 inches in height. Races for maiden horses, (those who have yet to win a race), are generally held over a shorter distance of 2.5 miles. The Point-to-Point season runs from February through until June each year.
There is a strong connection between the amateur sport of Point-to-Pointing and the professional world of 'Jumps racing'. Point-to-Point provides many opportunities for younger horses and jockeys to gain experience before graduating to race on the professional circuit 'Under Rules'. Older horses whose professional chasing career is waning can also have a place in Point-to-Pointing where they can continue to have a useful competitive life albeit at a lower level.
A day out at the local Point-to-Point is a totally different experience to a day at the Jumps or Flat races. The atmosphere is much more friendly, relaxed and family orientated. You will not see crowds of spray tanned, stiletto-heeled hen parties staggering from the burger van to the bar without the slightest interest in the horses! The Point-to-Point is the haunt of country folk who share a passion for the sport, the horses, the countryside and its traditional way of life. Even the family dog is welcome, provided it is kept on a lead.
Between races there are plenty of trade stands to peruse selling outdoor clothing, tack and very often locally produced food. A small gathering of on-course bookmakers is also available for those who like to study the form in the race card and have a flutter.
The runners are escorted from the parade ring to the start by Huntsmen from the host Hunt and hounds are usually paraded mid-way through the race card, the public being encouraged to come and 'meet' them. This is extremely popular especially with children and the hounds certainly enjoy the interaction, especially if you've made the mistake of taking your lunch with you!
A list of UK fixtures can be found at http://www.pointtopoint.co.uk.