Point-to-point racing is probably one of the few sports today that encompasses all age groups and enthusiasts from all walks of life – it is also a misnomer.
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It started life really out of the competitive spirit of male participants who were following hounds across country on horses. They decided to challenge each other to get from point (A) to point (B) across natural countryside as quickly as possible.
By the early 1900’s this soon developed into a more organised event but still with the same participants and over natural country. The course was marked out with flags and coloured handkerchiefs – the fences and ditches were more manicured and a man to start and finish the event was chosen and of course the gambling element was soon introduced.
Naturally during the 1st World Was all such sporting activities were cancelled but the passion was not lost.
During the 1920’s/1930’s these Point-to-points were rejuvenated by all local hunts – their objective was to provide an afternoon’s sport for their members and to entertain their local farmers to lunch and a glass of wine, as a way to thank the farmers for allowing the hunt over their land. Special fields were designated and grassed down – more permanent fences were built of birch and railway sleepers – the whole event began to resemble the licensed National Hunt courses which were being run under the auspices of the Jockey Club.
Unlike the 1st World War, a few events were carried out on a very modest scale during the 39/45 conflict, when farmers and service personnel home on leave could enjoy a day’s sport during those dark days.
For the 15 years after World War 2 the sport enjoyed something of a revival. It became more regulated and horses were expected to have been regularly and fairly hunted by their owners in order to run at meetings (for which the M.F.H. would sign a hunter’s certificate).
During this period the sport became quite popular with country folk as there were very few other outdoor spectator attractions. These Point-to-points also provided a much needed income for the hunts as a small charge was levied on cars entering the field (pedestrians and bicycles were free).
Naturally as competition grew, the half bred hunter proved too slow and the thoroughbred became the norm – Point-to-pointing was soon to be recognised as the nursery for both professional National Hunt horses and jump jockeys. Indeed the 1959 Grand National was won by Oxo who had come originally from the hunting field and was ridden by a farmer’s son from the West Country, Michael Scudamore.
Progress was rapid during the 1960’s/70’s/80’s. Point-to-pointing was becoming a very popular sport, enjoyed by ever increasing numbers of spectators, equally from towns and country alike. The increased revenue for the hunt was well received.
Inevitably this new found popularity demanded increases in professionalism in the way meetings were run. The care and preparation of the courses and in the welfare and safety of the horses and jockeys was paramount. Officials who were running the meetings had to ‘up their game’. Doctors, vets, stewards, clerks of the courses, fence attendants and first aiders all had to be trained and of course the Jockey Club over the years imposed more regulations in order to protect the integrity of the sport.
Over the last 25 years the sport has changed yet again. Point-to-point meetings have become a commercial attraction to companies, both local and national. Sponsorships of racecourses, races, horses and jockeys have been vital for the financial viability of Point-to-pointing.
Trade stands now come to most meetings where the range is vast. Bouncy castles for the children, food of every conceivable variety, shoe and clothing stalls, art exhibitions, photography, car dealerships, book makers and privately run tote and of course the Countryside Alliance always have a presence. In short it is now a day out for the whole family.
In the early days Point-to-points were not considered an appropriate place for ladies to participate, perhaps too dangerous and maybe the male ego endeavoured to marginalise the girls. This soon evaporated and gradually ladies were permitted to ride against men, to train in their own right, to become stewards and administrators within the sport and I have to say that in all aspects these ladies have proved that they are better than their male counterparts. The sport needs them desperately.
Now to the future, I sincerely believe that Point-to-pointing will continue for a very long time to come, with the same band of voluntary enthusiastic supporters who are mainly country people from a hunting environment. However we do urge those bodies that now regulate the sport (J.C. B.H.A. P TO P.A.) to allow the considerable changes that are necessary without overburdening us with extra costs which the sport can ill afford, either now or in the future.