A Glossary of Steeplechase Terms


Maiden — A horse that’s never won a race. In steeplechasing, a horse that’s won on the flat is still a steeplechase maiden.

National fence — A man-made fence used at most stops in the U.S. and in all major track steeplechasing. It got its name from the National Steeplechase Association, which developed the structure, which stands 52 inches high. It consists of a steel frame stuffed with plastic “brush” and standing 52 inches high.

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National Steeplechase Association — The official governing body for steeple-chasing in the United States, based in Fair Hill, Maryland.

Novice — A horse in the early stages of its steeplechase career. Novice races, restricted by the date a horse breaks his maiden over jumps (usually Jan. 1 of that year), give horses experience over obstacles before competing with more seasoned jumpers.

Steeplechase — A race for thoroughbred horses over jumps, which differentiate the sport from flat racing.

Steeplechase horse — All steeplechasers are thoroughbreds. Most started in flat racing before being trained to jump.

Steeplechase jockey — Professional jockeys, the human riders in horse races, have weight limits, just as they do in flat racing. Weight limits for “jump” jockeys are traditionally higher than for flat jockeys (about 140 pounds, compared to 110 pounds). Some well-known jockeys, like Jacinto Vasquez (pictured) and Jean Cruguet—have also ridden in steeplechases.

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Steeplechase start — Steeplechases don’t start from a gate, as in flat races. Instead, horses are lined up and start from a standstill or a walk.

Timber fence — Wooden fence constructed of boards, logs or posts and rails.

Wings — The panels on either side of a steeplechase fence, which are designed to guide a horse to a fence instead of running around it.