What’s the difference between a fence and a hurdle?

Anyone with even a passing interest in National Hunt racing probably knows that horses jump two types of obstacle, namely hurdles or fences. Hurdles are the smaller of the two and consist of a series of individual panels, made from small branches, or brush, which are driven into the ground, side-by-side, to create a ‘flight’ of hurdles stretching the full width of the racecourse. Height-wise, hurdles must measure a minimum of 3’6″ from top to bottom, but are angled forward, such that the top bar is 3’1″ above the ground. Hurdles are much less rigid than fences and may, indeed, be knocked flat during a race.

Steeplechases – that is, races run over fences – tend to slightly slower, more deliberate affairs than hurdle races, not least because of the height, and rigidity, of the obstacles involved. Fences come in three different ‘flavours’, namely plain fences, open ditches and water jumps. In each case, the upright portion of the fence consists of a rigid frame, made of steel or wood, which is filled mainly with birch, real or artificial, but also, possibly, with spruce and other approved materials in its lower portion. Water jumps need only stand 3′ high, but other fences must be a minimum of 4’ 6” in height, measured on the take-off side. One of the most fearsome fences on the Grand National course, The Chair, for example, measures 5’2″ high and is preceded by a 6′ wide ditch.