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Big Grand Prix classes in 2018: The year of the mare

Thursday, 31 October 2019


By Tim Worden, PhD

To produce a top horse capable of winning at the highest levels of the sport, it is helpful to know the characteristics of other top horses from around the world. In this report, I describe the characteristics and competition performances of horses that placed in the Top 10 of big Grand Prix classes in 2018.

Big money classes tend to attract the best horses and riders. For a horse and rider to have success in one of these competitions they must be ‘on form’ and prepared to compete at their best. Thus, the horse must be in a state of optimal physical, technical, psychological, and tactical preparedness for show jumping. 

We can learn a lot about the horses that are ‘on form’ by examining the characteristics of those experiencing success in big GPs. In this report I examine the 84 big GPs in 2018 that offered prize money over 145,700 EUR (or 208,200 USD). For each of these classes I evaluated what the Top 10 placing horses were doing in their competition schedule before the GP. This analysis offers insights into how top riders are preparing their horses for competition, and which horses are consistently reaching sports form.

*Note that data presented is only from FEI competitions. Thus, non-FEI classes as well as preparations at home are not factored into this analysis.


In 2018, 418 different horses had at least one Top 10 placing in a big money GP. In the same year, 266 different riders from 41 countries had a Top 10 placing. The riders with the most Top 10 placings are shown below. Peder Fredricson had the most Top 10 placings in big GPs (15), followed by Henrik von Eckermann and McLain Ward with 14.

Age & sex

Of the 418 horses included in the analysis, 97 were stallions, 210 were geldings, and 111 were mares. The average age for a stallion was 11.4 years, gelding was 11.3 years, and mare was 11.4 years.  

To better identify at what age stallions, geldings, and mares experienced Top 10 results in big GPs, the proportion of results attributed to each age are displayed below. Although there were slight variations -  stallions, geldings, and mares followed a similar trajectory. The most common age for a horse placing in the Top 10 of a big GP was 10 years old. 

Single versus multiple Top 10s

It is interesting to consider the proportion of stallions, geldings, and mares that had only one Top 10 result versus multiple Top 10 performances.

The figure below demonstrates this relationship. On the left, the sex breakdown for the 219 horses that had only one Top 10 result in 2018 is shown. Geldings overwhelmingly made up the group of one result horses. Conversely, the proportion of horses that had five or more Top 10 placings was dominated by mares (right side of figure). Therefore, it can clearly be seen that in 2018, mares made up a higher percentage of horses achieving multiple Top 10 placings in big GPs.  

Number of starts before Top 10 result

The average number of classes in the four weeks leading up to a Top 10 finish in 2018 was 4.67 (± 1.9) for stallions, 4.61 (± 2.1) for geldings, and 4.43 (± 1.89) for mares. The figure below demonstrates a small gradual decrease in the number of FEI competitions performed before a big GP as horses become older. Note that the number of horses older than fourteen is small, so it is difficult to interpret data past this age.

What weeks do horses compete before a big GP?

It can be helpful to look at what the horses were doing in the four weeks leading up to their Top 10 result. Did they compete one week before, three weeks before, or not at all? The graph below details the percentage of horses that competed on different weeks before their Top 10 result. Not competing in the four weeks before a Top 10 was the least common, while competing 3 weeks before the result was most common.

Competition scheduling in the four weeks before a big GP

Scheduling before a big GP plays a role in ensuring horses are on form and able to jump at their best. The most common competition schedules for the four weeks leading into a Top 10 performance in a big GP are shown below. Every possible combination of scheduling was observed, with some horses not competing on any week before the result, while one horse and rider achieved a Top 10 placing after competing for all four weeks before the class. Below, you can see that the most common schedule was to compete just three weeks before, followed by just two weeks before.

Importantly, the most common schedules in 2018 were quite different between stallions, geldings, and mares. For stallions, the most common schedule seen was to compete three weeks before the result. Geldings were more variable than stallions and mares, but the most common program was to not compete in the four weeks before the Top 10 result. Finally, the highest proportion of mares competed two weeks before their Top 10 result. 

Indoors vs outdoors

It is worthwhile to consider if stallions, geldings, or mares were better suited for competing indoors or outdoors in 2018.

To examine this further, the proportion of each sex placing in the Top 10, and the proportion winning the class, are graphed for both indoor competitions and outdoor competitions. On the left, it can be seen that the proportion of stallions, geldings, and mares placing in the Top 10 is equivalent to those winning indoors. Conversely, for outdoor classes, although there are more geldings than stallions and mares placing in the Top 10, mares won the most classes. This observation indicates that mares were able to be faster while jumping clear to beat stallions and geldings at a higher rate outside. 


In 2018, there were a number of interesting observations when examining the Top 10 placings in big GPs. It seemed to be the year of the mare, with mares achieving more multiple (over five) Top 10 results as compared to geldings and stallions. Mares also excelled in big GPs outdoors, winning the most of any sex. The data also show that certain competition schedules were more common for producing a Top 10 result, and that stallions, geldings, and mares utilized different schedules.



Insights from Olivier Philippaerts

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Olivier Philippaerts with H&M Extra. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Olivier Philippaerts competes a wide range of different types of horses, from his feisty mare H&M Legend of Love to the big stallion H&M Extra as well as young horses down to the age of six. From the championships, to the Global Tours, the Nations Cups and World Cups to the Majors at Aachen and Spruce Meadows as well as smaller two-star shows in between – Olivier does it all. Below, Olivier gives some personal insights into the observations in Tim Worden’s report – based on his own experiences. 


“I think the trends we can read out of Tim's report will continue throughout the next few years. If we would go back in time and make a comparison, I think we would see that the horses peak later these days because the sport has changed into a more technical sport rather than being based on only power. These days, the horses start to jump bigger classes and Grand Prix competitions when they are around 9-10 years old. Before, they would do that way earlier. That’s why I assume that these days the best age for a sport horse is between 10 and 14 years old. The downside today is that the career of a sport horse tends to get shorter due the amount of shows they are doing, which is not good in my opinion. 

As to the observations in the report about the horses' gender, I think in the end the mares and the stallions will be the better gender for the top sport. My experience is that they have this extra character, and extra fighting spirit to make the difference. 

When it comes to the observations on competition scheduling, I think this is very different for every rider. First of all, I make schedules for my horses based on their amount of experience and age. Their gender would not be something I would take into consideration. I feel that it’s very important to know what is the best for your own horse when making their schedules. For example, my mare H&M Legend of Love jumps much better when she gets two shows and a week off before an important show. My stallion H&M Extra is very different from her, so I try to give him two or three weeks off before a big competition. He is always at his best when he’s very fresh. So, for every horse I make a different schedule. 

In general, I think the rider plays the biggest role in making the best schedule for their horses. That also makes the difference between a good rider and a great rider, as it really can impact your results at important shows."





Dr. Tim Worden is a scientist specializing in applying high performance sports training concepts to horses. His current focus is developing methods to monitor training sessions to improve results while reducing the risk of injury. He completed his MSc (Biomechanics and Neuroscience) and PhD (Biomechanics) at the University of Guelph, Canada, and he has worked with a number of FEI jumping riders over the years. Instagram: @twordentraining



No reproduction without permission, copyright © Tim Worden

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