The sport of show jumping has grown dramatically in the last few decades, with an increasing number of nations having riders competing at the 5* level. As an avid fan, this growth is exciting to witness and ensures the strength of the discipline in the years to come.
However, although there are more nations than ever competing in show jumping, there remain certain nations which continue to dominate. The purpose of this article is to examine the top nations in show jumping and to provide relative data on how these top nations compare to one another.
Top Show Jumping Nations in Olympic Competition (from Paris 1900 to Rio 2016)
There are a number of different ways that the strength of a nation within any sport can be determined. One way is to identify those nations which consistently perform well at an important and challenging competition. For most sports, this would be the Olympic Games, where the best in the world compete against each other every four years.
The Olympics contain the top horse and rider combinations from all qualified nations, comprising a start list that is rarely matched at any 5* Grand Prix. Furthermore, athletes build training programs specifically designed to peak for the Olympic Games, so theoretically, the best athletes in the five rounds (and possibly in an individual jump-off), ensures that the winning horse rider combinations are able to replicate success over multiple days.
Below, the 12 most winningest nations in terms of Olympic medals are shown. The first value that is readily apparent is the strength of the German Show Jumping Team. Throughout the entire history of the Olympics, the German team has consistently contended for medals.
Another interesting finding is that Italy has won the fourth-most Olympic medals of any nation, but has not won a medal since the 1972 Munich Games. Finally, we have all witnessed the relative dominance of the Dutch team over the last number of years. Not only is the breeding program in the Netherlands very strong, but they have also been dominant in Nations Cup competition. However, the Netherlands is only 8th on the list of total Olympic medals, having won 7 total medals.
Olympic Individual Medal Rankings
For the Olympic analysis, we can dive deeper into the numbers and look at what nations produce the most individual medalists. Again, Germany dominates the medal rankings, having won 5 individual Gold medals (and 10 total individual medals).
Olympic Team Medal Rankings
Again, for the team medal rankings, the German Team has been dominant in show jumping competition, winning 8 team gold medals (14 overall team medals). To put that into context, they win an Olympic team medal 58% of the time, a truly impressive feat.
FEI-Ranked Riders from Different Nations (from January 1st, 2015 to December 31st, 2015)
Another method for examining a nation’s sporting dominance is to determine how many individuals from each nation have reached the top level of the sport. In equestrian sport, this would be categorized as the number of riders who have acquired FEI points that place them on the Longines FEI Ranking List.
In 2015, there were 3,013 riders from 83 nations who were listed on the Longines Rankings list. Below, the number of riders from the 20 nations with the most riders are shown. For me, the most important trend is the large number of riders from France that acquired FEI points in 2015.
France had at least twice the number of riders than did every other nation (except Germany). With this many rides, France has a large pool of riders from which to develop and push the sport forward in the country, ensuring that France will remain a powerful nation in the sport for many years to come.
Although it is insightful to look at the total number of riders obtaining FEI points for each nation, this is not necessarily an indication of the strength of a country for the top of the sport. Many riders may be obtaining FEI points from a small number of 2* competitions, which, although important results, are very different than obtaining numerous results at more important competitions.
Therefore, we can take the analysis further by examining the number of riders who are within the top 250 in the world. At this level, they are in the top 10 percentile, and are likely acquiring many top results throughout the course of a season to be ranked this high. Here, Team USA has the most riders ranked within the top 10 percentile, indicating that this nation has a large number of riders (32) who are competing at the top of the sport.
Finally, we can examine the number of riders who rank among the top 50 in the world. These riders are competing in 5* competitions and performing very well multiple times throughout a competition year. It is interesting to note the strength of European nations at this level: as of the top 50, only 24% were not from European nations.
So, Which Nations Are Strongest?
When determining the overall strength of show jumping nations, it is important that the top nations have a strong pool of riders and that the nations have been able to win at major competitions. Based on the above analysis of Olympic performances and FEI performances in 2015, it is clear that the top three show jumping nations are Germany, France and the United States of America.
These three nations have won the most Olympic medals, indicating a historically strong and consistent team. Furthermore, these nations have the most FEI riders (both overall and highly ranked riders).
One Last Fun Fact…
Although this statistic does not directly relate to the strength of the nation at the top of the show jumping sport, I think it is somewhat telling of the popularity of the sport in each country.
I took the population of each of the top 20 show jumping nations, and then calculated (per million people in each nation), how many riders were on the FEI ranking list. For this statistic, Ireland (a nation of 4.64 million people, and 96 riders with FEI points) has approximately 20 FEI-ranked show jumping riders for every million people.
About the Author
Dr. Tim Worden has worked as a sport scientist with numerous FEI-level show jumping riders. He has a PhD in biomechanics and specializes in applying human high-performance training techniques to horses.