Block House Steeplechase Races –
History Still in the Making
Steeplechasing began in Ireland when some foxhunters dared each other to race to the nearest church steeple. Since then, “steeplechasing” as it came to be called, has become popular in Great Britain and the United States.
Locally, the Block House races were started by Carter P. Brown in 1946 at Harmon Field. The first steeplechase in Western North Carolina, it was a single race with a tin cup as the winning prize.
Eventually Brown built a racecourse around what had been an old tavern called the Block House, which gives the Tryon race its name. The course went from North Carolina into South Carolina several times and included a daring ride up Heartbreak Hill. Officials used flags to let the jockeys know how many times they had been around the track.
Since then, the Block House Steeplechase has moved—first to Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) and, most recently, to the Green Creek Race Track in Columbus, NC, where it is held today. The move was needed because of the need for better footing for the racehorses.
Today, the Block House races attract horses and jockeys from across the United States. Sanctioned by the National Steeplechase Association, the Block House races are an enduring and much-loved tradition in western North Carolina.
Steeplechase is an unusual word. Where did it come from?
The origin of racing over fences is shrouded by the mists of history, but by all accounts it began in Ireland in the 18th century. Its roots were in the fox-hunting field, and occasionally horsemen would match up their horses for races over considerable distances. They would race to landmarks such as church steeples, and thus one of these races was a chase to the steeple, or a steeplechase.
What is a steeplechase horse?
A steeplechase horse is a Thoroughbred. In addition to speed, the steeplechase horse must possess the ability to jump fences at a fast pace.
Are these horses prepared for their races at the racetrack?
Steeplechase horses can be trained anywhere, but most of them are based on the East Coast between Pennsylvania and South Carolina. The country setting allows them to spend plenty of time outdoors, unlike horses housed at the racetrack.
What are the jumps?
The obstacles used in most races are known as fences. They are man-made, portable jumps that usually consists of a steel frame stuffed with plastic “brush,” and it has a foam-rubber roll, covered with green canvas, on the takeoff side.
Do steeplechase jockeys have any special equipment?
Yes. The National Steeplechase Association requires jockeys to wear certified helmets that meet stringent crash-protection standards, and they carry padded whips to protect the well-being of the steeplechase horses.
Who benefits from steeplechase racing?
Of course, the steeplechase horse owners receive designated shares of the total purse money, and both trainers and jockeys receive a share of the owner’s portion. But the biggest winners are the communities where the races are held.
The first Steeplechase race in the U.S. was run in 1834
The average speed of a horse in the race is 30 mph
The average steeplechase horse weighs 1,100 pounds
Most steeplechase horses run in no more than ten races per year. Training for steeplechase horses is managed to avoid causing injury or lameness
Most steeplechase horses start competing in the steeplechase at four years old and continue until they’re ten or eleven.
Steeplechase horses generally do not train at the racetrack.
Steeplechase horses need a lot of stamina to them carry over two miles or more.
Horses do not need a lot of sleep, only 2-3 hours per night. Yet, they snooze while standing up at various times throughout the day.