Point-to-Point (P-t-P) races are limited to horses and riders which have qualified with a recognised Hunt in Great Britain and the majority are organised by individual P-t-P committees for the financial benefit of their hunt. The secretaries of these committees are represented by the PPSA (P-t-P Secretaries Association, itself an offshoot of the original MFHA P-t-P Sub-Committee). The Chairman of the PPSA, a stakeholder of the sport, has a seat on the P-t-P Authority, the sport’s governing body (as does the P-t-P Owners & Riders Association, another stakeholder).
The Wessex PPSA Area (known as the Taunton Area until 1997) covers eastern Hampshire, southern Wiltshire, the whole of Dorset and Somerset and eastern Devon, and is one of the largest and busiest of the sport’s 14 geographical divisions.
It is contested by amateurs but this is a big sport. Despite a season lasting a mere five months, at its peak in millennium year more than 4,000 horses ran 14,000 times in 1,500 races.
P-t-P racing is an offshoot of steeplechasing which began sometime in the 18th century. The races became gradually more formalised but there was no rigorous regulation until the National Hunt Committee was formed in the 1860s. This Committee formulated and enforced the Rules of Racing (the sport becoming known as racing ‘under Rules). Standardised jumps on purpose-built courses specifically designed for the best viewing and increasingly well-bred horses became the norm as the sport steadily evolved into professional NH racing as we know it today.
Some of the early NH steeplechase meetings had races limited to hunters, but the Committee's changes were anathema to the amateur element. Members of various Hunts got together to organise their own cross-country races outside the scope of NH rules. They called these races Point-to-Points.
Recent research by Bernard Pike credits the Blackmore Vale with running the first such race locally, at Sherborne on 13 March 1879. A Farmers race was added in 1881 when by coincidence the races were run at Charlton Horethone – now again the home of the B&SV meeting. The following year the Taunton Vale raced at Ruishton, opposite the Blackbrook Inn. On 13 April 1883 the Lord Portman’s hounds held a race from Wooland Cross to Okeford Fitzpaine and the Wells and Stanton Drew with Mr Pigott’s Harriers raced at Uphill near Weston. The South Dorset raced at Charborough Park in 1887 (3000 turned up to watch!) and the same year saw races held by the West Somerset and the Seavington. The Cattistock had held hunter races as part of the Waddon Vale Steeplechases as long ago as 1857 and may have staged P-t-P races prior to that starting near Littlebredy on 4 April 1889.
Most races were run from one point to another. Riders were permitted at first to choose their own route so the actual site of the start and finish were a closely guarded secret; potential runners were told only where to assemble. The South & West Wilts held their first P-t-P meeting (of no less than three races) at Semley Station on 19 March 1890. The Western Gazette’s description of the “pretty stiff” course, which by this time was marked with flags, reads ”start from below Cowridge, across country leaving the flags to the right, on to the Rookeries, round by Lugmark Covert, crossing the brook twice, and then the best of the way home up a steep ascent and over the last fence into the winning field and past the post”. The writer suggested that should the same course be used again then the starting and finishing post should be reversed “as from the start there was practically a straight course of about two miles and after that the race was lost to the spectators until the last spin for home”.
By the turn of the century the unregulated sport was proliferating and some control was considered necessary to enforce standards. The Masters of Foxhounds Association (MFHA) set up a Committee to look at the future of the sport and in 1913 the MFHA P-t-P Sub-Committee was formed. They drew up Regulations and a distinct sport of Point-to-Pointing was officially born. Its evolution has followed a very similar path to that of NH racing, becoming ever more formalised and regulated so that 100 years on the two sports are superficially indistinguishable, and dissenting voices can again be heard yearning for the good old days.
One annual race of the historic type is still organised from one part of the New Forest to another every Boxing Day with little in the way of regulation. it is billed as “the only authentic point-to-point in the country” but is totally unrecognisable from any featured on this website.