Case Study: How Big is the Gap Between Male and Female Athlete Performance in Show Jumping?
The show jumping team podium at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Photo © FEI/EFE/Kai Försterling
The highest ranked female show jumping athlete in the world is Laura Kraut (USA). She sits 27 on the current installment of Longines World Jumping Rankings. Only one female has ever topped those standings: Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) in 2008.
On the other hand, women have made up at least 50% of every U.S. championship team (Olympic Games and WEG/World Championships) since 2006. At the Tokyo Olympic Games, two of the three U.S. team riders were women (Kraut and Jessica Springsteen), and at the 2022 FEI World Championships in Herning (DEN), half the team was female (Lillie Keenan and Adrienne Sternlicht).
So, is there really such a gap between female and male performance in the sport? Is there a greater gap between genders in Europe vs. the U.S.? Prixview’s case study sought to put the numbers to the test.
We analyzed the results from international competition in the United States and Europe at the CSI3* level and above between January 2019 and February 2023. This gave us the closest comparative sample sizes: 3547 female athletes and 3438 male athletes were represented in this data set.
The numbers might surprise you, and they certainly illustrate how small the margins are that separate athletes at the top levels of the sport. Most obvious is that there were more female athletes competing than men at this level!
According the Prixview data from this sample, both male and female athletes average a little less than 5 faults each time they enter the ring. For men, it’s 4.65 faults; for women, it’s only marginally more at 4.73 faults.
The averages are just as close when it comes to finish position, with men averaging a finish position in the top 26. Women are close behind, averaging a finish position of 27.
Breaking down these numbers by year shows even closer averages:
So, where is the separation coming from? Or, are women just bridging the gap?
If we separate by circuit (American vs. European), we can start to see a difference. In Europe, men and women average exceptionally similar scores: 4.61 (male) vs. 4.62 (female). However, there is a larger gap in finish position. Men competing in Europe average a finish position within the top 27, while women average a finish position of 29. That would lead one to believe that women are riding with the same degree of accuracy as men, but the men in Europe are riding slightly faster across the board.
In the U.S., we don’t see this discrepancy. In fact, the numbers are identical. Women, on average are averaging more faults than men, but their finish position is the same: 21.
Let’s break this down one additional layer. Is the separation greater or less at the very top level of the sport? Looking at the numbers, the greatest separation in the U.S. is at the CSI3* level. In America, men average 5 faults at the CSI* level. Women, however, average 5.43 faults.
As level of competition increases, the difference between male and female performance decreases. In other words, the numbers affirm that talent supersedes gender in show jumping sport. If you can ride, you can ride! At the CSI5* level in the U.S., male and female average faults is identicaI, and finish position is separated by just 0.451 (Men: 21.863; Women: 21.412). In Europe, this separation is more than tripled: 20.292 vs. 21.719 (finish position). The disparity is average faults is also much greater: 4.60 vs. 4.71.
Equestrian sport is the only sport in the Olympic Games in which men and women compete as equals. The numbers show that this is justified—and it’s closer than you might have thought.