National Hunt racing originated in Ireland during the 18th century with the early races mainly run between two horses (known as pounding races) and where the horses would be raced across country, jumping any obstacles they encountered along the way. The first recorded race was run over 4.5 miles between the towns of Buttevant and Doneraile in the north of County Cork in 1752.

National Hunt races were originally called steeplechase races because horses would be raced from one church steeple to another, and this term was first used on an official race card in Ireland in the early 19th century.

Organised steeplechases were later staged in Britain with horses raced over a number of fields, hedges and brooks. The earliest most notable steeplechase was the St Albans Steeplechase and this was first run in 1830.

For many years there was no regulation in steeplechase racing with races run across country and the sport was open to corruption. However, in 1865 the National Hunt Committee was formed and races held on tracks and The National Hunt Meeting, which included the National Hunt Steeplechase, became an annual event held at different race track each year. Racing over hurdles became popular in the 1870s and 80s.

In 1904 and 1905 the National Hunt Meeting was held at Cheltenham, then hosted at Warwick for 5 years, before returning to Cheltenham which then became the permanent fixture for the meeting. More prestigious races were added to the meet in the 1920s such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Festival now features 11 Grade 1 races.

Today around 3,000 races are held under National Hunt rules each year.

Amateur steeplechase races often run on farmland and where racehorses and professional jockeys are excluded, known as point-to-point races still remain popular particularly in Ireland.