The origins of steeplechasing are as simple as the name - people (usually the upper class and nobles) would race their horses between churches "chasing the steeples" of the buildings, jumping all obstacles in their way. It was a thrilling mix of horse racing and hunting, both of which were common pursuits for the gentry several centuries ago.
Over the years safety has improved, with fence heights in most countries being lowered and made less solid, the seasons shortened, and field sizes reduced. But accidents happen frequently and as a result protesters tend to target the sport. Some racing jurisdictions have moved to ban it entirely, while it has become less popular in other countries. Europe remains the last bastion of steeplechasing glory.