Show Jumping

There is a saying among people who are serious riders: Throw your heart over the jump and your horse will follow.Gene Smith (The Champion, NY, Atheneum, 1987)

A number of equestrian sports include jumping.

If you”re thinking of leaping over jumps and other obstacles in an indoor or outdoor arena, then you”re probably interested in show jumping.

If you see your horse vaulting over streams and sliding down banks, leaping over hedges and natural obstacles, then the sport for you is cross-country riding.

A sport related to cross-country riding but with a slightly different objective is fox hunting. You”ve probably seen movies or pictures of a foxhunt in the British countryside, with riders going “off to the hounds” in pursuit of the quarry. The interesting challenge of this hunt is that the fox sets the course. The rider may get a jolting surprise when jumping an innocuous-looking barricade only to land in a muddy pond. Interestingly, the British government has recently outlawed the fox hunt, but the sport is still practiced in other countries and is gaining popularity in France.

Graphic example of show jumping course.Show jumping involves riding a course that has a series of obstacles, usually 15 to 20, within a set time. The entrants are awarded penalty points for “faults.” These faults are assigned for refusingthat is, when a horse balks at a jumpor when the horse knocks down part of a fence. Walls and hedges are designed with top rails that will fall if the horse fails to clear the top of the obstacle. Failing to complete the course in the allotted time disqualifies the entrant. The rider with the fewest number of faults wins. When scores are tied, a “jump off” is run; the horse and rider with the fewest faults and the best time wins.

Graphic example of different show jumping gates.Cross-country jumping has a wider variety of jumps that might include steep hills, banks, muddy trails, or highly uneven terrain. Cross-country jumping courses are run at a rapid pace, and penalties are awarded for exceeding the optimum time set for the course. The course also has a maximum time allotment; exceeding that time results in elimination. However, racing too fast upsets the horse”s balance and focus and leads to struggles for control at every jump.

The horse and rider tackle fifteen to twenty obstacles in a Grand Prix course. Riders should walk the course on foot to judge distance between fences and decide on the route.

Tack and Turnout

Rider: For show jumping, the rider”s competition clothing should include full-length boots, breeches, blouse, fitted riding jacket and a safety helmet. Cross-country riders should wear full-length boots, breeches and shirts appropriate for comfort and weather conditions. Safety vests and helmets are also required.

Horse: Leg protection is essential equipment in show jumping. Bandages or tendon boots prevent injury in cases where the horses knock their legs on the jump. Other things you may consider are: bell boots (or overreach boots) to protect the horse”s hooves; a therapeutic saddle pad, which acts as a shock absorber when the horse lands after a jump; and a breastplate to prevent the saddle from slipping back too far on a jump. Horses also require a jumping saddle and appropriate bit, reins and head stall for maximum control.

Grooming for Jumping Events

Grooming is particularly important in the Hunter/Jumper divisions because they are judged on their style and manner. In regular show jumping, the horses aren”t judged on looks at all.

Braiding or plaiting the mane is traditional for hunters. The greater the number of plaits, the longer the neck appears. Controversies abound as to whether an even or odd number of braids is desirable.

Allow extra time in your grooming schedule for perfect braiding, but remember that braiding isn”t a requirement in all Hunter classes. It is done specifically to make the horse look better. If your horse has an imperfect head or neck, leaving the mane unbraided may be the best option.

Another option is quarter marking. These turn attention to the hindquarters and are usually made in a checkerboard pattern, using a mane comb and stencil. If you”re considering quarter marking, make sure that the hair is very clean, shiny and short.

The Jumping Horse

What type of horse is best suited to jumping? If you”re shopping for a horse that you plan to ride in a jumping sport, you should look to the Warmbloods. You”ll need a horse who is able to maintain a steady and rhythmic pace. Jumping horses must be daring enough to jump, yet mellow enough to have a good temperament. Consider these breeds: Dutch Warmbloods, Belgian Warmbloods, Holsteiners, and Oldenburgs.

What features should I look for in a jumping horse?: In competition, your horse will be expected to jump obstacles as high as six feet. You need a calm horse. Horses who panic or are fearful when approaching an obstacle will balk and refuse to jump. The rider will work to develop the horse”s confidence; having a horse with a good temperament is a good start.

The horse should also have potential for developing good rhythm. Speed and strength are not as important as suppleness and balance. Of course, much of the balance requirement is developed through practice with a well-balanced rider. Many horses love to jump; the task is to bring out the best in your horse.

What are the requirements for competition?: Horses of any breed, age, or sex can compete in jumping sports. A good balance of speed, agility, and power, combined with excellent training will result in a horse that is both athletic and able to handle the technical requirements of competition courses.

Main Jumping Competitions

The largest and most prestigious prizes are awarded at the international level. Of course, the ultimate award is an Olympic Gold Medal. In the Individual show jumping competition at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, the gold and silver medals were won by the Netherlands, with the bronze medal going to Saudi Arabia. The mixed team jumping gold medal went to Germany, with Switzerland and Brazil picking up the silver and bronze medals.

National and International Jumping Competitions

World-cup-level jumping competitions feature the very exciting Grand Prix jumping competitions. Some of the better-known international events are the Samsung Nations Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland, the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, New York City (the world”s oldest international horse show), and the Wembley, the Horse of the Year Show in England. The largest hunter/jumper show in the United States is the Hampton Classic Horse Show. Shows are usually held on an annual basis. Many countries have their own Grand Prix jumping competitions.

North America, Europe, and Australia are among the most enthusiastic show jumping competitors, and each continent holds numerous events. Among the countries most committed to the sport are England, Ireland, the United States, Canada, Holland, Germany, Italy, and Australia. Many other countries hold their own regional and local competitions.

How is a Grand Prix Different?

The queen of all competitions in many sports is the Grand Prix. In show jumping, the course designer attempts to construct a course that only a few of the very best horses and riders can possibly complete without faults. Thus, no two courses are exactly alike. The designer includes challenging jumps with at least one double and one triple combination of fences. Water jumps are optional.

Finding Jumping Shows

Most countries in which show jumping is of high interest have national organizations for show jumping. A few are listed below:

  • the Equestrian Federation of Ireland
  • La Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), headquartered in Lauzanne, Switzerland
  • the British Show Jumping Association
  • the Royal Belgian Equestrian Federation.

To find information on schedules and events, rules and eligibility, try a search on “show jumping” in your favorite browser, and include the name of your country or region. For more hits, use words like “equestrian” and “eventing.”