Jumping is perhaps one of the most well-known of the equestrian disciplines. The obstacles horses are expected to conquer test the will of the horse as well as the athleticism, suppleness and obedience. Typically, horse and rider will be expected to clear a course with 10-13 jumps at varying heights within certain time parameters. It is an exciting sport for spectators to watch.


While horses have always had the ability to jump, the necessity became apparent in 18th century Britain. The Enclosure Act led to an increase in fenced properties across the English countryside. Those who took part in fox hunting were no longer able to travel freely. It became necessary for horses to be trained in jumping so that obstacles could be easily cleared in the fox chase.

The earliest documented jumping competitions in France and in Britain, there a “high leap” and “wide leap” competition was held. As these early competitions were not well attended due to the fact that spectators could not see any of the jumps, jumping competitions were brought indoors and were known as “lepping” competitions. The sport gained popularity and became part of the Olympics in 1912.

Types of Jumps

There are a variety of jumps used in show jumping. The most common jump is the vertical, which is made of poles placed on top of each other. The amount of poles determines the height of the jump. The wall jump is designed to replicate a brick wall but is made of soft bricks that will fall if not cleared by the horse.

The triple bar consists of three bars, which rest across the jump to create a wider distance to clear. The Hog’s Back consists of unevenly placed bars and is less predictable than a standard vertical. The combination jump is a series of vertical jumps in a row, much like the track equivalent hurdles.

The fan jump has rails that are spread out on one side. An open water jump is a jump in which the horse must clear a body of water. Oftentimes, a vertical jump is placed either directly before or directly after the pool of water. A filler jump is a solid piece of material placed underneath the poles of a jump. It is immutable.

Oxer jumps are also known as spreads because the horse is required to jump both vertically and horizontally. Vertical jumps are placed next to each other and the placement of the verticals determine the type of oxer. If both poles are equal height, the oxer is square. In an ascending oxer, the furthest pole is higher than the closest, and vice versa for the descending oxer. The Swedish oxer features slanting poles that create an x where they meet in the middle. Liverpool jumps are bodies of water with vertical or oxer jumps over the water.

Body Positioning

The body position of the rider is an essential part of show jumping, especially for the maneuverability of the horse and the distribution of weight. In the early days of show jumping competitions, riders used long stirrups. When the horse would go over a jump, the rider would lean back. This positioning was very uncomfortable for the horse and the weight distribution made it difficult for the horse to naturally jump over the fence. It was until Captain Fredrico Caprilli rethought body positioning that this was changed.

Caprilli adopted a forward leaning position with shorter stirrups for show jumping. This position is helpful because it gives the horse freedom as it jumps the fence and can optimize its bascule form. A bascule is the natural arch the body of horse takes when it is jumping. Many natural show jumping horses have an excellent bascule.

In the forward seat body position, leg positions are very important. Legs should make contact with the horse along the thigh, knee and calf, even when the upper half is moving. Over the jump, the rider’s hip and knee should open and close through the jumping movement. Weight should be pushed through the ankle, which is lower than the toes, which should be slightly turned out.

A swinging leg is one of the most common faults in body positioning in show jumping. Oftentimes, riders will grip the horse’s body with their knees which leaves the lower half of the leg swinging and unsteady. Riders should anchor their weigh through their ankles and grip the horse with the entire length of the leg.

Releasing the reigns is a very important aspect to show jumping. Incorrect reign release will cause the horse to feel pain over the jumps and therefore the horse will not jump anymore. When the reign is released incorrectly, the horse will jump in a flattened position and will not achieve bascule.

A beginning strategy for rein release involves the rider releasing the reigns and holding on to the horse’s mane. This strategy can help maintain balance without hurting the horse’s mouth with the bit. While this is a beginner technique, there are times when expert riders implement this release. Numerous other strategies help balance the rider will giving the horse enough space to complete the jump comfortably.


In the main show jumping competitions, a scoring table is used. Most commonly, this is scoring table A or C. The scoring tables create a system of penalties for errors in the show jumping. If a horse refuses to jump a fence or knocks down a bar, four penalties are assigned. If the horse or rider falls, both are eliminated from competition. Elimination also results from a second refusal to attempt a jump.

Penalties are also assigned in time competitions for seconds or fractions of seconds over the allotted time allowed. At times, multiple riders will complete the jumping course without penalty. In this case, the riders will either participate in a jump-off, or the fastest rider is declared the winner. In a jump-off, the tied riders will jump a shorter course at a timed rate and the winner of that round is the winner.

Jumping competitions are exciting to watch, participate in and train for. As both horse and rider master the necessary skills, the competition level increases. The more rider and horse are in sync, the more successful the show jumping becomes. Show jumping tests both horse and rider in athleticism, and skill. Horses will learn increased obedience, freedom, suppleness and speed through show jumping. It becomes a fun and competitive activity for both horses and equestrian enthusiasts.