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29 Horse Jumping Obstacles: Explained For Beginners

The world of horses is quite extraordinary, action-packed, and full of athletes. Whether you are a beginner horse rider, horse enthusiast, or seasoned competitor, watching horses jump and jumping horses is always inspiring. These equine athletes are fit, graceful, powerful, and beautiful.

Showjumping takes skill, bravery, dexterity, and horsemanship. Eventing takes physical and mental fitness, trust, courage, and luck. Equitation requires correct riding, precision, skill, and form. Whichever discipline you choose in the jumping world, it’s always fun and gratifying.

There are a couple of different disciplines in which you will find horse’s jumping over obstacles and navigating jumping courses. Some disciplines use the same type of obstacles, but there are many variations.

The disciplines range from Showjumping to cross country and includes Equitation, Working Hunter, Working Riding, the different classes in show jumping, and Prix Caprilli. The disciplines and classes have their own requirements and types of obstacles that are built. The technicality, length and height of the obstacles also differ throughout the levels.

Due to the sheer volume of information, I will summarize the obstacles for each discipline and class. It will be according to the basic layout and an average level or height. Firstly we will need to know what exactly is a jumping obstacle, which disciplines have obstacles, and what types of obstacles are in each discipline.

What Is A Jumping Obstacle?

An obstacle is placed on a prepared course or track over which the horse must jump to negotiate the rest of the course and continue on their track. Obstacles in jumping are called fences or jumps. The fences are built and designed differently for each discipline and can be combined, related distance, or used as a single obstacle.

Fences can be technical, simple, or even intimidating to both horse and rider. Sufficient training and exercise are needed to be able to compete a horse in a jumping discipline.

For show jumping, the fences are built with uprights (or standards) and colorful poles and fillers, these jumps are usually built to look colorful and creative, and the poles fall when knocked by the horse, which incurs penalties for the horse and rider. Equitation fences are also built with poles, but normally there aren’t fillers or other decorative elements to the jumps.

Eventing and hunter disciplines use more rustic and natural-looking fences. In hunter classes, plain brown poles and fillers will be used to achieve this look. The fences are more solid in eventing and usually do not break or fall when struck by the horse.

Showjumping obstacles

These fences can be found in all the showjumping classes, Equitation, and hunter classes. The design will differ for each. The poles can be plain brown, white, or brightly colored and patterned. The poles are help up by cups attached to uprights or standards. Each upright has holes for the cups to be placed on different heights.

On each upright, there will be either a red or a white flag. These flags indicate the direction in which the horse must go over the jump/obstacle. The red flag must be on the rider and horse’s right side when they jump over the obstacle, and the white flag must be on the left.

These indicators are very important for the warmup arena as there are only three jumps in the warmup, lined up in the middle with no numbers. Thus, the direction of the jumps is indicated by the flags to prevent horses and riders from going over the jumps in the wrong direction and avoiding injury.

Here are the following obstacles that can be used in a show jumping, hunter, or Equitation class:

1. Upright – aka verticals

  • An upright is a very basic jump that is used multiple times in a course
  • It consists of two standards (uprights) with two or more poles vertically between the two standards
  • It is a “flat” type of jump, and the horse does not have to jump high and wide, just high enough to clear the top pole.
  • Uprights are usually decorated with colorful poles in show jumping and Equitation
  • In showjumping fillers such as picket fences, flowers, boxes, trays, and decorated standards to make the jump more technical.

2. Cross

  • Crosses are used mainly as training and warm-up jumps and are not used in jumping courses except at training shows for children’s classes.
  • A cross is the same as a vertical, but the poles lie diagonally, crossing each other in the middle
  • One end of each pole lies on the cup while the other end remains on the ground; this gives it an “X” shape.

3. Oxer

  • An oxer is more of a three-dimensional jump that requires the horse to jump high and wide and is also used multiple times in a course
  • Oxers have 4 standards/uprights and consist of two poles lying vertically across from each other
  • The poles can be even or uneven, and depending on the height of the jump, the width of the jump will vary – an oxer can be up to 20cm wider than it is high.

4. Combinations

  • Combinations as two or more obstacles that are judged as one jump
  • Combinations are usually 1 to 2 strides apart and consist of uprights and oxers
  • The combination will be numbered and have a, b, and/or c elements.
  • If your horse refuses one of the jumps in a combination, the whole combination from the element needs to be jumped again, and penalties can be incurred from each element.

5. Triple bars

  • Triple bars have a similar design to an oxer, with the added extra pole at the top
  • It consists of three poles lying vertically in a line
  • These jumps are designed to be wide and more technical to jump as the poles are stacked from low to high
  • These jumps are mostly used in the higher levels and are only in the course once.

6. Bounce

  • Bounces are used for training and are not used in competitions in show jumping
  • A bounce consists of two or more crosses or verticals in a straight or curved line, about 3m apart
  • A normal stride for horses is around 4 meters, 6 meters including the take-off and landing points.
  • A bounce then means that the horse does not have time to put in a stride but rather land and take off again
  • This exercise encourages horses to take off at the correct time and to push with their hind legs. It also teaches them faster reflexes and improves strength in the hindquarter.

7. Skinny

  • A skinny is typically a jump that is shorter than the normal jumps in a course
  • The length of the poles are shorter; thus, the horse needs to jump accurately through a smaller space
  • These jumps are used in the higher grades and add to the technicality of a course.

8. Wall

  • A wall jump is usually made out of wood or a strong plastic
  • The wall has “bricks” that are used to build the desired height, and it looks solid
  • The blocks/bricks can be knocked down without injuring the horse, but it will incur a penalty
  • Wall jumps are technical and require bravery from both horse and rider.

8. Water tray

  • A water tray is used in two ways: as a standalone jump where the water tray is sinned into the floor, and the horse needs to jump clear of the water and jump wide.
  • Seen in derby classes, the water tray is also added for technicality and testing the horse and rider
  • The other way a water tray can be used is by placing it under an upright or oxer to add difficulty and distract the horse or rider. This type of jump is then called a Liverpool.

10. Fan

  • A fan jump consists of three or more poles that all rest on one upright on one end and then is spread out at the other ends on different uprights, resembling a fan shape
  • A fan is quite easy to jump as the horse needs to clear the thinner part of the fan and not the widest part. It is similar to jumping upright.

11. Joker

  • A joker is used in accumulator competitions where every jump has a value of points, the jokes carrying most of the points and being the last jump optional jump
  • A joker is built bigger and scarier than the other jumps in the course, and the rider has a set amount of time to clear all the jumps and accumulate the most points.

Eventing obstacles

Eventing obstacles are the more solid type of obstacles. These obstacles are designed to test the bravery, fitness, and hunting skills of a horse. In the cross-country phase of eventing, the horse and rider navigate a long course over a big track or field at a much faster pace than showjumping.

The rider with the least amount of penalties incurred over all three phases of eventing: Dressage, Cross country, and show jumping wins. Fitness, athleticism, bravery, all roundedness, accuracy, and Equitation of both horse and rider are tested in eventing.

The showjumping phase of eventing consists of the basic obstacles in every show jumping course. The dressage phase is the first part of the Event, and this is where the riders will try and incur the least amount of penalties. This is calculated through their dressage score. The lower the score, the more penalties the rider and horse will have.

In the cross country phase, the rider and horse incur penalties through refusals and time penalties. There is a set time for the course that is worked out using the distance of the course and the speed at which the rider and horse are allowed to go. For each second over the time before crossing the finish flags, the rider will incur a penalty.

After the cross country phase is the showjumping phase, the riders do not have a set time, but penalties can be caused by refusals and knocking the jumps.

Cross-country obstacles are solid and cannot be knocked. The horse and rider need to be careful approaching these obstacles, as the risk of rotational falls and serious injury is very high. Most of these jumps are built with safety in mind. Most of these jumps are build from wood and other natural objects to make them look as rustic as possible

12. Arrowhead

  • Arrowheads get their name from their shape
  • They are triangle-shaped boards with the point facing downwards and the base of the triangle facing up
  • These jumps are very narrow and usually slanted and require accuracy from the horse and rider due to them being narrow.

13. Bank

  • Banks or steps are elevated or sunken down parts of the track that require the horse to jump upwards or downwards onto the next level of the track
  • The bank can be used as a single jump or in a row as a combination
  • The horse will need impulsion and accuracy when jumping onto or into banks and should not use speed for these types of jumps.

14. Ditch

  • A ditch, as its name suggests, is a hole in the ground and is usually built in a rectangular shape with poles on either side of the ditch
  • The ditch is not very deep, and the horse is usually not bothered by the depth of the ditch, but it can be wide.
  • A ditch is not commonly seen in the higher grades
  • A pole, like an upright, can be placed over the ditch to make it harder to jump and scarier. A brush jump can be placed right behind the ditch so that the ditch and the brush are jumped as one jump. This is seen in the higher grades. This type of jump is known as a Trakehner.

15. Brush

  • Brush jumps, also known as a Bullfinch, consist of a solid box-type base and brush (cedar or spruce) on top of the box in an upright position
  • Brush jumps make the jumps look bigger and wider than they are, but the brush is soft and is designed to flatten when a horse skims over it
  • These jumps are built to scare the rider, but it looks open and inviting to the horse.

16. A-frame

  • An A-frame is usually an open and simple jump in the lower levels of eventing
  • It is built in the shape of an “A” and is built like a frame; thus, it does not look solid and is open and inviting
  • Due to the shape, the horse is “guided” over the jump, and the visual of the jump makes the rider feel more comfortable to jump these jumps.

17. Hogback

  • A hogsback jump is built similarly to a triple bar but, where the trie bar has the highest pole at the bag, the hogsback jump has the middle pole at the highest point and the two outer poles lower.
  • Like the A-frame, it is an open and easy jump to have in eventing as it is not intimidating to either horse or rider
  • The hogsback encourages a horse to jump in an arch and smoothly over the fence.

18. Coffin

  • A coffin is also known as a rails-ditch-rails jump. It is a combination of three elements. The first is plain rails, the second a ditch, the third another jump. The ditch is several strides downhill, and then the last element is on an uphill again.
  • The jump is meant to be jumped slowly with power and agility from the horse as it is quite a difficult combination.

19. Corner

  • This jump is a triangular shape jump where the horse jumps over one point of the triangle. In the lower grades, a corner jump looks similar to a fan jump in showjumping; it is more open and inviting. In the higher grades, it’s built more solid and has a closed top.
  • This type of jump needs to be jumped as close as possible to the apex of the corner, but the horse and rider still need to be between the flags, and some horses may refuse towards the open side of the fence as it is a technical jump.

20. Drop fence

  • These fences are seen in the higher classes where the horse must jump over a log fence and drop down and land lower than the track from where they took off.
  • These fences are related to banks. The bank should be approached slowly, and the horse needs to be controlled not to overjump the log and jump down at speed, as this type of jump causes a lot of stress on the legs of the horse.
  • A drop fence requires a lot of trust between the horse and rider most of the time. The horse cannot see their landing until the last minute before jumping.
  • The rider needs to sit back and up and not lean forward as for normal jumps as the horse dropping down can cause the rider to fall forwards. The rider should also let go of the reins and allow the horse to extend and use its neck fully.

21. Logs

  • Logs are simple and easy to jump and can be seen from training classes up the grades. These are simply logs from cut-down trees used as jumps and come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Log jumps are also popular in Hunting classes as it adds to the rustic look.
  • The logs are either placed on the ground, stacked in a pile, or built as oxers and triple bars.

22. Normandy bank

  • A Normandy bank is another combination of obstacles that includes a ditch, bank, a solid fence, and a drop-down fence.
  • A ditch is in front of the bank upwards; thus, the horse needs to jump over the ditch and on top of the bank. After that, a stride into a solid fence, which a pan either drop down immediately off the bank or there may be another stride into a drop fence
  • This combination is a very difficult question in cross country and is only used in the top levels.

23. Rolltop

  • This fence is a half-barrel shape, and some versions of these jumps are used in hunter and showjumping classes.
  • These jumps are rounded and fairly easy to jump but can get quite wide in the higher classes.

24. Skinny

  • Much like in show jumping courses, a skinny is a very narrow jump that requires the horse to jump accurately.
  • Skinny jumps can come in any shape, size, or form and are used in combinations in the higher levels because the rider does not have much room for error in negotiating the combination.

25. Stonewall

  • As the name suggests, a stone wall is a wall built from stones or bricks
  • It is a relatively easy jump, but the rider might be unsure of the jump as the rider knows that the wall is a very solid jump and can tend to overthink it.
  • A log can be placed on top of the wall to make it larger and appear differently.

26. Table

  • A table jump is usually built in the shape of a picnic table. It is an obstacle with a lot of height and width
  • Tables need to be built secure, strong, and solid, as when a table gets too wide and big, some horses accidentally touch down or land on top of the table as if they are doing a bank
  • Tables can be quite big and intimidating; thus, the horse needs a lot of pace and long strides in the approach.

27. Sunken road

  • A sunken road is another combination of fences in the course
  • The higher levels consist of rails, a bank down, one stride, a bank up, and another rail jump.
  • It will just be a bank down and a bank up without the added rails at each point in the lower levels.
  • This type of combination is difficult because there is not much distance between the jumps, the jumps are so different, and it is difficult to stay balanced between the jumps.

28. Water

  • A maximum of 14 inches deep, the water can either be simple and easy or a nightmare for horse and rider combinations.
  • In the lower levels, simply crossing the water and jumping a few strides before or a few strides after is common.
  • In the higher levels, the water becomes more complicated and difficult
  • Drop fences, islands, banks, jumps inside, into, or out of the water are used to complicate the water obstacle.

29. Keyhole

  • This is a jump that a horse needs to jump through like a hoop
  • The keyholes are usually circular, oval, or square and mostly consists out of brush and wood
  • A keyhole has the base, a box or brush jump, and then the top part, which makes a hoop that resembles a keyhole.

Other jumping classes

Hunting and Equitation classes use the same jumps that were already mentioned. However, these two classes are very different from one another.

Equitation is used to test the horse no rider combination on their riding, discipline, manners, and jumping ability. The Equitation horse is an all-rounder, well-schooled jumping horse that is classy, disciplined, and well-mannered.

There are two phases in Equitation, the flatwork part, and the jumping part. The flatwork part requires a small test in which the horse and rider perform very similarly to Dressage but with added trot poles, technicality, and tests that put the rider to test as well, for example, trotting and cantering without stirrups, doing a circle with one hand, extended paces, trotting poles, etc.

The rider is expected to ride with the correct seat, mannerisms, and grace, while the horse needs to be responsive. The jumping part of Equitation consists of 8 jumps, including uprights, oxers, and one combination in which the horse and rider need to negotiate with ease, style, accuracy, and athleticism.

The Hunter classes are styled after the traditional hunting horses and riders. The course also consists out of 8 jumps, including a combination and rustic jumps. Some parts of a cross-country course like banks, drop fences, and dykes can also be present in a hunting course. A hunter horse must be forward, confident, brace, and well mannered.

The horse and rider need to complete the course accurately, in style, confidently, and at a faster pace. The horse needs to be obedient to the rider and navigate the course with ease. After the course is completed, the horse needs to show their fitness and obedience by doing a lap around the course at a gallop or hunting pace. The rider then needs to stop the horse and have the horse stand obediently to salute the judge.

Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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