If you’re thinking of starting a journey into the exciting sport of showjumping, you’ve got lots to look forward to! Jumping is a great way to deepen the bond between you and your horse or pony, as well as being a great test of your horsemanship. And, it’s possible for almost any rider to get involved.
Before you dive headfirst into the world of showjumping, there are a few things you will need to get to grips with, including rules and levels of progression. In this beginner’s guide, we will get you up to speed with all of the things you need to know. We’ll cover:
Showjumping is an equestrian sport in which a rider and horse try to jump over all of the fences in a course without knocking them down and within a set time limit. It is performed in an arena in front of a judge and, often, a crowd. Sometimes, showjumping can be referred to “stadium jumping”, “open jumping”, or simply “jumping”.
This activity requires a high level of teamwork between horse and rider, while testing the rider’s skill and the horse or pony’s power, scope, speed, athleticism, and carefulness. With training and practice, competitors can clear increasingly higher fences and will be able to compete at higher levels up to Olympic standards.
On an international level, showjumping is regulated by the International Federation for Equine Sports (FEI), the body that oversees global competition. In the UK, affiliated competitions are run by British Showjumping, who also control membership and horse registration.
Showjumping competitions are events in which riders and horses at the same level tackle a set course of jumps – that must be cleared in a certain order and time limit. Competitors compete one by one and then times and scores are compared to determine the winner.
There is at least one judge, who determines whether fences are successfully cleared and assigns penalties and points, and a course designer, who oversees the layout of the course, at each showjumping competition.
In the UK, there are two types of showjumping competition: affiliated and unaffiliated. Riders can compete in either or both of these competitions.
Here are the main differences between affiliated and unaffiliated showjumping competitions:
When just starting out, many people like to test the water at a non-affiliated event as it is usually a more cost-effective option of trying the sport. Then, when you’re certain that showjumping is for you, you can go ahead and start your affiliated progression. If you become a British Showjumping member, you still have the option of entering unaffiliated events.
If you want to compete in affiliated competitions, you will need to become a member of British Showjumping. There are three different categories of membership available: Club membership, Just for Schools membership, and a National membership.
Club membership allows horse and rider combinations to compete for regional club league points and qualify for their Club League Final at jump heights between 60–100cm. The horse and rider combination must have no results at National Amateur 85cm, Senior British, Novice, Stepping Stones, Pony British Novice level or above in the previous three years (though new riders on horses that have points can be Club members).
Just for Schools membership is available only to riding schools, who can submit teams of three or four riders within a single jump height category of 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, or 110cm. Each jump height category has a league table, with the top riders competing at the Just For Schools Winter Summer Championships. Just for Schools members can only compete in their associated events.
National membership is the full membership for British Showjumping and has several categories that you might want to consider:
For full details of the various levels of membership on offer, please visit British Showjumping’s membership advice.
Showjumping levels are the different difficulty levels that British Showjumping members can take part in at affiliated competitions. Each level has its own set jump heights, meaning that you will jump higher fences as you improve and progress through the levels.
British Showjumping assigns points for every competition you place at (i.e. are assigned a finishing position and aren’t disqualified), which are recorded and added up as you compete. These affect which level you are eligible for.
If you are a senior rider (i.e. not a Junior member riding a pony) the classes are:
British Showjumping keeps up-to-date records of every horse that is registered with the body, which means that they will track any successes and prize money you attain at affiliated showjumping competitions.
To make it easy to monitor progress, they have a system in place that awards points if your horse places (finishes without being disqualified) in a competition or performs a double clear, which is when you jump a clean round with zero penalties in both rounds of a competition.
For the starting heights you’re likely to begin with (up to 115cm), you will earn:
When it comes to progressing through the showjumping classes, British Showjumping has a rule in place that’s known as upgrading. Should your horse accumulate enough points to exceed the points limit in your current class, you can no longer compete competitively at that level and must move up to the next class. The horse points limits are:
|British Novice||No more than 125 points|
|Discovery||No more than 225 points|
|Newcomers||No more than 375 points|
|Foxhunter||No more than 700 points|
|Grade C||No more than 999 points|
|Grade B||No more than 1,999 points|
|Grade A||2,000 points or more|
Note: There are typically open classes running alongside the registered competition so that you can still jump at your current height if you need more practice but have exceeded the points level.
Alongside the points records British Showjumping keep, they also run something called the British Showjumping League, which is used to determine which horses and riders are invited to compete at League Semi-final or Championship shows. The aim of this system is to provide a progressive environment where all competitors have a chance of qualifying.
There are four league tiers and each one has its own rankings and attached competitions:
You’ll need to get to grips with the showjumping rules before you can compete in the sport. The aim is to jump cleanly over the course obstacles within the set time limit. As the run commences, faults are for the likes of time faults, jumping faults, and disobedience faults. Each individual fault has a number of points assigned to it. The basic faults are:
Under the most commonly used rules for competitions, the first round is judged purely on faults, and all riders/horses with clear rounds (no faults and within the time limit) progress to the second round across a shorter, heightened course. In the second round, time is considered: if there is a tie on the number of points, the rider and horse with the quickest time is considered the victor.
As with any sport, the number of rules goes beyond just the way the competition is scored and how the winner is declared. While we can’t cover everything in this beginner’s guide, we can direct you to British Showjumping’s member handbook and rule amendments page, which contains the most up-to-date affiliated showjumping rules.
A showjumping course is the planned route of jumps laid out across an arena that you must follow during a competition. There are usually 10–15 obstacles and they will be set out in a pattern that allows them to be tackled in a set order. The course will also have a start and finish line to cross, as well as an entry and exit point that you must use when entering and leaving the arena.
The setting for the showjumping course will either an indoor or outdoor arena, with an arena that is either fenced or roped off from spectators. The surface of the arena can vary in material, ranging from grass to specialist mixes of sand and fibre. Outside of the main arena, there will be a warm-up ring, often known as a collecting ring, where riders can warm up or cool down with their horses. This area will also contain two obstacles — one vertical and one oxer — that do not exceed the height of the jumps on the course. Riders can practise clearing these as they wait for their turn to compete.
Each showjumping course is designed and set up by a course designer, who is tasked with creating a series of tests that are appropriate in difficulty for the level of the competition. They will consider all aspects of the course, from the height and type of jump to the distance between and position of each obstacle. The aim of the course is to test the athleticism of the horse and the skill of the rider. The ideal course will be able to distinguish the best riders but still allow all competitors to complete it.
Before a competition, the designer will make a plan of the course available to all of the riders so that they can learn it and walk the course to plan their distances. Just like our example above, the course layout plan will show the start and finish posts, all of the fences with their type and number, and any required routes or turns. It will also display the exact distances, the track to be followed, marking system, and time allowed. Jump-off fences will also be labelled, as well as the distance and time.
The fences are the focus of a showjumping course, ranging from a single bar held between two posts to very ornate designs that make use of water, flowers, shapes and colours. However, no matter what they look like, they all have a meticulous design in common that has been specially chosen to test the rider and horse’s skills. For scoring and safety reasons, each fence is intended to give way easily if it’s touched by either rider or horse.
There are a number of different types of fence you will come across as you get into showjumping, so it’s important to familiarise yourself with them. To get you started, here are some of the basic fences you’re likely to come across in the first classes of showjumping.
Other elements of a showjumping fence can include: a filler (a solid construction, like a flower box, sponsor sign, or plank, which is not part of the jump and is usually placed beneath the fence) and a set of flags and numbers to mark the fence in the course order and direction it should be jumped.
A showjumping distance is the number of strides required from a horse between each fence in order to have the best chance of clearing it. If there are less than six strides between landing after one fence and taking off for the next, this is usually referred to as a “related distance”.
One of the major challenges of a showjumping course is to manage the number of strides your horse takes between each fence — too few and you will likely jump early, and too many and you may jump late or your horse might refuse. Typically, a horse stride at canter covers twelve feet, though a stride can be shortened or lengthened to adjust to a distance. When you’ve “missed your stride” you’ve misjudged the required strides for the distance, which could result in a failed jump. In addition to the athleticism of your horse, developing an eye for distance management is key to showjumping.
When it comes to jumps that have a related distance between them, managing your horse’s stride becomes even more important. For instance, when fences have just a two-stride distance between them, you cannot afford to take anything but those two strides — one more or one less will almost certainly end in a failed jump. On the other hand, you have more leeway to alter your stride when two fences have a greater distance. A huge part of getting your distance planning right is by walking the course before a showjumping competition begins.
Once the course for a showjumping competition is completed and approved by the judge, competitors get an opportunity to “walk the course” to familiarise themselves with it in person. During this process, you should aim to memorise the route, learn where the fences are placed, and pace out the lines you will need to ride to find out how many strides you can take between each obstacle and what angle you will need to approach each jump.
From your practice, you should have a good idea how long one of your horse’s strides are, and it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with pacing them out accurately. Doing so will put you in the best position when it comes to walking the course, as you should be able to get a pretty good idea of how many strides to take between each jump. Remember to allow half-strides for your horse’s landing and take-off points, as well as the full strides between the fences.
In addition, you should pay attention to the condition of the surface and how it might affect your horse’s footing. For example, if it’s muddy, you may need to allow for some give upon landing. Also, if you have a mentor or coach, don’t be afraid to walk the course with them and get their opinion on your plan — it’s allowed, and two heads are always better than one!
Before your first competition, you will need to ensure that you and your horse are looking your best. While the spotlight on dress and tack in showjumping is not as intense as it is in dressage, you still need to obey the British Showjumping regulations if you wish to compete in affiliated classes.
As a British Showjumping competitor, you will need to wear the following in the arena:
There are also a few optional items you’re permitted to wear:
There are also strict rules for what tack you need for your horse at British Showjumping affiliated competitions. These are:
At the majority of affiliated shows, there will be competitions to suit rides from all skill levels, from novices like yourself right up to experienced professionals. There will also be classes just for Junior riders (under 16s) riding ponies, so all age ranges will be catered to. This means that there will likely be a jam-packed schedule, so you’ll need to know when you need to arrive and be ready.
On the schedule, you may come across two types of class: single phase and two phase:
Before the competition, you should get access to the course plan, allowing you to see the type and number of jumps you’re up against, as well as distances. It’s a good idea to turn up early for your competition so you will have time to walk the course and plan your pace.
When it comes to determining when your ride will commence, a running order is created for all of the competitors. At most shows, this is done via a draw by the judges before the class begins. At smaller competitions, it can just be a case of writing your name on a board in the collecting ring and waiting until you are called. If you are one of the last riders, be sure to spend time watching the other competitors to see if any common faults are made on the course.
The start of your ride will be signified by the ringing of a bell, after which you have 45 seconds to enter the arena and cross the start line. There is timing equipment with sensors at the start and finish lines, so the clock will start and stop accurately when you cross each line. Most classes also have a display board that will show a countdown so both rider and audience can track progress.
During the ride, you will be observed by the judge and any faults will be marked. If you are taking part in a two-phase competition and ride a clean round, you will progress to the second round. Otherwise, you will be eliminated. If it’s a single-phase event, you will progress regardless.
In-between rounds there will be an interval while the course is adapted for the jump-off, where some jumps are removed and others are heightened. The course plan should indicate what changes are being made, so you should be aware of what to expect. Once you and the other riders have completed the second round, your scores will be calculated on faults and time to determine the winner.
At the first levels of showjumping, your main objectives will be getting your horse used to jumping and mastering the control and pace management required to navigate basic courses. Here, we’ll give you some tips for starting out as well as some ideas for exercises.
Many riders who start jumping also begin training in dressage techniques, as it helps to teach the essentials of good control and build understanding between rider and horse. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to undertake some dressage training or incorporate some dressage activities into your training regime. Our beginner’s guide to dressage is a great place to start if you are not experienced in this sport.
Below, you will find some of our most popular masterclasses to help you and your horse develop ‘on the flat’. You can access these and even more content by subscribing to Horse & Country.
Improving or establishing the paces (i.e. walk, trot, canter)
Learning or improving movements basic Dressage movements
Gridwork is an essential part of showjumping training that uses poles and fences set at measured distances, replicating the process of navigating a jumping course in a way that can be tracked and improved. It will not only help to teach your horse the best pace for a successful jump, but it will also help you to improve your control and management skills.
It should be noted that this training can’t be undertaken alone, as you’ll need an experienced set of eyes to see whether you’re on track and a pair of hands to adjust poles and fences. So, either work with your coach or instructor, or buddy up with another rider to improve each other’s form.
To begin with, build your first grid down the centre of the paddock so it can be approached from two directions, which is good for improving turning and balance in the reins. Use a placing pole to mark the first take-off point and build the first fence, keeping heights low. You can then measure out the rest of the grid from this point — be sure to keep distances shorter than competition distances, as this will encourage your horse to bide his time and jump with better technique.
Keep early gridwork lessons to a trot as you will find it easier to control the horse and maintain a regular rhythm and balance, and make sure your distance planning and grid measurements reflect this. Try to get your horse used to jumping at the placing pole, as this will help to teach them to use their feet in pairs for an even take-off. You should also stick with low fences to begin with, but you can increase height and add more fences as you both develop.
Eventually, you’ll both feel comfortable and confident enough to move from a trot to a canter in your approach to gridwork. This means you’ll have to adjust your measurements and planning to suit your horse’s canter strides. You can vary your grid by adding more strides between each fence and switching up the type of fence.
Some of our top rider masterclasses, that focus on improving showjumping style and technique, can be found here.
Showjumping is a fantastic sport that offers amazing progression opportunities and fun for you and your horse. We hope this beginner’s guide helps ease you into what can be a slightly overwhelming new world of course plans, gridwork, and rules and regulations.
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