Now that you’ve got the 50,000-foot view of a hunter/jumper show, you’re probably feeling pretty confident. You’ve impressed your friend who shows in the Jumpers with a clutch “beat the clock!” encouraging shout as she entered the ring, and she was super impressed. Good for you! But now it’s time to step up your game and learn the basics of a hunter/jumper course.
Types of Jumps in a Hunter Jumper Course
Jumps come in all shapes and sizes; the relative difficulty of a jump is determined by the construction, materials and size. While the components of a jump may vary, all are composed of “standards,” which are the upright structures which hold the “poles” or “rails” between them to form the jump. Here are a few of the most common types of jumps:
“Crossrails” are one of the easiest types of jumps and consist of two poles crossed over each other to form the shape of an “X”.
“Verticals” are made up of one rail between the standards placed parallel to the ground. Several rails may be used, but they will all be aligned vertically and stay parallel to the ground.
“Oxers” are essentially two verticals placed directly behind one another, to create a wider jump. The rails may be set at the same height [a “square oxer] or they may be uneven, or ramped. The width between the two verticals can also vary to create more difficulty.
Key Components of a Hunter Jumper Course
A “stride” is the amount of ground covered by a horse in one step at any gait, the length dependent upon the speed in which they’re traveling. On average, a horse’s canter stride is 12 feet. Distances between fences are set accordingly [in increments of 12’, with 6’ for takeoff and 6’ for landing].
A “line” of jumps is a term used to describe two or more fences that are usually set in a straight line with a related distance. The course map will tell riders how many feet are between each fence, denoting the number of strides their horse should take. Sometimes riders further describe a line using the term “outside line” which denotes two jumps set in a line along the fence, or “diagonal line” which means the two jumps are set across the middle of the ring, on the diagonal which causes the horse and rider to change directions as they go over the jumps.
A “single” fence is one that is not part of a line, and therefore jumped by itself.
To increase the difficulty, sometimes there may be a “bending line” in a course. This means that the line of jumps isn’t perfectly straight, but set on a slight curve. Sometimes, course designers set these lines in a specific number of strides, or will allow the rider to “ride off their eye,” and chose their own number of strides depending on how they choose to approach the second jump.
An even more difficult maneuver is a “rollback.” Essentially, this is a u-turn on horseback. To complete this, a horse and rider will jump going one direction and then do a half circle (approximately turning 180 degrees) so that they jump a second jump going back the way they came. These are infrequently used in the hunter classes, but are often found in the Equitation classes, as they are a true test of the rider’s ability to adjust his or her horse’s stride effectively and correctly.
In jumpers, each course has a time limit, with a certain number of seconds given to complete the course. This is referred to as the “time allowed.” Horses who go over this time are assessed penalties.
In the jumper ring there are certain classes that will have a “jump-off.” If a horse and rider complete their initial course with no faults [meaning they didn’t knock any rails down and came in under the time allowed] they progress to the jump-off, which is a shorter course over the same jumps. Sometimes this happens immediately, without the horse and rider leaving the ring; other times jump-offs occur after all horses and riders in the class have completed the initial course, having each horse and rider pair return to the ring a second time.