Stay updated with all the latest stories, news and FEI events across the globe.
Equine sports are unique in that it requires two living athletes to perform - the horse and the rider and show jumping requires a lot of strength and muscle from both athletes. As riders stay up and out of the saddle during most of their course, their thigh muscles and legs do a lot of the work.
Horses need the strength on their haunches and back to be able to push hard enough to clear the jumps, that can be anywhere from three feet to over six feet high!
Learn the Course
Jumping is not a “point and shoot” sport. Riders do not simply aim for the jump and then let the horse go! Before the show begins, riders are usually allowed to go “walk” the course, which helps with memorization and they can count the strides needed in between.
Counting the strides can help the rider clear the jumps with less issues, such as crashing into them, which can lead to serious injury. An easy way to count the horse strides in between is to measure out twelve feet on the ground. An average horse stride is about 12 feet. Count how many strides you can fit in the twelve feet. Then, as you walk the course, use your stride count to measure how many horse strides fit between the jumps. Math is unfortunately required…
Memorizing a course doesn’t sound too difficult, but when you enter that arena and are trying to remember how many strides are in between each jump with the crowd cheering and loudspeaker blaring, it’s not that easy! While the number of jumps on each course varies, you can expect at least 8 jumps, and many courses have 13 or more.
Time is Against You
As if this wasn’t enough, most jumping competitions are also timed. Time limits always add extra pressure, and when pressure is applied, anything and everything can happen!
The jumps themselves are interesting creations, especially in the larger competitions. You can expect to see colorful poles, decorated stands, fake brick walls, water jumps, artificial plants and shrubs, as well as a variety of interesting concoctions and creations. The higher ranked and the larger the competition, the higher the jumps will be.
Don’t Break the Rules!
In every type of competition there are rules, and by breaking those rules, exhibitors are eliminated or placed at the bottom of the pack. Jumping is no different. If the rider’s memory fails and they go off course, the horse knocks off a rail or tumbles a jump to the ground or the team fails to complete the course in the allotted time, they will be penalized. Other faults will be given of the horse refuses a jump or “ducks out,” referring to when they veer off suddenly right before the jump. No pressure, right?
The equine sport of jumping can never be fully mastered. The variables involved such as the design of the courses, height of the jumps, the time, the horses, and the riders themselves are always changing. Both horse and rider can gain experience as they learn together, and practice does create champions, but the sport can never be fully mastered.
Challenges are part of the game, so how well can you accept and try to conquer them? Jump-offs are the second phase of many competitions in the jumping realm. Congratulations if you passed the first phase, and were able to beat the clock, stay on course, and not knock any poles down.
Now you get to move on to higher jumps, and a tighter course for the jump-off, and the horse and rider get to do it all again in the fight to be named first, and king of the competition.
Do you have what it takes?
Text by Katy Northcutt