The Ultimate Guide to Show Jumping

The Ultimate Guide to Show Jumping

Watching a horse and rider clear a tall obstacle in a single bound is an impressive sight. A great deal of discipline and athleticism is required to be a show jumper, not to mention an enormous bond between horse and rider. If you’ve taken an interest in the sport of show jumping, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of the sport, including show jumping rules, obstacles, competition classes, and more.

What is Show Jumping?

Show jumping is a part of English equestrian events, where riders guide their horses through a course of obstacles aiming to complete it with the fewest faults and fastest time compared to other competitors.

Show jumping emphasizes the partnership between the horse and rider, as they must work together to navigate the course and clear obstacles. Riders must demonstrate skill, control, and accuracy in their riding while maintaining a good pace. Show jumping competitions can range from local events to international competitions with significant prize money and prestige–the sport is one of the three equestrian events featured in the Olympics, along with dressage and eventing.

A typical show jumping course is made up of a series of jumps, which can include fences, walls, gates, open water jumps, and combinations of various obstacles. The jumps are typically brightly colored and vary in both height and width, requiring both the horse and rider to have good technique and athleticism to clear them successfully. The objective is to clear all the jumps on the course without altering the height or width of the jumps. If a horse or rider knocks down a rail, they incur faults, which are added to their overall score. Additionally, there is a time limit for completing the course, and penalties may be incurred for exceeding it.

show jumping rider insight

Rules of Show Jumping

A competition isn’t a competition without rules and regulations. For competitions regulated by the FEI (International Equestrian Federation), there are extensive rules and guidelines regarding the sport which you can reference directly on their site.

For all other show jumping events, the rules and regulations are fairly straightforward and loosely follow the FEI regulations.


Show jumping courses consist of a variety of obstacles, including fences, walls, oxers, verticals, and combinations. The height and technical difficulty of the jumps increase as the competition progresses. The maximum height of the jumps changes depending on the class as well, ensuring lower levels do not push themselves or their horses beyond what they’ve trained for.


Faults are penalties incurred by the horse-and-rider combination and can be caused by altering the height or width of a jump, refusing a jump, exceeding the time-allowed, or riding off-course. Faults are typically assigned a specific penalty score.


If either horse or rider falls during a show jumping event, they will be eliminated from the competition.


If a horse knocks down a top rail or pole, four faults are incurred. Knocking down multiple rails at a single obstacle still results in four faults.


If a horse refuses to jump an obstacle or runs out of the arena, four faults are incurred.

Time Faults

Each show jumping course has a time limit called a time-allowed. Exceeding the time-allowed results in time faults, typically one penalty point for every second over the allowed time.


A rider may be eliminated for multiple refusals or falls, dangerous riding, improper equipment, or other rule violations.


In two-round competitions, horse-and-ride combinations that incur no faults on course will move on to a jump-off. The jump-off is a shorter course where the fastest clear round wins. Faults and time are considered in determining the winner.

Different Types of Obstacles in Show Jumping

Riders are faced with a variety of jumps and obstacles during a show jumping event. These obstacles depend on the skill level of the horse and rider and are most commonly made up of poles or planks suspended by standards on either side. Some common styles of jumps include:

  1. Crossrail: A basic obstacle for both beginner horses and riders. The jump uses two poles to create an x shape on the ground–this configuration helps the horse identify the center point of the jump.
  2. Vertical: A vertical jump consists of a single pole/fence suspended by a jump standard on either side. The height of the jump can vary, and it tests the horse’s ability to clear a straightforward obstacle.
  3. Oxer: An oxer consists of two or more sets of vertical jumps placed parallel to each other that are jumped in a single effort. Because two verticals are being jumped in one effort, the width of the jump is greater than that of a singular vertical, creating a spread. Oxers can be square or ascending.
  4. Combination: A combination, also known as a double or triple, is a sequence of two or more jumps placed closely together, typically within one to four strides of one another. Riders must navigate through the combination within a few strides, requiring strength, accuracy, and adjustability.
  5. Wall: A wall is a solid jump made to resemble a brick or stone wall. It is often wider than a standard vertical and can be challenging for horses due to its solid appearance. Although it appears solid, the wall can typically be knocked over easily if not cleared properly.
  6. Water Jump: A water jump, or open water jump, typically consists of a shallow pool or water feature that the horse must jump over. These jumps focus on the distance rather than the height of the jump. If a foot lands in the water jump, four faults are incurred.
  7. Liverpool: A Liverpool jump is similar to a water jump, however, it is typically not as wide and has a vertical or oxer jump over the water. The horse must clear the jump and water element without knocking any rails.
  8. Triple Bar: A triple bar is an elongated jump with three horizontal bars set at increasing heights. The horse must clear all three bars in a single jump.
  9. Planks: Planks are jumps made more challenging by adding several narrow boards stacked horizontally. They can be solid or have gaps between the boards, creating a visual challenge for the horse.

Show Jumping Classes and Categories

Show jumping competitions are categorized based on riders’ skill level and experience in show jumping events. Horse-and-rider combinations previous show jumping experience generally determines the class and dictates the type of competitions they are allowed to enter.

Clear Round/Clearance Class:

This class allows riders to practice the course without penalties or faults. It is a non-competitive class focused on familiarizing horses and riders with the jumps and building confidence.

Children’s/Junior/Young Rider Classes

These classes are for riders under a certain age, typically divided into different age groups such as Children (12 and under), Juniors (12-18), and Young Riders (14-21). The jumps are set at an appropriate height for the age group with courses tailored to their abilities.

Novice/Introductory Class

This class is designed for beginners or riders and horses new to show jumping. The jumps are usually lower in height and the course less technical, providing an entry-level experience. Novice-level show jumping obstacles might start around 2′9″-3′0″ (.90-1.0 meters) in height and 3′0″-3′6″ in spread and increase as riders gain experience.

Low/Medium/High Junior or Amateur Classes

These classes are specifically for junior or amateur riders, categorized based on their experience and skill level. The height and difficulty of the jumps vary depending on the class, with high junior/amateur classes offering more challenging courses. High junior/amateur classes might experience jumps up to 4′9″-5′0″ (1.40-1.50 meters) in height and 5′0″-5′6″ in spread.

Grand Prix

Grand Prix classes are the most prestigious and challenging classes in show jumping events. It features the highest jumps and most complex courses, testing the skills of top-level riders and horses. Grand Prix events often offer significant prize money and are a highlight of the competition. Jumps at the Grand Prix level often reach 1.60m or 5’2” in height and up to 2m or 6’7” in spread (distance).

Speed/Stakes Classes

These classes prioritize speed and accuracy over one round. Riders aim to complete the course with the fewest faults and the fastest time. The jumps are usually set at a moderate height, encouraging a fast-paced and exciting competition without a jump-off.

Derby Classes

Derby classes simulate a cross-country course by incorporating natural obstacles such as banks, ditches, and terrain variations. They provide a unique challenge and require a combination of show jumping and cross-country skills.

insight from professional show jumper

What to Wear When Show Jumping

Show jumping is an intensive sport, so safety is crucial when competing. It’s also a sport steeped in tradition, which means a certain dress code is also expected. Here’s what you should wear during a show jumping competition.

  • Headgear: ASTM/SEI-approved helmet is always required for show jumping, whether you’re competing or training. Your helmet must be mounted, fitted, and secured at all times during the competition. Helmet colors must be solid black or blue.
  • Shirts and Jackets: Riders usually wear a dark show coat along with a show shirt with a high collar and/or tie.
  • Breeches: Breeches should be white or light-colored during show jumping competitions. Knee-patch breeches are the usual choice for show jumpers.
  • Riding Boots: Tall boots or paddock boots are required for show jumping events. Boots can be of any color and pattern, but they must all include a distinguishable heel to prevent the rider’s foot from slipping through the stirrup.
  • Gloves: White, beige, or dark gloves are permitted.
  • Spurs: Spurs are optional during FEI show jumping competitions.

See FEI Dress Code for full Show Jumping Guidelines.

Jump Right In

The sport of show jumping is a thrilling and rewarding equestrian discipline. As you get started with this wonderful sport, you’ll start to grow more confident as a rider and build a stronger bond with your best equine friend. And you’re sure to have a blast along the way!

Need to get outfitted for your first show jumping competition? R.J. Classics has you covered! Browse our selection of equestrian clothing to find modern, high-quality breeches, show shirts, and show coats perfect for show jumping events and more.


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