Show jumping, also known as "stadium jumping" or "jumpers," is a member of a family of English riding equestrian events that also includes dressage, eventing, hunters and equitation. Jumping classes are commonly seen at horse shows throughout the world, including the Olympics. Sometimes shows are limited exclusively to jumpers, sometimes jumper classes are offered in conjunction with other English-style events, and sometimes show jumping is but one division of very large, all-breed competitions that include a very wide variety of disciplines. Jumping classes may be governed by various national horse show sanctioning organizations, such as the United States Equestrian Federation in the USA. However, international competitions are governed by the rules of the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI).
People unfamiliar with horse shows may be confused by the difference between working hunter classes and jumper classes. Hunters are judged subjectively on the degree to which they meet an ideal standard of manners, style, and way of going. Conversely, jumper classes are scored objectively based entirely on a numerical score determined only by whether the horse attempts the obstacle, clears it, and finishes the course in the allotted time. Jumper courses are often colorful and at times quite creatively designed. Jumper courses tend to be much more complex and technical than hunter courses, because riders and horses are not being judged on style. Hunters have meticulous turnout and tend toward very quiet, conservative horse tack and rider attire. Hunter bits, bridles, crops, spurs and martingales are tightly regulated. Jumpers, while caring for their horses and grooming them well, are not scored on turnout, are allowed a wider range of equipment, and riders may wear less conservative attire, so long as it stays within the rules. However, formal turnout is always preferred, and a neat rider gives a good impression at shows.
In addition to hunters and jumpers, there are equitation classes, sometimes called hunt seat equitation, which judge the ability of the rider. The equipment, clothing and fence styles used in equitation more closely resemble hunter classes, though the technical difficulty of the courses may more closely resemble jumping events.
Jumper classes are held over a course of show jumping obstacles, including verticals, spreads, double and triple combinations, usually with many turns and changes of direction. The purpose is to jump cleanly over a set course within an allotted time. Time faults are assessed for exceeding the time allowance. Jumping faults are incurred for knockdowns and blatant disobedience, such as refusals (when the horse stops before a fence or "runs out"). (see "Modern Rules" below) Horses are allowed a limited number of refusals before being disqualified. A refusal can also lead to a rider going over the time allowed on course. Placings are based on the lowest number of points or "faults" accumulated. A horse and rider who have not accumulated any jumping faults or penalty points are said to have scored a "clear round." Tied entries usually have a jump off over a raised and shortened course, and the course is timed; if entries are tied for faults accumulated in the jump-off, the fastest time wins.
In most competitions, riders are allowed to walk the course but not the jump-off course (usually the same course with missing jumps e.g. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 in stead of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) before competition to plan their ride. Walking the course is a chance for the rider to walk the lines he or she will actually ride, to decide how many strides the horse will need to take between each jump and at which angle. The more professional the competition, such as "A" rated shows in the United States, or the international "Grand Prix" circuit, the more technical the course. Not only is the height and sometimes width ("spread") of an obstacle increased to present a greater challenge, technical difficulty also increases with tight turns and shorter or unusual distances between fences. Horses sometimes also have to jump fences from an angle rather than straight-on. For example, a course designer might set up a line so that there are six and a half strides (the standard measure for a canter stride is 12 feet) between the jumps, requiring the rider to adjust the horse's stride dramatically in order to make the distance.
Unlike show hunter classes, which reward calmness and style, Jumper classes require boldness, scope, power, accuracy, and control; speed is also a factor, especially in jump-off courses and speed classes (when time counts even in the first round). A jumper must jump big, bravely, and fast, but he must also be careful and accurate to avoid knockdowns and must be balanced and rideable in order to rate and turn accurately. A jumper rider must ride the best line to each fence, saving ground with well-planned turns and lines and must adjust the horse's stride for each fence and distance. In a jump-off, a rider must balance the need to go as fast as possible and turn as tight as possible against the horse's ability to jump cleanly.
Show jumping is a relatively new equestrian sport. Until the Enclosure Acts which came into force in England in the eighteenth century there had been little need for horses to routinely jump fences. But with this act of parliament came new challenges for those who followed fox hounds. The enclosures act brought fencing and boundaries to many parts of the country as common ground was dispersed amongst the wealthy landowners. This meant that those wishing to pursue their sport now needed horses which were capable of jumping these obstacles.
In the early shows held in France, there was a parade of competitors who then took off across country for the jumping. This sport was, however, not popular with spectators as they could not watch the jumping. Thus, it was not long before fences began to appear in the arena. This became known as Lepping. 1869 was the year ‘horse leaping’ came to prominence at Dublin horse show. Fifteen years later, Lepping competitions were brought to Britain and by 1900 most of the more important shows had Lepping classes. Women, riding side-saddle, had their own classes.
At this time, the principal cavalry schools of Europe at Pinerolo and Tor-di-Quinto in Italy, the French school in Saumur and the Spanish school in Vienna all preferred to use a very deep seat with long stirrups when jumping. This style of riding was perhaps more secure for the rider, but it also impeded the freedom of the horse to use its body to the extent needed to clear large obstacles.
The Italian Instructor Captain Fiederico Caprilli heavily influenced the world of jumping with his ideas that a forward position with shorter stirrups would not impede the balance of the horse negotiating obstacles. This style, now known as the forward seat,is commonly used today. The deep, Dressage-style seat, while useful for riding on the flat and in conditions where control of the horse is of greater importance than freedom of movement, is sometimes referred to with disparagement as a "backward" seat in some jumping circles.
The first major show jumping competition held in England was at Olympia in 1907. Most of the competitors were members of the military and it became clear at this competition and in the subsequent years that there was no uniformity of rules for the sport. Judges marked on their own opinions. Some marked according to the severity of the obstacle and others marked according to style. Before 1907 there were no penalties for a refusal and the competitor was sometimes asked to miss the fence to please the spectators. The first courses were built with little imagination; many consisting of only a straight bar fence and a water jump. A meeting was arranged in 1923 which led to the formation of the BSJA in 1925. In the United States, a similar need for national rules for jumping and other equestrian activities led to the formation of the American Horse Shows Association in 1917, now known as the United States Equestrian Federation.
Show jumping was first incorporated into the Olympic Games in 1912 and has thrived ever since, its popularity due in part to its suitability as a spectator sport which can be viewed on television.
The original list of faults introduced in The United Kingdom in 1925 was as follows:
Water jumps were once at least 15 feet (5 m) wide, although the water had often drained out of them by the time the last competitor jumped. High jumping would start with a pole at around 5 feet but this was later abandoned, as many horses went under the pole. It was for this reason that more poles were added and fillers came into use. Time penalties were not counted until 1917.
Rules have since evolved, with different national federations having different classes and rules. The international governing body for most major show jumping competitions is the Federation Equestrian Internationale (FEI). FEI The two most common types of penalties are jumping penalties and time penalties.
Show jumping competitors use a very forward style of English saddle, most often the "close contact" design, which has a forward flap and a seat and cantle that is flatter than saddles designed for general all-purpose English riding or dressage. This construction allows greater freedom of movement for the rider when in jumping position, and allows a shorter stirrup, required in order for a rider to allowing the rider to lighten his or her seat. Other saddles, such as those designed for dressage, are intended for riders with a deep seat, can hinder a rider over large fences, forcing them into a position that limits the horse's movement and may put the rider dangerously behind the movement of the horse.
At international levels, saddle pads are usually white and square in shape, allowing the pair to display a sponsorship, national flag, or breeding affiliation. (In contrast, riders in show hunters and equitation often use "fitted" fleece pads that are the same shape as the saddle.) Girths vary in type, but usually have a contour to give room for the horse's elbows, and many have belly guards to protect the underside of the horse from its shoe studs when the front legs are tightly folded under.
Bridles may be used with any style of cavesson noseband, and there are few rules regarding the severity of this equipment. The figure-8 cavesson is the most popular type. Bits may also vary in severity, and competitors may use any bit, or even a "bitless bridle" or a hackamore. However, the ground jury at the show has the right, based on veterinary advice, to refuse a bit or bridling scheme if it could cause harm to the horse.
Boots and/or wraps are worn by almost all horses, due to the fact that they may easily injure their legs when landing or when making tight turns at speed. Open-fronted tendon boots are usually worn on the forelegs, because they provide protection for the delicate tendons that run down the back of the leg, but still allow the horse to feel a rail should it get careless and hang its legs. Fetlock boots are sometimes seen on the rear legs, primarily to prevent the horse from hitting itself on tight turns.
Martingales are very common, especially on horses used at the Grand Prix level. The majority of jumpers are ridden in running martingales, as these provide the most freedom over fences. Although a standing martingale (a strap connecting directly to the horse's noseband) is commonly seen on show hunters and may be helpful in keeping a horse from throwing its head up, it can also be quite dangerous in the event of a stumble, restricting a horse from using its head to regain its balance. For this reason, standing martingales are not used in show jumping or eventing. Breastplates are also common, used to keep the saddle in place as the horse goes over large fences.
Ponies (horses smaller than 14.2 hands) also compete in show jumping competitions in many countries, usually in classes limited to riders under the age of 17 or 18. Pony-sized horses may, on occasion, compete in open competition with adult riders. The most famous example was Stroller, who only stood 14.1 but was nonetheless a medal winner for the United Kingdom's show jumping team in the 1968 Summer Olympics, jumping one of the few clean rounds in the competition. Significant jumpers from the United States are included in the Show Jumping Hall of Fame.