What you need to know about Jumping

October 4, 2010

Jumping is a fast-paced, technical sport based on a very simple premise; the horse and rider who knock down the fewest rails in the fastest time win. According to the FEI, the jumping ability of the horse was first developed in the 18th century, when fox hunting required riders to jump fences that enclosed properties.


Jos Lansink (Belgium) and Cavalor Cumano winning the individual title at the 2006 World Games. © Kit Houghton/FEI

Since then, jumping has evolved into an exciting and thrilling spectator sport and is one of three Olympic sports at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

How does it work?

The objective of jumping is to test both horse and rider on their skill, accuracy and training, by presenting them with a challenging course of obstacles to jump. The jumping competition is held in a large arena where obstacles have been set and are jumped in a specific order.

In general, the jumps on the course are vertical fences or oxers (wider jumps that can be as wide as 2.20 metres or 7' 2").

The degree of difficulty of a jump is determined by its height, width, construction, and its placement on the course. In competition, a variety of fences can be used including walls, panels, gates, oxers, water jumps, combinations (two or three jumps set up so they must be taken in quick succession), and banks.

To complete the course, competitors must negotiate the jumps in a prescribed order. Courses are set in advance so that riders and trainers may memorize them. There will also be an opportunity for riders to walk the course to determine the distance between jumps and look closely at the obstacles. No two courses are ever exactly the same. There are typically 12 to 16 fences on each course.

How is it scored?

The scoring for jumping is based on a penalty system, and none of the competitors are judged subjectively. The best possible score in the competition is zero penalty points (faults), which is known as a clear round. A clear round means the rider has completed the course within the time allowed and without incurring any penalty points.

Knocking down a rail is the most common penalty in jumping. For each rail a competitor knocks down, they will receive a four point penalty. Riders will also receive a four point penalty for having a run-out at a jump; this is where the horse refuses to jump or misses it entirely. Two refusals result in elimination, as does a fall of the horse or rider.

In addition, riders who exceed the time allowed will receive one penalty point for every second they go over the time allowed.

Riders who "go clear" during their round (during individual competition) will move on to the jump-off. The jump-off is a race against the clock, in which riders complete a shorter course, which may be increased in height and/or spread.

What will jumping at the 2010 Games be like?

The 2010 Games will feature three separate jumping competitions during the Jumping World Championships.

The first is the Speed Competition, which is one round of competition over a course set at a height of 1.50m, or 4' 9". The horse and rider with the fewest penalties in the fastest time around the course is declared the winner.

The second competition is the Team Competition. The team competition consists of two jumping rounds over the same course, not against the clock. The jumps will be set at a height of 1.60m, or 5' 2". The course for this competition can include a water jump and will include more than one combination.

For the Team Competition, riders earn individual scores based upon the number of penalties they receive. For each team, the three riders with the lowest scores will be counted toward the Team total. The team with the lowest total score will win.

In the event of equality between the first, second and third place teams, the teams will compete in a jump-off to determine the winner.

The 30 best placed athletes after the Team Competition will move on to compete in the Individual Competition. This competition includes two rounds, over different courses set at a height of 1.60m, or 5' 2".

The athletes will complete their courses in reverse order and the athlete with the lowest number of penalties after they complete their round will be the winner.

The Rolex Top Four is the final competition for the show jumpers. The four best placed athletes after the individual competition will compete in the final.

The Top Four competition is sort of like musical chairs, with each athlete switching horses and completing a course. First the athlete will ride their own horse and then they will switch horses until they have ridden the course on each of the four horses. The leading athlete going into the Final competition will be the last to ride and the rider with the lowest score after the Top Four will be the winner.

Fan Etiquette

Like many of the other disciplines, spectators typically remain quiet while a horse and rider are on course. Occasionally, fans will cheer after a horse and rider have completed a combination and they incur no faults. Once the horse and rider complete their last fence and cross the timers to stop the clock, fans are encouraged to cheer loudly for their favorite athletes.

Is that it?

Pretty much. One of the best things about the jumping competition is that the rules are relatively easy to understand, making it simple for all spectators to enjoy.