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Show Jumping Refresher
 By Winniefield Park   •   29th Sep 2018   •   528 views   •   0 comments


I walked through our living room this past weekend and I could hear that there was some sort of sports on the TV. At our house, chances are if there are sports on TV it’s either hockey or soccer, but most likely hockey. As I went through, I heard my husband groan, “Oh no! Four faults!”. Wait. What? I know more about hockey than I’d like to, and am pretty sure, while there are lots of penalties, no one gets faults. And I know next to nothing about soccer, but I’m sure there are fouls but no faults. So I was quite surprised when I discovered he was watching the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ show jumping tournament. So I had to sit down a few minutes and watch with him. Show jumping tends to be a favorite with non-horse people, because like racing, it’s an easy sport to understand. And, with the WEG about to start, I thought I’d do a little refresher primer on how show or stadium jumping is scored.

Unlike a lot of sports like dressage, figure skating and gymnastics, the scoring in show jumping is fairly non-subjective. A horse either knocks down a rail or doesn’t. Refusals and falls are very well defined and scores aren’t influenced by anyone’s opinion. Scoring is based on two things: how well the horse gets over the jumps and its speed.

The course is made of different styles of jumps. These may be vertical jumps or wide jumps, or a combination of both. The jumps might be quite plain, or they may be decorated with flowers or brightly painted figures. They are all made to test the versatility and courage of the horse. Sometimes there are combinations of two or more jumps that test the rider’s control of the horse and broad jumps like water obstacles that test courage and power of the horse.



You’ll know you’re not watching a hunter course because the jumps will be brightly painted and in the upper levels of the sport, much higher than a hunter jump course. Unlike jumps used in cross-country jumping, stadium jumps are made to fall apart if the horse hits one. In many competitions there are two courses used. One is a long course that is jumped by all competitors and may be examined and memorized before riding. And there is a course used for the jump-off competitors that is shorter, more difficult and can’t be walked before it is ridden. To get to this jump-off course, competitors must jump the first course with a few faults as possible while not getting any time penalties.

How do you get faults? Each time you knock down a rail, you get four faults. Now if the fence is made of four rails, you don’t get sixteen faults—only four. You don’t get penalized for knocking down the whole thing. And, if somehow a middle rail falls down, but the top one doesn’t, you don’t get any faults. If your horse splashes into a water jump with one or more hooves, four faults are given. Unless there is a fence in the middle of a water obstacle. Then, the horse is expected to jump out of the water, over the fence, and back into the water. Only if the horse knocks the top rail of the fence will there be a penalty.

Four faults are also given for refusals. A refusal is when a horse stops in front of a jump, runs out sideways or ploughs into and destroys the jump. At the upper levels of competition, a horse can do this twice for a total of eight faults before being excused from the competition. In the lower levels, there can be three refusals before elimination. If the refusal comes in the middle of a combination of jumps, the horse must start at the beginning of the combination, not just the jump it refused in front of.

Falls are another way to get eliminated. If either the horse or rider falls, they are eliminated. Horse falls are defined by certain body parts making a connection with the ground. A rider fall is when the rider parts company, even partially with the horse. Another way to get eliminated is to not go through the start or finish line so a time is not recorded.

Time plays a big part in show jumping. There is a time allowance for the main competition. Competitors that meet this time allowance and have the fewest faults move on to the jump off. The winner of the jump off round is the competitor with the fewest faults and fastest time. The jump off course can be shorter, but higher and trickier. If more than one competitor gets a fast time with no faults, the course may be made higher again. Again, the fewest faults and fastest time wins. Jump offs can be very exciting, again making them a spectator favorite.

For the fine details of all the FEI show jumping rules, you can check out the downloadable PDF of the most recent rules.

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