How To: Build a fun yet challenging show jumping course

What makes a good show jumping course, or a good jump-off? Lila Gendal offers some course design tips.

Top photo: Skybreaker putting in a solid 3'3″ round at the THF jumper show

From Lila:

With “overly challenging” or “spooky” at one end of the spectrum and “boring” at the other end, course design is as much a skill as it is an art.

A few days ago Tamarack Hill Farm put on an awesome schooling jumper show–we started at 10 a.m. with 20 inches and our last division of 3’6” didn’t end until around 4 p.m. What a fun day! The barn manager designed a fairly straightforward course that was still challenging in many ways. Here are a few of the objectives we kept in mind:

1)      Fairly straightforward first round.

The first round was not timed. In other words, if you went clean the first round you automatically made it into the jump-off. The jump-off was timed and the fastest round won. Because we have several “looky” type fences we decided it would be best if we made the course fairly straightforward. Of course for the smaller classes we left the small boxes, barrels, and various “scary” type fences off the course. Instead, for the beginner  riders and/or green horses we had tiny verticals and oxers. Around 2’9” or 3’ we started adding “lookier” fences. The course ran relatively smoothly for all the various obstacles. We never want horses and riders to come to our shows and barely make it around. Rather, we want people to come and feel somewhat challenged but still have a great time.

THF jumper show (photo credit to Heidi Osgood-Metcalf

THF jumper show (photo credit to Heidi Osgood-Metcalf)

2)      The spookier fences…

We have a pretty amazing selection of jumps to choose from. Over the years Tamarack has restored and created a variety of different jumps. We have a lattice fence, planks, a big wall with bricks and stones painted on it, a liverpool, panels and so much more. What’s so amazing about having this plethora of jumps is that our THF horses are getting very used to jumping anything and everything in the jump ring. When we take our horses to away shows, they are generally pretty ho he hum about the spookier looking fences, which is a huge advantage. Even though our course at the jumper show was fairly straightforward in the first round, all the different type fences we had made the easy course that much more challenging.

Valonia over the stone/brick wall!

Valonia over the stone/brick wall!

3)      The jump off!

The course designer made a great jump-off course because she gave the riders options. Sometimes a fun and exciting jump off course has really hard turns, or lines as options. In other words, you can push yourself and your horse by taking an inside turn or a harder line to make a faster time, or you can take a longer route and lose time instead. The designer made the course in such a way that you could jump the last two fences if you angled both jumps–even though it was a very hard line, it was doable. Or you could jump the second to last fence and then circle around fast and go to the last jump. Only a few riders jumped the last two fences on an angle and those three riders won their classes.

Andy Cook riding Johnny at THF jumper show

Andy Cook riding Johnny at THF jumper show

Schooling jumper shows can be a blast, and the best jumper courses are a perfect blend challenging yet fun. When’s your next jumper show?

About the Author

My name is Lila Gendal and I am 27 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I currently have a 2005 Holsteiner mare, “Valonia” (Contester X Parlona), who is currently going training level, and I am riding one of Denny Emerson’s horses, a 2005 Selle Luxemburg gelding, “Beaulieu’s Cool Skybreaker” (Beaulieu’s Coolman X Une Beaute by Heartbreaker) who will be moving up to training soon! When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.