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Jump Jargon: A Simple Guide to Horse Jumping Terms

Horse jumping
Written by Michelle Greene

Jump the Jump, Talk the Talk

If you’re new to the equestrian world, you may feel overwhelmed with the different disciplines or even the divisions within a specific area of riding. Never fear! Use this article (and our handy guide) as a who’s who and what’s what of different jumping terminology and styles.

Navigating the different divisions of a jumping competition can be complex, but if you understand this basic vocabulary, you’ll be ready to jump into any conversation around the show ring!

Note: These definitions are based off of USHJA’s Rulebook. (USHJA stands for the United States Hunter Jumper Association)

Horse jumping

Horse-Specific Terms

“OTTB” is short for Off-Track Thoroughbred. This means this horse was bred, raised, and trained for the race track, but is now no longer racing. Due to their speed and heart, you often see OTTBs in the jumper ring, though they can be found in the hunter and equitation rings as well. You’ll also find them on the cross-country course!

Incentive Program (TIP) as a way to encourage the retraining of raced thoroughbreds into other disciplines after their racing careers. There is also the Retired Racehorse Project, which has a huge show at the Kentucky Horse Park each year!

Three Ring Horse is a horse that excels in the Hunter, Jumper, and Equitation divisions.

Warmblood is a type of horse that is often seen in all three rings (hunters, jumpers, equitation). A Warmblood horse is a type of horse that has the lineage of both a heartier draft-style horse and a lighter type of horse like a Thoroughbred.

Common warmblood breeds include the Dutch Warmblood, Hanoverian, and Holsteiner.

A green horse can be young and just entering the show ring or older and inexperienced (aka lacking ‘show miles’). For example, my first horse was ten years old when I bought him but had never jumped more than three jumps in a row. So, he was described as ‘green’ in the sale ad, even though he was an older horse.

Rider-Specific Terms

Adult Amateur is a specific group of adult riders who are not paid to ride horses, but still compete. We lovingly refer to ourselves as “Adult Ammys.” There are specific classes for Adult Amateurs in rated shows. You are considered an adult when you turn 18.

Amateur Owner is an adult rider who owns their own horse and competes in the Amateur Owner Hunter division. Leased horses do not count in this division. The ammy or a member of the family must own the horse.

Show bows

Braids and bows can be worn by young riders under the age of 13 who are competing in any ring. It is accepted that if you are riding with your hair in two braids, you have bows at the bottom and are also riding in jodhpurs, paddock boots, and garters.

A junior rider is a rider that is under 18 years old.

A professional rider is a rider over the age of 18 years old that is paid for their expertise and training. A professional rider, unlike Adult Amateurs, can accept sponsorship deals specific to their riding ability. Please note that what defines an amateur and a professional is different in every breed and horse show organization, so make sure you double check your rule book!

Jump-Specific Terms

A course is a set number of fences that must be jumped in a specific order. You can be on course, which means you are following the order, or off-course, which means you’re lost and have jumped the jumps out of order. If you go off-course, you are dismissed from the ring.

A combination is a set of jumps that are close together and jumped in close succession. The most common examples would be a double combination or a triple combination.

If you have a clean round, that means you and your horse have entered the jumper ring and completed the course with no faults. Congratulations!

If you are just starting to jump, you are probably going to start with a cross-rail. These are X shaped jumps created from two poles and are inviting for both the horse and rider. You can even compete in cross-rail divisions at shows!

Faults are points accrued in jumper rounds for things like knocked rails, going over optimum time and first refusal of a fence. If a horse has a second refusal of a fence, the horse and rider are excused from the ring.

Girl jumping with horse

Filler vs. Poles – A quick glance at a course can tell you if you are in hunter land or a jumper course. Hunter courses use natural fillers like brush, flowers, and ferns at the base of the jumps, while jumper courses have fun and brightly colored painted poles.

Jump Offs occur when more than one horse and rider combo have clean rounds in a specific division. Jump Offs are very exciting!

Liverpools are jumps with a small water feature under them. If you were to use this phrase in a sentence, you could say “My horse thinks sea monsters are in the Liverpool.”

Oxers are jumps that use two standards on each side and poles across, creating a wider jump. The poles may be set at equal heights or at different heights. If you’re new to jumping oxers, they can seem scary since they are wider than your basic vertical jump, but don’t get in your head! Ride to the back of the jump and trust your horse. You’ll be just fine!

Rollback jumps are really fun and often seen in equitation classes and derbies. A rollback has the horse and rider start in one direction and then quickly turn (or roll) in a different direction to complete the second jump in the line.


Class-Specific Terms

In an equitation class only the rider is judged. The judge is looking for correct position and the form and function of a rider. An equitation class may have more technical lines and jumps like rollbacks to show how well a rider can communicate with their horse and effectively ride a course. Equitation classes are still subjective though, as the judge is using their professional opinion and training to pin the class.

Hunter classes mimic the jumps seen on a hunt-field and only the horse is judged. This is also a subjective division and based on one or more judge’s professional opinions and training. Horses are judged on their effort, soundness, performance, manners, and suitability. What makes a horse suitable for the hunters? Well, that’s why it’s a subjective class! But, to honestly answer that question, I would say safety—how easily they go around the course, and how well they jump. A lot of times in the hunter world you hear the phrase “knees to nose” which is the classic silhouette of a great hunter horse.

If you wake up early on a Sunday morning on a local circuit or stay up late under the bright lights at WEF, you’ll be fortunate enough to catch a Hunter Derby! When I was new to the hunter world, I asked a longtime horse friend what a derby was and she told me “It’s the closest thing we get to the jumpers” and I’ve always carried that with me when I watch these fun and exciting rounds.

A Hunter Derby has two rounds– a classic round and a handy round. The classic is a relatively standard hunter round and all horses entered will compete. Only a select number are invited back to the handy round based on their first scores. The handy round is a trickier course with rollbacks, trot jumps, or even halts! Hunter Derbies also have height options you can take for extra points.

Jumper classes are all about speed and precision and judged objectively. The only things that matter in a jumper class are course time and number of faults. If you’re in a jumper class your goal is to go fast and go clean. Depending on the type of jumper class you may be asked back for a jump off if you have a clean round! If you are in a power and speed round the fastest clean round wins. Like Hunter and Equitation rounds, jumpers also have divisions based on jump height and horse’s age.

Jumper classes are really fun to watch. This would be the style of riding you see in the Olympics!

Medal/Maclay classes are specific equitation classes that riders qualify for throughout the year. The ASPCA Maclay Finals are the ultimate equitation class for junior riders. Medal classes are available to adult riders as well, but you find more medal classes available to juniors.

Parting Thoughts

Now that you know the difference between hunters, jumpers, equitation and more, you’ll be ready to participate or spectate in your next show! Remember, if all else fails– heels down, eyes up, stay on course and trust your horse! Happy Trails!

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About the author


Michelle began riding through Pony Club at age 5 and continued training through high school. After a hiatus for school and family, she's now back in the saddle with her hunter/jumper.