Fence height gets all the glory, but horses clear impressive distances, too!
I remember when I was younger watching the classic movie, National Velvet, and being in awe of the athleticism of the horses on screen.
Even now, when I watch televised events like the Olympics and the Kentucky 3 Day Event, I am always so impressed at the height and width horses can jump. Which got me thinking…
- How far can a horse actually jump, not just vertically but horizontally?
- What are the world records?
- How do the mechanics of horse jumping work?
Let’s get into it!
Horse Jumping 101
If you understand the how of a horse’s jump, it will help you improve your riding and communication with your horse. Let’s start with the basics:
The Mechanics of Jumping
According to Equestrian Wellness Magazine, there are five phases to a horse jumping over an obstacle.
Phase 1: The Approach
This is the walk, trot, or canter step that leads them up to the jump.
Technically, a horse can jump from any gait (including a standstill!), but you will typically see horses approach a jump at a canter.
The approach is a crucial component, as the pace and rhythm of the approach will dictate how easily the jump fits into a horse’s stride.
Phase 2: The Take-Off
Now that the horse is at the base of the jump, it is time to take off! The horse will raise its front legs, and use its back legs to push off of the ground. Ideally, you want the horse’s back legs square in order to give maximum force for the jump.
It is also ideal for a horse’s front legs to be square, level and raised.
You may often hear the term “hang a leg” or “leaving a leg behind” when discussing a horse’s jumping technique. That means that either the front or back legs are not together and cause a rail to be knocked down.
Phase 3: In Flight
A horse in the air should have an arch, or bascule, to its jump. This allows them to clear the obstacle easily. The back should round as the nose drops down.
The back legs get picked up completely to go over the back end of the obstacle.
“Nose to knees” is a complement in the equestrian world! It means the horse has good muscle engagement and shape over the jumps.
Phase 4: The Landing
While an arch is ideal in the air, when approaching the ground, the horse should lengthen out some and its front limbs will reach toward the ground.
As the front legs extend, the hooves will strike the ground at different times allowing the horse to continue the gait.
The back legs unfold after the obstacle and are used to propel the horse forward.
Phase 5: The Departure/Recovery
The horse has now moved past the obstacle and has returned to the pre-jump gait, ready for the next approach.
Technically, All Horses Can Jump
All horses have the ability to clear obstacles by jumping over them. After all, in the wild, horses aren’t confined to small flat areas! They have to get past hedges or bushes somehow.
How well a horse can jump depends on athletic ability, breeding, training, and more.
Much like how different people succeed at different sports, different horses are better suited to jumping than others.
Now that you understand the mechanics of how a horse jumps, let’s look at some of the records for jumping:
How far can a horse jump horizontally?
Horses are able to clear wide obstacles too—think about a horse jumping a small puddle or creek in the wild.
In USEF jumper competitions the highest width you can expect for a jump is 5′0″ to 5′6. Add 6’ for takeoff and 6’ for landing and…well that’s a pretty wide jump! (17’ – 17’6”)
In the jumping world, we refer to the horizontal distance as “spread.”
The greatest horizontal distance a horse has jumped on record was in 1975 at a whopping 28-foot spread.
How far can a horse jump vertically?
Horses compete regularly in competitions up to 5’0” in USEF competitions.
However, the world record for jump height goes to Huaso ex-Faithful, ridden by Capt. Alberto Larraguibel Morales of Chile in 1949. He jumped a record 8 feet and 1.2 inches! (Wiki Commons)
What is the farthest a horse has jumped?
The longest or farthest a horse has jumped was over a water obstacle.
Andre Ferreira was riding Something in Johannesburg in 1975 when he cleared a water jump the length of 27 feet and 6 inches!
Jumps come in a variety of shapes and styles. From single verticals with one pole across to oxers with a wide spread between the two poles.
You can find a variety of jump terminology here.
Liverpool jumps can be found from smaller circuit shows all the way up to the Olympics.
These unique jumps have a shallow pool of water under the jump.
Though the origin of the name is not completely clear, the most famous steeplechase in the world, full of water obstacles and pools, is in Liverpool, England.
How wide is a Liverpool jump?
Most liverpools will go under the entirety of a jump, so usually are around 10 feet in length. Their width (or spread) under the jump can range from 2 feet to 6 feet!
FEI rules state that liverpool jumps may not exceed 2m (or 6 feet 6 inches).
How do you make a Liverpool jump?
You can buy liverpool jumps on Amazon, but it is also possible to make one.
You just need a blue tarp and pool noodles for a cheap option.
- Cut the tarp to the size you need (with room to wrap the noodles completely).
- Use E-6000 glue to secure the wrap around the noodles on the long sides of the liverpool.
- You can fill your tarp with water to create a shallow pool, but the blue tarp will also look like water too.
- If you want something a little sturdier (and won’t blow away in the wind) replace the pool noodles with ground poles and 8600 glue with staples and a staple gun.
Here is a great DIY tutorial:
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can horses jump sideways?
Technically, yes. If you have ever been on a horse that got spooked and all four feet went into the air and then moved to the side at the same time—you have ridden a “UFO spook!”
That said, it is just a natural reaction to a scary object and not something you would want your horse to do.
Q: What is the hardest horse jump?
The hardest horse jump differs from person to person and horse to horse.
The Puissance jump is a famously difficult jump that is a brick red wall. The bricks aren’t real (and they are hollow) but it is definitely an intimidating obstacle for both horse and rider.
There is also a *bareback* Puissance! Want to watch?
Learning about varying jumping capabilities can certainly be inspiring! Don’t forget about the basics (such as horse jump mechanics) and apply this knowledge to your next ride (with trainer supervision, of course).
You can also watch equestrian competitions more scientifically as you identify the different phases of a jump and how the approach affects both the horse and rider.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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