Fences and Levels of Show Jumping
Show jumping is a fun and fast-paced sport that is all about accuracy. Similar to many types of equestrian competition, there are different competition levels to accommodate horse and rider pairs from beginner through advanced. As the heights of the courses increase, the difficulty of the courses themselves increases as well.
Difficulty is not just related to the actual height of the fence. It is also related to how the course rides. Course designers build courses to draw the horse’s eye to scarier fences, potentially resulting in a refusal.
Not only do horses and riders need to work on fitness and the ability to clear larger fences as they move up the levels, but they also have to learn how to ride more complex tracks. These more demanding tracks likely include spookier jumps and complicated combinations. They are built in conjunction with the raising of fence heights.
If you want to learn more about this exhilarating sport, stay tuned because this post breaks down all the ins and outs of show jumping heights!
What are the Levels of Show Jumping?
From puddle jumpers to Grand Prix, there are a lot of different levels that show jumpers work their way through before getting to the top. This allows for riders to gradually increase their abilities in courses and learn how to effectively show jump in a safer manner.
The gradual increase in difficulty throughout the levels allows for a natural adjustment for both horse and rider.
The lowest classes often do not include oxers, or any type of combinations, for the maximum amount of rideability and success for both horse and rider.
As the heights go up, oxers, combinations and other more difficult coursework options will be added.
As per the USEF Jumper levels, these are the following heights offered in competition:
- Level 0. Fences 2′6″ to 2′9″ in height and 2′9″ to 3′0″ in spread, triple bars/liverpools to 3′9″
- Level 1. Fences 2′9″ to 3′0″ in height and 3′0″ to 3′6″ in spread, triple bars/liverpools to 4′0″
- Level 2. Fences 3′0″ to 3′3″ in height and 3′3″ to 3′9″ in spread, triple bars/liverpools to 4′3″
- Level 3. Fences 3′3″ to 3′6″ in height and 3′6″ to 4′0″ in spread, triple bars/liverpools to 4′6″
- Level 4. Fences 3′6″ to 3′9″ in height and 3′9″ to 4′3″ in spread, triple bars to 4′9″, water to 8′
- Level 5. Fences 3′9″ to 4′0″ in height and 4′0″ to 4′6″ in spread, triple bars to 5′0″, water to 9′
- Level 6. Fences 4′0″ to 4′3″ in height and 4′3″ to 4′9″ in spread, triple bars to 5′3″, water to 10′
- Level 7. Fences 4′3″ to 4′6″ in height and 4′6″ to 5′0″ in spread, triple bars to 5′6″, water to 12′
- Level 8. Fences 4′6″ to 4′9″ in height and 4′9″ to 5′3″ in spread, triple bars to 5′9″, water to 12′6″
- Level 9. Fences 4′9″ to 5′0″ in height and 5′0″ to 5′6″ in spread, triple bars to 6′0″, water to 13′
The lowest level that the show jumping discipline typically starts at in North America is .75m or 2’7”. This serves as an introductory level for people just starting out at rated shows.
Some shows will also offer a .70m which is 2’3”. Typically, this is the lowest show jumping height you can find at sanctioned shows and it is used predominantly for schooling.
Schooling shows will offer more crossrail classes, or even ground poles, allowing for newer jumpers to gain experience in a show setting at a height that may be more comfortable for them.
These heights are not available at sanctioned shows, however, so are not included in the listed jumper levels.
Grand Prix (essentially 9+)
Grand Prix show jumping is the absolute pinnacle of the sport, the highest level you can ascend to as an equestrian in the show jumping realm.
Here you will see the max difficulty of courses, as well as horses and riders tackling impressively tall fences, standing 1.60m or 5’2”. Spreads at this level can be up to 2m or 6’7”.
In Grand Prix courses, you see some pretty difficult courses, including feats like the open water jump, a jump that requires horses to tackle a wide spread with less height.
The water tends to draw the horse’s eye and can result in a refusal, so horses at this level need to be exceptionally brave to be successful.
Grand Prix show jumping has the typical timed round followed by a jump off for riders who go clear and without time faults. Unlike many of the lower levels, it usually will not be an immediate jump off.
Instead, those who go clear and without time faults come back at the end of the class to ride their jump offs—after every other rider has completed their run.
Types of Fences
There is an abundance of different types of fences seen on show jumping courses, even within these types of fences, the artwork and decor of the fence itself can increase the difficulty due to being scarier to the horse and therefore a bigger feat for them to accomplish.
Vertical: This is the most commonly seen type of fence in competition, it refers to a single width fence that has the poles placed directly above one another.
Oxer: This is another very commonly seen type of fence that is a double width fence consisting of two verticals placed close together. The spread or width of the placement of these fences is what increases the difficulty. At higher levels, oxers are much wider and are more difficult to jump because of this.
Square Oxer: Both verticals are placed at the same height, so sit squarely and are not ascending with one of the oxer verticals higher than the other. Can be jumped from either direction, very common to use in schooling situations because of this.
Ascending Oxer: the furthest pole is placed higher than the front pole of the jump, creating a “ramped” appearance of the jump.
Swedish Oxer: The poles on the verticals slant in opposite directions, creating an “X” look of the fence. The first vertical will have the poles diagonally slanted in one direction, whereas the second vertical will have them in the opposite direction, creating a “cross rail” that is higher off the ground and double the width of a typical vertical fence, making it an oxer.
Triple Bar: This is essentially an oxer on steroids, it is a spread fence that has three different elements that increase the height of it, the third and final typically set at the highest point.
Wall: Commonly seen in Puissance classes, this jump is created to resemble a brick wall. From far away, it may look solid but it is made up of a bunch of different square pieces that will tumble if touched by the horse.
Combination: Typically made up of two or three jumps in a row with no more than two strides between them.
Open Water: A wide spread of water, the difficulty of this fence is jumping the width rather than the height.
Liverpool: A smaller “ditch” or tray of water placed underneath an already existing fence. This is used more as a filler as it only really increases the difficulty of the fence itself by making it spookier.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How high do Olympic show jumpers jump?
Olympic show jumpers compete at the highest level of show jumping, which is at the 1.60m height.
Q: What height are horse jumps?
The height of horse jumps will vary from level to level, so it ultimately depends on your riding level and what difficulty of class you are entering.
There is an abundance of different height options at both rated and non-rated shows to allow for all levels of jumpers to compete, even if you are just starting out jumping cross rails.
Q: How high should I be jumping?
There is no particular height you need to be jumping! Jump within your current skill level and that is how you can have continued improvement to climb up the levels if your goal is to gradually compete higher or be able to jump higher.
Don’t fixate on height though, the skills you develop to become a high level jumper are much more related to the rideability of your horse throughout the course and your ability to stay out of their way and pilot them.
The height can increase with your readiness, there is no rush!
Q: Which horse breeds are used for jumping?
Height, athleticism, and bravery are some traits required for success in the jumping world.
Although many breeds can excel in this discipline, some of the more popular are Thoroughbreds, Dutch Warmbloods, and Trakehners.
Friesian and draft crosses can also excel at this exciting sport.
Don’t miss our previous post, 11 Best Horse Breeds for Jumping Big and Clear, for more breed-specific information.
Q: What happens if a horse refuses a jump?
If a horse refuses a jump during competition, penalty points are assigned. And if a horse refuses a second jump during the same round, the horse and rider pair are often eliminated.
Additional penalty points are assigned for knocking a pole or stepping into the water.
The judge’s role in this type of competition is to watch for any of the above instances and assign points accordingly.
Horses might refuse jumps for several reasons, including the size and build of the jump or improper set-up.
Jumping is one discipline in which horse and rider must be in absolute harmony to achieve success.
Success in any jumping event relies on a solid partnership between horse and rider. Dressage provides the foundation upon which that partnership is built.
The various movements in dressage, such as teaching your horse where to move its shoulders and hindquarters, are required while jumping.
Most riders competing in jumping disciplines also school dressage to enhance their performance on the course.
There are even formal competitions that combine the sports of jumping and dressage.
There is an abundance of options for jump heights in the show jumping discipline, for beginner to expert. While some of the lowest height options may not be offered at rated shows, there is no shortage of schooling shows to practice the lower levels at if you’re looking to start in the least stressful and daunting environment.
As you improve your skill set, you can then direct your focus to rated shows if that is your goal. Keep in mind, show jumping is more about the riding between the fences than the actual jumping. Improving your eye and rideability over lower fences is how you eventually hone your skills enough to climb to the top.
And if you’re a complete rookie to the world of jumping, don’t miss our previous post, A Horse Rookie’s Guide to Show Jumping.