Show Jumping For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know

What is Show Jumping?

Have you ever watched the equestrian portion of the Olympics on television? If you have, then you’ve probably seen horses clearing massive jumps in a vast arena, racing against the clock. This is the riding discipline known as show jumping.

What is show jumping? Show jumping is a horseback riding discipline where horses and riders compete to clear a set jumping course with the lowest amount of faults and the fastest time. If two riders are tied with no faults, then the amount of time it took them to complete the course will be the determining factor of who wins.

Show jumping is a very popular discipline in the horseback riding world. There are many levels to compete at, from a local youth circuit up to the specific event in the Olympics. Show jumping requires finesse and skill from both the horse and rider in order to clear the jump course at the fastest time with the fewest amount of faults.

How Show Jumping Works

If you plan on attending a show jumping event, it’s important to understand how each class works so you don’t miss a thing!

One of the first show jumping events I competed in, I was never told that there was a piece of paper illustrating the course I was supposed to jump. Luckily, I watched enough riders go before me that I was able to memorize the course anyway. Knowing exactly what to expect when you get to the competition will help you to feel more confident and prepared once you get in the ring.

Here’s a step-by-step of how a show jumping competition works:

Step 1: Register For the Division You Want to Compete In 

Get to the showgrounds and get your horse registered for the specific division you plan on competing in. Depending on the division or class you decide to enter will determine the height of the jumps, the variation of obstacles you may see, and the ideal speed to complete the course.

Step 2: Memorize Your Courses Ahead of Time

Find the course guide in order to learn the courses you will be jumping. This paper can usually be found at the administrator’s desk or at the jumping arena hanging from the fence. You may even get sent the course ahead of time if the show has early registration. Take time to memorize each course.

Step 3: Know When the Timer Begins

Once you’ve been called into the arena for your course, it’s important to know when your timer will begin. Some shows will begin the timer as soon as a whistle or a horn sounds while others will begin the time once you pass through a certain point or over the first jump. Ask the gatekeeper before entering the arena about when the time tracker starts.

Step 4: Understand Faults and Eliminations

As you go through your course, you can develop faults that will affect your overall score. The more faults you have, the less likely you are to win. Here’s a list of faults and eliminations to be aware of:

  • knocking down a poll
  • refusing or running-out at a jump
  • getting off-course
  • going over the allotted time to complete the course


At another show jumping event I attended, I had three perfect and clear rounds…except that I got off-course every single round and ended up getting eliminated! That was no fun, but now I know that it’s important to recognize what will give you faults…or an elimination…before I get in the arena.

Step 5: Your Score Will Be Announced

Once you’ve completed your course, your time, faults, and overall score will be announced. When each rider has completed their course, the overall winner will be given that 1st place ribbon…and I hope that winner is you!

A Show Jumping Course – Obstacles You May See

When it comes to show jumping, you can find a number of different obstacles that you and your horse will have to clear. Some obstacles will only be found in certain divisions while others are universal to every show jumping level.

Here’s a list of some of the obstacles you can come across in the show jumping arena:

Crossrail: a jump that appears to be in the shape of an “x.” These jumps are inviting to both beginner horses and beginner riders. They’ll be found in lower-level show jumping events.

Jump Combination: consists of multiple jumps spaced one, two, or three strides apart. These can be seen as more tricky since the horse has to get a specific stride between each jump in order to get through the section of jumps smoothly.

Liverpool: a blue tray filled with water to make jumps more intimidating. These can be wide or narrow and the tray will be placed on the ground under a jump.

Oxer: also known as a spread; an oxer is where multiple jump standards and poles are used to create a wider jump.

Vertical: A jump made out a single pair of jump standards being only one pole wide.

Wall: a solid-looking jump that appears to be a brick wall. The walls found in the show jumping ring are created out of moveable, lightweight bricks.

Gear Used for Show jumping

If you plan on practicing in or competing in show jumping, you’ll want to make sure you have the correct gear. The recommended gear will differ depending on the level at which you’re competing. Here’s a general overview of what you’ll need:

Close Contact or Jumping Saddle (click to see Amazon Pricing)

For show jumping specifically, you’ll want to invest in either a close contact saddle or a jumping saddle. These English saddles allow the rider with optimal mobility, which is needed in order to get in the correct jumping position.

Breast Collar

When you start jumping bigger jumps, you’ll want to get a breast collar for your horse. A breast collar connects to your horse’s saddle and goes over the horse’s chest in order to keep the saddle from sliding back.

Sports Boots

Putting sports boots on your horse before a show jumping training or competition can offer more supports for the tendons in your horse’s legs.

Bell Boots

Bell boots go over your horse’s hooves to protect the hooves from trauma and bruising. In show jumping, horses can clip their hooves on jump poles, which can bruise their hoof walls.

Preparing for Your First Show Jumping Event

If you’ve decided that you want to compete in a show jumping event, you’ll want to make sure both you and your horse are prepared ahead of time. Here’s a list of things to remember as you prepare for your first show jumping competition:

Can You and Your Horse Confidently Clear a Jump?

Before you enter a show jumping event, you’ll want to be sure that both you and your horse are confident in clearing multiple jumps. If you or your horse have never jumped before, it’s probably best that you hold off on entering a competition.

Jumping requires skill from both horse and rider. The rider needs to know how to control the horse, see the spot to take off for each jump, and know how to help the horse get to that exact spot. The horse needs to be responsive to cues and hold a proper position over the jumps in order to avoid knocking rails.

If you want to show jump but your horse isn’t quite ready, check out our article, Training a Horse to Jump: Easy Step-By-Step Guide.

Practice Jump Courses Ahead of Time

Maybe you’ve popped over a jump or two but you’ve never done a complete course. Courses are usually made out of 8-16 jumps. You’ll want to make sure you can control your horse and complete a course.

A show jumping course can consist of turns, angles, combinations, certain stride-lengths, and intimidating jumps. Can you ride your horse boldly to each jump and can you control your horse through a combination with multiple obstacles?

Practicing ahead of time will make you feel more confident in the show ring. Practice more difficult obstacles and combinations in training so the competition will feel like a breeze!

Training ahead of time will also help your horse to gain confidence over different obstacles and learn to trust you more towards each jump.

Register for a Division You Know You Can Do

Before you register for a specific show jumping division at a competition, make sure you’re choosing a division that you know you can do. Each division will have a listed jump height, required time, and specific obstacles listed.

Choose a division with a jump height you’ve jumped multiple times and that you and your horse feel comfortable doing. Choose a division that has obstacles that you and your horse have practiced going over.

When it comes to your first show jumping competition, you want to make sure it’s a good experience for both you and your horse. If you choose a division that you’re not prepared for, there can be unnecessary stress and pressure put on your horse. It’s better to take the safe road and aim for a division you know you and your horse can do.

To prepare for your first show, be sure to take a look at our horse show checklist.

I hope this article was helpful to you are interested in show jumping! If you’d like to learn about another fun horseback riding discipline, check out our article, Fox Hunting for Beginners: Dress Code, Terminology, Gear.

P.S. Save this article to your “Horseback Riding” board!


Having Trouble With Your Training?

Learn how to gain and maintain your horse’s respect in my latest course!

Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

Legal Information

This site is owned and operated by Wild Wire Media LLC. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.