Show jumping is one of the most popular and recognizable equestrian sports in the world, featuring incredible acts of athleticism from both horse and rider.

Jumping appears alongside eventing and dressage in the equestrian events featured at the Olympic Games. While well-known for attracting celebrities at the international level, show jumping is fun for equestrians of all backgrounds.

Show jumping is popular with spectators because it is easy to understand and exciting to watch. This sport continues to grow from grassroots to international competition at the Grand Prix level.

Read on to learn everything riders and spectators need to know about the discipline of show jumping, including the sport’s history, modern competition, training, and the incredible horses who make it possible.

What is Show Jumping?

Show jumping is an equestrian discipline that involves horses and riders navigating a jump course in a riding arena. All athletes ride over the jumps in the same order and score penalties, or faults, if they knock down rails (fence poles) or a horse refuses to clear the jump.

Show jumpers must complete a jumper course within a time limit. Going over the time limit incurs more penalties. The combination that completes the jumping course fastest with the lowest faults wins the class. [3]

History of Show Jumping

The equestrian sport of jumping is relatively new. For most of history, there was no need to train horses to jump big fences.

This was true until the Enclosure Acts were passed in England, creating legal property rights to common land. Between 1604 and 1914, the British Parliament enclosed 6.8 million acres of the English countryside. [1]

As these enclosures were laid down, equestrians riding and fox hunting over the countryside now needed horses capable of jumping the fences separating private land.

Eventually, competitions began featuring classes over fences in the late 19th century so riders could showcase their horses’ abilities in front of spectators.

An early form of show jumping appeared in the 1900 Olympic Games, but the rules across different competitions weren’t consistent. Show Jumping in its current format first appeared at the Olympics in 1912. [2]

Jumping Sport Organizations

Efforts to standardize early show jumping sport led to the formation of some of the first national equestrian organizations. Show jumping still relies on jumping governing bodies to develop rules and regulations for national and international competition.

FEI

The Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) is the international governing body for horse sports recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This organization oversees all international jumping events and championships, including the Olympic Games.

There are seven recognized FEI disciplines, including the three Olympic equestrian disciplines, including:

  • Jumping
  • Dressage
  • Eventing
  • Para-equestrian
  • Endurance
  • Vaulting
  • Driving

USEF

Originally established as the American Horse Shows Association in 1917, the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) is the national governing body for horse sport in the United States.

In addition to the seven international disciplines recognized by the FEI, the USEF also recognizes 11 additional national disciplines:

  • English Pleasure
  • Carriage Pleasure Driving
  • Hunter
  • Hunter/Jumping Seat Equitation
  • Parade Horse
  • Reining
  • Roadster
  • Saddle Seat
  • Western
  • Western Dressage
  • Western/Reining Seat Equitation

USHJA

The United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) is a national member organization representing all levels of hunter and jumper participants in the United States. USHJA is the official national affiliate for the jumper discipline recognized by the USEF.

USHJA offers competition, education, and award programs for jumper riders. The association also provides input for national jumping rules and regulations.

Hunter and Jumper Classes

Wondering what the difference is between hunter and jumper equestrian sports? Although commonly grouped, hunter and jumper are distinct disciplines. Both sports involve jumping over fences in an arena.

Hunter classes are subjectively judged based on performance and movement quality. Jumpers are objectively scored based on time and the horse’s ability to clear all fences without faults. [4]

Jumper courses are typically more technical and complex than hunter courses, with higher jumps to challenge the horse’s athletic ability.

Equestrian Canada

Equestrian Canada (EC) is Canada’s national governing body for horse sport. EC establishes rules for national jumping competitions in the country.

This organization also nominates Canadian national teams for international jumping championships, including the Olympics.

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