Types of Show Jumps and Cross Country Fences

Types of Show Jumps and Cross Country Fences

Have you ever been baffled by the names of different jumps? This is our guide to the most commonly encountered show jumps and cross country fences plus some top tips for successful competition.

Show Jumps

Cross Pole – two poles in the shape of a cross, a popular warm up fence and helpful for straightness as it has a clear centre

Upright – a single pole at uniform height, usually with a slanted drop pole underneath, this is sometimes also called a vertical

Spread – a wider fence so most commonly with two sets of wings – think of it as two verticals side by side. There will be two top poles, the front one often slightly lower which is referred to as an ascending spread

Parallel or Oxer – a spread so two verticals together with both the front and the back top rail at the same height making the fence both wide and square

Swedish Oxer – a wide fence with the poles slanting in opposite directions to one another and giving the appearing of an ‘X’ shape when viewed head on by the horse and rider

Gate – usually a white fence suspended at both ends on flat jump cups

Wall – solid red bricks with white coping on top. A viaduct wall differs in that it has recesses cut into the structure to give the appearance of a viaduct, either one or more at the base of the wall

Liverpool – a ditch or water tray/s under a vertical or oxer

Filler – painted wooden boards standing on feet which are used at the higher levels to sit underneath pole fences. Depending on the design and colour of the filler, these can prove spooky for the horse. At the lower levels, fillers tend to sit in front of the wings to the side of the actual jump because the fences are not high enough to incorporate them. This is a kind introduction to a young or green horse

Cross country fences

Table – a large square wooden table, often as wide as it is high

Chair – a wooden structure that looks like a bench with the seat facing towards the approaching horse and rider

Roll Top a rounded, tubular looking fence made of slats of wood closely locking together, this can be a natural wood colour or painted

Ditch – not commonly found on its own but usually below a rail such as the Trakehner or as part of a multi-fence obstacle like the coffin

Coffin – a rail with a ditch following two or three strides later followed by another rail a further two or three strides after that. True coffins are built with the ditch in a hollow or lower piece of ground rather than on the flat, this makes the obstacle even more challenging

Corner – a fence which is triangular in design, it can be rails but is more commonly solid wood. The width of the corner depends on the level of competition and the fence can be made more difficult by its location i.e. at the top of a hill or on the side of a hill where the ground falls away, making it hard to keep the horse straight. At advanced level, there will often be more than one corner on a related stride pattern and sometimes on a curve

Steps – either ascending or descending, at lower levels there will usually be just one step ranging to advanced level where there can be a series with other fences either before or afterwards

Drop – using natural undulations of the ground, a drop can be a simple run down through a hollow or may incorporate a fence, again using the contours of the land. The landing side will be lower than the take off requiring the rider to adjust their jumping position and lean back on landing

Trakehner – a log or rail placed over a ditch. The log/rail can be either straight or angled and the height of the rail and width of the ditch will vary depending on the level of competition

Water – a water fence can be natural or manmade. The difficulty of the water obstacle will depend on the level of competition. Lower levels start with a simple run through the water and fences close to the water, either before or afterwards. The higher levels will include a jump or step into water and a fence in the water itself. There is often another fence close to the exit point as well

Steeplechase fence – a bold, imposing fence made with a wooden frame and covered in brush

Skinny – this refers to any narrow fence; it might be a roll top, small house or kennel or a short section of brush fence. Whatever type of fence it is, each skinny requires forward and accurate riding. Often placed in a location where it is related to other fences, the course builder is testing whether the rider can identify the correct line and then stick to it

Competition Tips

  • Show jumping warm ups usually contain a cross pole, an upright and a spread the height of which can be altered for practise purposes
  • The direction in which a fence may be jumped is marked by a flag; the red flag must always be on the right hand side of the rider. Some centres will use a red wing to denote this in the warm up area rather than a flag but within the actual competition, all fences will have flags
  • The height, width and difficulty of a fence is determined by the level of competition and is controlled by the rules of the relevant governing body
  • Most horses will look at something, work out which fences your horse dislikes and school over them
  • Many cross country courses offer schooling days, some offer schooling directly after horse trials when riders have the opportunity to jump the fences flagged and dressed for competition
  • Always check your hat and body protector complies with current regulations for your discipline as these do change. Most disciplines follow the same standards but the show jumping element of eventing may differ in some of its rules to pure show jumping so know your Rulebook. You will usually also need a medical armband for cross country competition


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