How to build a show jumping course

Updated July 20, 2017

Building a show jumping course requires an understanding of horse psychology as well as some simple math to ensure proper spacing of course elements. Creating a course that is both interesting and challenging is the goal. Having access to a well-laid-out show jumping course is an integral part of training, providing experience to both horse and rider. With the proper equipment, the show jumping course can grow with the horse and rider, increasing in difficulty as they become more experienced. Unless you already have a full set of show jumping standards, poles and cups, you'll need to build your own.

Start with cavalettis, which can be adjusted to various heights. A cavaletti is a simple wooden X that is joined by a 2.4, 3 or 3.6 m (8, 10, or 12 foot) round or octagonal pole. The pole is nailed to the top of the X, and as you roll the cavaletti the pole either raises or lowers in height. Typically painted white, cavaletti can be used to build a beginner show jumping course. Standards, cups and poles can be either built from scratch or purchased. Painted bright colours, these are combined to create simple obstacles. Adding planks, gates, boxes and fillers will help add colour, variety and challenge.

Look at your jump materials and decide how many fences you can make. Evaluate the level of rider that will be negotiating these fences. The course should be challenging but not overwhelming. Height of fences is not as important as placement of jumps, as a jump leading away from the barn will be more difficult to negotiate than a huge jump leading home. A typical show jumping course will contain between 8 and 12 fences.

Using a piece of paper, lay out your jumping grid. Your first fence should be solid and friendly; a simple oxer (a box-shaped fence) with no filling is substantial and inviting. This jump should lead toward the barn or other horses and allow for adequate circling in front of the fence and adequate room for the horse to land afterward without being presented with another fence right away.

Place your second or third fence facing toward home. This fence should be a simple vertical with standards or wings. The horse is not going to want to jump away from home, so you want this fence to be as simple as possible. Avoid any fillers that may fly about and spook the horse.

Pay attention to spacing. A typical horse's stride is 3.6 m (12 feet), and a good course will allow 3 strides for the horse to negotiate the obstacle, 3 strides to land and 3 strides to navigate any corners. Do not place your fences too close together or too far apart. Walk out the strides before allowing riders to practice on your course.

Space your double and triple combinations. Consider whether horses or ponies are jumping your course, because a horse's stride is longer than a pony's -- a pony's stride is 3 m (10 feet). Allow for 2 full strides between the fences, after landing, and allow an extra stride for the horse to take off in front of the second element.

Ground lines are useful for young horses or inexperienced riders. A ground line is a simple pole placed in front of the element that gives the horse and rider a better sense of the height of the fence and timing clues on when to jump.


Books with plans for building your own fences are available at Amazon and other websites. Keep things simple. You can always increase the number of obstacles later. Start low. Height of fences is not as important as course negotiation.


Make sure your fences are solid but will fall if hit. Safety is the primary concern. Incorrect spacing is the most common cause of accidents. Riders who are young or inexperienced should always practice in an enclosed field.

Things You'll Need

  • Poles
  • Standards (or stands)
  • Wings
  • Cups
  • Gates
  • Planks
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About the Author

J.K. Allen holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Toronto and is a professional writer who has been published in a variety of media including print and online. Her secondary love of all things food led to a career as a chef, but now she's back to writing full time as a freelance author.