Notes on Show Jumping Course Design

(these notes pertain primarily to Eventing Show Jump Course design, but are good basic ideas for any “jumping” classes.  They are primarily from seminars / lectures I’ve attended with Richard Jeffery and Marc Donovan).


 Responsibility” of the course designer is to:


1.    The Horse

2.    The Rider

3.    The Event

4.    Spectators and Sponsors


The course should test the training of the horse and the communication between horse and rider.




1.    Safety

2.    Sport (it should be fun)

3.    Training (is the course going to encourage good training)?

4.    Suitability (for the level of the majority of the competitors)

5.    Daylight / times (how the lighting will affect the look of the jumps throughout the day)

6.    Challenging ( without being overwhelming)



Avoid building for faults! These would be:


1.    No fence situated straight towards or away from the perimeter of the arena. Minimum of 60’ from.

2.    Bending lines of less than 5 strides.

3.    Unusual distances. (Should be based on the average 12’ stride with considerations for height, spread, type of fence, pace and terrain, uphill/downhill, ect.

4.    No hairpin turns to or from fences closer to each other than 60’.

5.    No dogleg turns.


Careful consideration of the size and shape and location of the arena.


Specialty jumps only at the head of a line or alone. These would be:


1.    Triple bars

2.    Planks

3.    Swedish Oxers (work well on change of direction lines)

4.    Skinnys

5.    Liverpools


“Difficulty Factors” that have an effect on course design.


1.    Heights and Widths

2.    Distances (the higher the level the more you need “related” distances).

3.    # of efforts

4.    Change of direction (3 is ideal but no rule is in effect as to this)

5.    Time allowed

6.    The “flow” and the turns.

7.    Distractions (islands – statues - traffic)

8.    Decorations and construction – brush boxes in front, under or behind front pole greatly affect groundlines.

9.    Colors (white / natural poles can be harder to see, depending on background)            

10. Appropriateness for the level 

11. Combinations are easier if the fences are different.

12. Generally, “fuller” fences ride better than “flimsy” fences.

13. Horses seem to have a harder time “judging” wavy lines.


USEF requires 1/3 or more of fences to be set at maximum height and at least 3 fences have width exceeding the height.


“Building”: HAVE SPARE EQUIPMENT! Especially “odd” parts.


     1. Make an inventory list.

     2.  Make a course map with the track, distances, and a diagram of how each           

          jump looks from the side.

     3.  Lay all the top poles first. Measure from the “landing side” of the first pole

          to the “take off” side of the  next pole and the distance will be very close              

         when you build the fence.

  4.  Measure the spreads and distances.

       5. Wheel the track.

  6.  Set up standards and accessories last.

7. Build jumps.



The trend is to bring Eventing “show jumping” into line with “real” show jumping, so:


      1. No ground lines after .80M (2’.7”) class.

      2. Verticals are “vertical”, meaning flower / brush boxes are not set in front of the rails. (However I think this is something that needs careful consideration when designing courses for inexperienced riders / horses).



The general “rule of thumb” is:


A “stride” is 12’. Figure 6’ for takeoff and 6’ for landing, you get:

24’ = 1 stride          

36’ = 2 strides              (All distances maybe 2’ less if 2’6” and under)

48’ = 3 strides

60’ = 4 strides

72’ = 5 strides, and so forth. However, after 5 strides, distances become “unrelated” and it is up to the rider to take responsibility for the adjustability of their horse.





These are only notes and suggestions, not hard and fast rules. Conditions such as weather, location, footing, riders, horses and the like will have an influence on how courses should be designed.


The USEF rules would apply to USEF rated competitions.