How To: Dress Up Show Jumping Courses

Holly Payne Caravella and Bruisyard Hall. Photo by Jenni Autry. Holly Payne Caravella and Bruisyard Hall. Photo by Jenni Autry.

If you obsessively read everything at EN, you’ve already seen the previous two blogs about decorating cross-country jumps (here and here), so for those of you waiting for completion, here’s the promised show jumping jazz up blog!

This is probably a good time to talk about a couple of safety things. As you know, horses have a pretty touchy self-destruct button, and if a horse can scrape, bump, poke, cut, bruise or otherwise injure themselves on something sticking out somewhere, they probably will. And if it’s something you put there, it’s going to make you feel bad at the least. So take the time to follow a few basic rules about decorating show jumps.

First, nothing on the poles. They need to be clear and free so they can fall if hit. If you want your plain jump poles to look cool, paint them. Add a matching painted set of planks or a fancy gate. Consider a flower box as a ground line with matching flower colors to your pole stripes. Fancy standards to match your poles. But nothing on the poles except paint.

Second, the course designer will have a few ideas that he or she wants followed and will want to have you provide things – or not – at some jumps. Unlike cross-country, some show jumping courses do not always have ground lines at the obstacles and the trend, like it or not, is toward airy fences that really test a horse’s ability to jump clean.

So be very sure to follow directions when it comes to building your show jumping course — less is often more. If you’d like to do something but are not sure, check with the CD first. To dress your standards a little, you can add artificial flower garlands and just drape them over front and back.

Another fancy thing to use is hanging flower baskets which are often seen on the hunter courses. Loads of beautiful flowers and greenery at the base of the standards always looks elegant – decorators achieve this look by tipping full pots of flowers on their sides to “hide” the pots of the standing plants. You’ll need a lot to do this.

Fancy decor at Rolex on the sides and base of standards. Photo by Holly.

Fancy decor at Rolex on the sides and base of standards. Photo by Holly.

Where you can make a difference is color. Consider painting both poles and standards to match. When you set jumps in a line, use colors that go together, or you can do just the opposite, make them all different colors, but decorate them consistently, such as using the same size of flower pot or evergreen on the ground by the standards for every fence. Or use matching standards, and vary the poles and fillers.

Small but solidly made fillers like these will help add color. Photo by Holly.

Small but solidly made fillers like these will help add color. Photo by Holly.

There are many ideas out there that include fun decorations and themes — you don’t need to stick to natural things for show jumping and that’s the fun of it.

However, anything you choose to use should be able to be secured to a standard, or stand upright on the ground by itself, and will not require repair or replacement should a horse knock the standard over.

Everything needs to stay the same for all riders, so if something gets broken, it has to be sturdy enough to be picked up and set back and look the same as it did before it fell over. This will limit your choices a little. Zip ties are your friends!

Or even this....geese....really? I thought my horses would be terrified and they didn't even notice them!

Or even this….geese….really? I thought my horses would be terrified and they didn’t even notice them! They are pushed down into the footing and are heavy enough to withstand wind and rain. But they are a bit much!

Stay away from inflatable anythings, or items of lightweight plastic that are likely to blow over or require attention; also avoid banners or flags or things that flap or wave, as they are an undue hindrance to a concentrating jumping horse. (See rule number 2 below)

 

For a little guidance, here’s some relevant rules from the official rules for show jumping from the 2016 USEA rule book (EV149):

“1. The obstacles must be inviting in their overall shape and appearance, varied and match their surroundings. Both the obstacles themselves and their constituent parts must be such that they can be knocked down, while not being so light that they fall at the slightest touch or so heavy that they may cause horses to fall or be injured. 2. The obstacles must not be unsporting and they must not cause an unpleasant surprise. 3. The obstacles should have a balance of vertical and spread obstacles. Closed combinations are not permitted. A water jump is not permitted, but a liverpool no wider than 1.8m (6ft.) with rails over the water is allowed. 4. Poles, which must be constructed of timber or have a solid wood core, and other parts of the obstacles are held up by supports (cups). The pole must be able to roll on its support; in this case the support for the top poles should have an ideal depth of 25 mm (1”), in any case the minimum depth is to be 20 mm (¾”) or a maximum depth of 30mm (1 ¼”). For planks, balustrades, barriers, gates, etc. the supports must be more open or even flat, with a maximum depth of 13 mm (½“). 5. The minimum length of the jumping element of an obstacle is 2.45m (8ft).”  (Width or face of a “skinny” should be no smaller than 8 feet.)

Most show jump courses have a mix of obstacles with just poles, poles and gates, perhaps a wall or coop with a pole or two on top, planks with a pole on top, or other feature like a liverpool plastic, etc.

If you have a solid but plain wall or box, consider painting it to look like brick or stone, or go and get some inspiration at Home Depot or Ace Hardware in the floor tile department — there are some wonderful patterns available to use as a template or even apply stick-on squares to a jump.

I’ve used a nice marble tile-look flooring for the panels on a gate (and caulked it all around for water resistance), and it’s held up a year in wet conditions without trouble. It is necessary to make sure that your flower bouquets in your flower boxes do not stick up past the top rail, however, this will only probably come into play if your course is set at a low height and your flower boxes are higher. You can always push the flowers down in the holes, too (just have to get them out later!).

Push stems down into the holes and drill more holes to create a fuller look to your flower box filler

Push stems down into the holes and drill more holes to create a fuller look to your flower box filler

These large urns filled with fake flowers are great to use

These large urns filled with fake flowers are great to use

Sourcing your flowers and materials doesn’t have to be expensive. Find suitable artificial or synthetic flowers at just about any store, and live plants and flowers at your local grower, farm and garden store or big box store.

Synthetic flowers today are both vinyl and silk, with the vinyl probably a bit tougher in terms of outdoor use. I think some silk flowers if well made will last if you don’t leave them out year round.

You can order matching stems and bouquets for flower boxes online if you can’t find enough that match; craft stores like Hobby Lobby have a huge selection.

Shop dollar stores, too, and be looking for fake flowers especially out of season — I found some fabulous big rose-like flowers in bright spring colors right before Christmas one year at a local discount retailer for just pennies. Big bouquets fill spaces very well, so look for the large bundles as they are more cost effective.

You can always cut them apart with nippers and separate smaller stems out if you need to fit a smaller amount through the flower box holes. Enlarge your holes if you need to, or drill a few more as long as you don’t compromise your top board.

Just matching pots and flowers, here a mix of live and fake, makes a difference. Photo by Holly.

Just matching pots and flowers, here a mix of live and fake, makes a difference. Photo by Holly.

Keep an eye out for plants that have some height, as they tend to work best. I also look for items in pairs, so that the consistent look of the same size plant is on both sides of the jump.

As with cross-country, don’t forget the back, we don’t put a lot of stuff under a show jump, but they do usually bring the flowers on the sides around to the back of the standards.

Here's how they do jumps for the big competitions; below, see plain. Photo by Holly

Here’s how they do jumps for the big competitions; below, see plain. Photo by Holly

To safely place artificial flowers in pots that will withstand the elements and wear and tear on a show jumping course for a day or two, plan to put something in the pot’s bottom that will be heavy and keep it stabilized.

Because I don’t want a horse to step in a pot, I avoid putting them under or near the jumpable portion, but on the sides near the standards.

If you look at the photos, all the floral greenery is really well off to the side and not interfering with the standard or the elements of the jump unlike cross-country jumps where decor is right under the fence, front and back. I think this is really the way to make a course look beautiful and clean.

Early season course with clean look. What would you add to dress this up?

Early season course with clean look. What would you add to dress this up?

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