Eventing Safety PSA: Don’t Jump Junk!

Resist this. Photo by Holly Covey.

I can’t help but cringe when I see some of the photos eventers post online of crazy DIY obstacles they’ve concocted and are jumping at home. It seems to me that if you are at all concerned about safety in eventing, you should be practicing what you preach at home.

The reasoning behind many of these stupid jumps is along the lines of, “Well, they need the schooling at home” or “It’s so low, it won’t hurt” or “He jumped it fine, what’s the problem?” Well, here’s the problem — it’s patently unsafe! Every time you ask your horse to lift himself with you attached over an obstacle, you have an obligation to both of you to do it safely.

I’ve learned my lesson. Years ago, I jumped a piece of junk that looked fun, and my horse misjudged it and cut his leg. I’ll never forgive myself. After I took care of him, I went out and collected the junk and put it in the burn pile. And based on some of the photos I’ve seen on social media, others ought to be doing the same.

Here’s my list of what to avoid jumping at home.

  • Pallets. For everything that is holy and reverent, please do not jump pallets. They are hoof catchers, trippers and impalement waiting to happen. Most pallets reside in the filthiest parts of warehouses, trucking yards and storage facilities and are loaded with bacteria. They are nailed together (not screwed) and the wood is often cheap softwood that easily splinters. Their structural integrity is very suspect due to constantly being mishandled or slammed around by forklifts with heavy items loaded on them. Even picking them up and moving them by hand requires gloves. Stay away from intact pallets. Please.
  • String, rope, cloth, plastic, blankets, carpets, netting, anything with loops or pile that can catch hooves. The law of averages says that even Sapphire or Mighty Nice will roll a pole once in a lifetime. That means if your horse happens to dip his toe the slightest bit, he could catch a carpeted or netted piece of something draped over a jump — and then you both are in real danger. Please don’t drape stuff over jumps. If you want color or interest, use brush, cornstalks, real or fake flowers, or paint, or drape stuff on the standards that aren’t jumped.
  • Insecure anything. Hell, yah, we’ve all braced the broken standard with the cement block, or propped up the other side of the rail on the broken box when you couldn’t find another cup … but the problem with doing this is you are breaking a major rule of jumping that I will outline below, the Rule of Consistency, and you jeopardize your horse’s confidence in so doing. Things that are not securely set for jumping tend to fall without warning, or will be braced and not fall when they need to. So if you can’t get it right, best not to get too carried away.

There are many dangerous things other than those outlined above, like plastic forms, poorly designed jumps and standards, broken poles that have ends like spears, pipes, baskets or boxes that are not sturdy or secure, cement blocks, the list goes on. It hurts enough just to land on a regular jump if you fall. I’ve seen a pony impaled in the abdomen by a broken pole used as a ground line, which flipped up when it was stepped on.

An inexpensive yet safer schooling jump: colorful, adjustable and versatile. Photo by Holly Covey.

That doesn’t mean you can’t safely use things as decoration on the sides or safely under a jump as a groundline, but it does mean that if you aren’t sure if something will hold up properly under a jumping horse who could possibly make a mistake, be cautious. And by “proper,” I do mean correctly placed, and of sufficient weight and strength, to be used as a jumping obstacle. 

Periodically you should inspect your jumps at home for anything loose, check for rotting wood, replace screws that are working loose, and repair broken or worn-out parts. You don’t have to have new freshly painted jumps every year but you should be sure that they are in good repair and sturdy for the intended use. Look over the tops of the coops and brush for anything sticking out that could poke legs or hooves, and check for holes or gaps that could catch a hoof should a horse make a mistake and slide into it.

Good bases on your standards are important. Photo by Holly Covey.

Anything with feet or braces on the bottom of it to help it stand on the ground should be checked and replaced if they are too sharp, have edges that haven’t been sanded off or trimmed, or are rotten. It almost goes without saying that there should not be nails in the bottoms of standards — bolts or screws are probably better, and anything else that could shatter into pieces or is too flimsy not to break when touched by a horse hoof shouldn’t be in the ring.

Teaching a horse to jump well isn’t about scaring the pee out of them with stuff you find at the end of driveways after perusing the “Free” section of Craigslist. As eventers I know we are proud that our horses are trained to jump anything we point them at, but there’s a line.

One of the most important things about teaching young event horses to jump is consistency — making the jumping sessions carefully logical, and creating questions that educate rather than scare.

Here’s the Rule of Consistency: When you have a jump course that has poles about the same size and weight, jumps about the same width and depth, and you build a course from these components that makes logical sense to a jumping horse, you provide them with a sense of security. They begin to trust the obstacle — they learn how to use themselves to clear things, they experiment with their legs and body to jump higher, or better, for you as a rider. Every schooling session isn’t a survival contest; instead, it’s a quietly competent way of teaching him to use himself correctly, the best way he can for his style and your riding. Safe jumps = safe jumping.

By setting safe, consistent courses with rails that are the same, you are creating a level playing field for your horse, and are able to mold his jumping form so that when something unusual comes along, he and you stay together over it. As your schooling progresses, using creativity to build interesting stuff to jump isn’t a bad thing as long as you are mindful of what will encourage him.

Safe jumps might mean good solid groundlines, decor on the sides, good wood on your poles and cavalletti, and always setting poles in cups. Safe jumps have sturdy fillers, smooth top surfaces, screws instead of nails, sanded or trimmed feet on the standards, no sharp edges, no billowing or flapping or unsecured strings or cloth, nothing that is likely to shatter or splinter on impact. You want a jump’s components to simply fall to the ground when crashed into, using gravity to let them drop. Things that aren’t heavy enough bounce up. Things that are flimsy tend to flip and catch legs and feet. You don’t want your horse to make a mistake and pay with a tangle.

We’ve all jumped stuff we shouldn’t have. We’ve all gotten a little carried away with junk just to make things interesting. There’s no need to panic and go out and throw all your jumps in the burn pile if they’re a little old. Just be careful what you jump at home, repair or replace things if they break, and keep it real. (And stay away from “Curb Alerts”….)