How To: Decorating Jumps

We all love to see beautifully painted and decorated jumps on both cross-country and stadium courses. They make an event into an “event,” and make it fun for all of us to get our photos back from the professional photographer over that cool looking oxer. Beautiful décor is almost always carefully planned and the result of a lot of hard work by professionals (and volunteers) as well as course designers and organizers.

There are a few principles of design I’ve carefully noted in my years of helping mess up decorate cross-country and show jumping courses; most I’ve learned from the experts but a few I figured out on my own after doing it wrong the first time.

I think when you start with groundlines, you can then keep going with whatever material you’ve chosen there to finish a single fence on the sides and back, or continue with the material on to other jumps in the complex or set. This could be as simple as flowers in the same color family, or using straw for all the jumps, etc.

Groundlines can be made of many different things and often creative things. Because they are close to the hooves of a horse, most of the time groundlines or take-off points are made of natural and soft materials so that in case a horse misjudges and slides into the jump or steps on the groundline they aren’t seriously injured.

Natural things like mulch, pine straw, yellow straw, brush swags, etc. are often used. Synthetic and real flowers are often “planted” in the groundlines made of mulch for colorful accents. Bright contrast helps horses see the height of a jump in the shade. Larger, round items like pumpkins and mums in the fall help to push out groundlines to make the horse take off earlier and make his arc over the jump rounder and helps to keep him from catching a knee on a lip of a square fence.

Mulch and straw are pretty labor intensive and sometimes organizers cannot use foreign material on the ground if the landowner doesn’t want it left behind when the jump is removed. Brush swags are often a good alternative in that case, if a groundline is needed — in the fall, whole cornstalks also work well but don’t last too long on the ground.

Here’s a few jumps with some interesting groundlines.

Just straw outlines this groundline but it makes quite an impression! Jersey Fresh. Photo by Holly.

Just straw outlines this groundline but it makes quite an impression! Jersey Fresh. Photo by Holly.


Simple flowers and grasses soften the outline of this jump. Fair Hill International. Photo by Holly.

Safe natural items at the base of a jump won't injure a horse that makes a mistake.

Safe natural items at the base of a jump won’t injure a horse that makes a mistake. Plantation Field, photo by Holly

More to come! Stay tuned for decorating sides and backs of cross country jumps and a what to do with a plain show jumping course to jazz it up!