Know Your Obstacles On A Cross-Country Course

We’ve seen them. We’ve jumped them. But have we really looked at them? Holly Covey takes a deep dive into the specifics of cross country obstacles.

Note to readers: this is a photo-intensive article, so unless you have good internet and can see the photos on your device it won’t make too much sense. All photos by Holly Covey.

Tables And Variations

Tables are thought of as being a square spread. There are many variations of tables, but most of the time when we refer to a table we are thinking of something that has a solid, flat top, sides, and fronts of various types. It is one of the most classic of all cross-country obstacles. Historically, there’s tables on most of the upper level events and a lot of lower level ones.

The great part of a table is it really encourages great jumping and makes cross-country fun. The bad part of a table is that as a solid obstacle it carries a certain risk to a horse and rider if they meet it wrong. Let’s take a look at what tables look like and their variations.

Above is a classic table obstacle. This table, the iconic Fair Hill table, we think may be over 30 years old. Note the space between the table and the ground on this side view. That is because the builder elevated the back of the obstacle (blocks covered by the brown mulch) while the decorator added the flower pots on the top of the deck toward the back edge – so that the jumping horse can see the back edge, and determine the width to jump it clear.

Here is a bit smaller table, with the front edge tapered and angled, and the front of the table is cut out on both sides with the double arches. This helps give the table a way for a horse that misses to slide into the space, rather than hit a solid front face. When such a table is decorated, we put some soft, hoof-friendly stuff  in front, and pull the strings off the straw for safety. When I decorate this type of jump I am quite careful to remove plastic trays or flower pots, anything that could be caught in a horseshoe or around a leg.



Picnic Table. Note the decorations on the deck (top) to define width, and the gingham table cloth pieces clearly show the slant to the facing portion of the table. The builder put the “bench” under the edge of the face to define the groundline for the horse. Again the back edge of the table is evident to the jumping horse because the table’s back portion is elevated. (Intermediate)





Step Table. (Training)

This has a flat deck with width, but the front “steps” graduate the face, so the horse can’t really get right under the deck to jump it. Note the rounded edges to all the parts the horse is jumping over. The flags on the back edge of the deck help to define the width for the horse.



This is a slanted front table, but the top edges are lined with brush. The designers and builders use the brush to increase height on what might be a smaller obstacle for the level. It is forgiving to the horse, as well. This table has a rather wide  and solid spread on the top, which you can’t see from this view, and is an Advanced obstacle as presented here.



This is a Barn with a deeply slanted face front and back, but with a flat top of some width. Novice as set here. Because it has a flat deck on the top, however narrow, it is probably considered a table, but the good slant to the front is forgiving should a horse get too close on take off. You can see the jump has been slightly raised in the back (the space between the ground and the right side is visible under the last arch on the right) to give the horse a view of the back edge. This photo doesn’t show the back edge from the angle it was taken on foot, but on a straight approach by a horse and rider it was obvious.


 Market Table.

Market or produce tables have trays  (or a slant as seen here) on the front face to provide a graduated upslope to the top of the jump. There is still plenty of height and width, but the very front is much lower than the back, so the horse can take off close and still probably clear it. (This famous last jump at Fair Hill on the International course was retired last year.) The slanted top tables are also referred to as ascending obstacles as they don’t have a flat top but a slanted top. Presented as an Advanced/Intermediate question here.



This is a smaller market “table”. While it has the slanted top, it is presented here for Beginner Novice, so the builder has defined the top with a nice round log and the tray has been filled with bright contrasting decoration to help the horse see the width.




This is a hybrid sort of table. It has rounded edges, but isn’t really a roundtop because the deck is level and not arched. Not only is is wide, but it also has a narrower face, and an open front, all of which ask a more difficult question of the horse, so it is presented here as a Preliminary obstacle. The decorator has tried to fill in the front face a little and defined the top spread with flowers but could have probably done a better job making the front look more substantial and tied the decorations in to the big round bale on the right side.



 Obstacles with height and width other than tables

While we think of tables as having those flat tops, there are plenty of variations of jumps with height and width that may slanted, rolled, or peaked tops – these mimic the arc of the jump. Because they do that, they allow the horse to get the legs out of the way, at least that’s the theory. A horse that is properly balanced, ridden correctly to the question, and has some ability will find these jumps to their liking on cross-country. Designers setting difficult complexes often incorporate the rolled top or rounded top jumps for the safety of the jumping horse who is thinking about what is coming up as he is in the air. Rolled tops are more work to build but are kinder to those making mistakes, as the horse can’t as easily catch a leg under a lip.

Rolled or Rounded Tops. These have height and width, but the tops are arched. The horse cannot see the back of the top, but because once you get past the apex of the arch, the rest of the obstacle is lower, so it follows the arc of a normal jumping horse. These are preliminary and Intermediate rolled top fences with open faces. The window in the front allows the decorations to bump out and center the horse’s take off. Notice how the colors of the paint have also created contrast between the top and bottom.

Round top jumps are one of the most common kind of cross-country jumps available today, and can be found from coast to coast.

Here is the use of a rolled top pedestal type jump at the beginning of a complex or technical question.













(Above) Here are two views of the same Preliminary jump. This is a slanted front box which can also be called a palisade, something that has a slanted front with a bit of width. Sometimes they are called ramps if they don’t have a deck on the top. Note the use of the darker logs that define the take off, and both edges of the top. From a distance you can clearly see the jump has some width to it, but not as much as the true tables pictured above.

Ramp. (Above) This jump can also be called a palisade in the FEI definitions. It is a preliminary obstacle, and has a slanted or ramped face. While the overall width is substantial, which is why it is a prelim jump, the entire face is slanted and there is no flat top, so it’s not a table. The groundline is marked with contrasting flowers so the horse can define the bottom take off. It is not so much the colors that you use but more the contrast – dark and light. The horse sees the gray ramp and green grass pretty much the same shade so it is important to get something dark and something bright at the groundline to make it stand out.

Here is a Beginner Novice bench. Benches have a back that is higher than the front. The seat portion of the bench is what gives the jump its width.

I’ve included a larger Intermediate bench for comparison.

I’ve always been taught that to avoid drawing the jumping horse into the face of a bench that the seat should be filled with something bright and colorful so the horse can see it the ground line is near the ground, and the obstacles height doesn’t start at the dark portion of the seat. Benches that are not painted or decorated can trick a horse into not reading the height correctly.

 Larger Intermediate bench with decor on the seat portion and clearly contrasting groundline.







Here is sort of a hybrid bench and roll top. This is a schooling field obstacle, so the designer wanted to be sure that it was jumpable and safe from both sides, that is why the back of the bench is in the roll. Again because it’s a schooling obstacle and probably not decorated, the front of the bench is very low so it becomes the ground line to the seat, making it less upright than a classic bench as shown above.



This is a cabin. Lots of cross-country jumps are often miniature houses, barns, cabins, sheds, etc. This beautiful log cabin replica has width and height, but the “roof” top is slanted while the front of the cabin is vertical. Notice the decorator has placed a bright (straw) groundline there at the base. Notice how that is still visible and provides contrast with the grass, even though it is in shade. You can see the edge of the roof overhangs a little bit – this construction could be considered a bit risky, as a horse that gets too close may get a knee caught under the edge. Many times these jumps will have the roof appear to be realistic but there is a design feature just at the lip to prevent that from happening – an angled board or rounded log placed on the jumping side at the edge. An Intermediate presentation here.

More house top jumps. Look at this beautiful Eric Bull cabin. We used a clear stain over the lovely cedar plank top. This jump was set in a treeline, which was shady, so the object was to make it bright and contrast with the shade. Notice the roof is flush with the front face on the bottom, no leading edges on the jumping side.

There was quite a drop on the other side! The back of the cedar topped cabin. Advanced presentation here.







A barn. It has nice contrast between the roof and the sides – light to dark. The decorator has made a natural looking ground line to soften the vertical front but added the pumpkins so the front didn’t completely disappear into the grass, and the slanted roof makes it a nice inviting jump. Novice as presented here.


More next post!