Wednesday, July 10, 2019

pure vs eventing show jumping

I learned to jump at a small private barn as a young rider and teen, and had chances to play around with small fences while volunteering at a trail barn in the summers. But it wasn't really until college that I started to learn the finer points of coursework at a hunter/jumper farm in Rochester.

It was here that I learned how to ride a proper hunter course, including counting strides and simple lead changes. Plus occasionally we spiced it up with more advanced lines like roll backs, loops and commas. Lesson horses at this farm generally topped out at 2'6 as a rule, tho the more advanced horses who didn't work as much were allowed the occasional 2'9 fence.

As you might imagine, hunter courses on schoolies could get boring fast for brave fearless infallible college students (ahem, cough cough). So my trainer kept things interesting by letting her more advanced students ride all the greenies that came through the lesson program.

This way, the greenies got the mileage they needed to be ready for a broader range of rider skill levels. And the riders were able to have fun and experience more variety, all with the jumps staying within the mandated size range.

show jumping might actually be this horse's best phase at present, much to my amazement lol
So. Long story short, throughout this period of my riding life, I learned a LOT about riding 2'6 hunter courses haha. And a lot about introducing green horses to that style of work. It was a useful education that was loads of fun while staying relatively safe.

This education has served me reasonably well in getting started with eventing too. Mostly I already knew how to string a course of fences together. Thanks to riding hunters for so long, I already had a grasp on the importance of prompt lead changes (simple or otherwise), staying balanced through the ends of the ring, and using my eye to line up my turns and approaches to related distances.

And about those related distances, in hunter land the most common course type is some mirrored variation of "inside, outside, inside, outside / side, diagonal, side, diagonal" plus maybe a few singles. So as a rider of these courses, I'd basically go into the ring thinking something along the lines of, "Ok the outside lines are 7 strides and the diagonals are 5. Keep a steady rhythm and get the same strides all around and you'll be golden!"

Prelim Eventing Show Jumping

Show jumping courses tend to be quite a bit different in construction. The fences are often airier with less fill, compared to solid-looking hunter fences with all their boxes and flowers and panels etc. SJ fences also often lack ground lines.

The courses don't follow the same rubric as hunters either. There's no standard track pattern, but rather standard elements present in courses for each level. This might include an in-and-out related line (1 or 2 strides), a triple combination, bending lines, or roll backs. There are also different styles of fences that can show up too - liverpools, triple-bars (oxers with three rails instead of two), fences with panels instead of rails, etc.

Obviously another major difference between show jumping vs hunters is how it's judged: time and faults, and nothing more. In eventing, the score is based on an optimum time: come in at or below this time and you accrue no additional penalties. Come in over time and you earn penalty points for each second over time.

Personally, I haven't ridden many timed show jumping courses so the clock isn't something I have a ton of experience managing. At most events tho, and esp at the lower levels, it doesn't really seem to be an influential difference maker in final placings.***

2* Eventing Show Jumping

Basically it's up to the rider to manage how to ride cleanly at the appropriate speed for whatever level they're doing. Assuming we're comfortable with that speed, and have schooled all the expected types of combinations and fence styles... Well, honestly, my approach to riding an eventing SJ round isn't all that different from my hunter days. 

In other words, I learn my course, learn the striding in the combinations. Focus on getting prompt lead changes in my corners, re-balancing as needed in the ends of the ring, and lining up my turns and approaches to each combination. Sure, the patterns are different, but that's kinda it, right? It's still just all about the good basics of rhythm, track and balance.

That impression hasn't really changed for me at all through these past few years of watching eventing show jumping. 

Even at the highest levels of eventing, the courses sorta seem like this. Almost like a mix-n-match assortment of the various combinations and fence types expected for the level, with some longer runs and turns and approaches in between each combo to set up for everything. 

Intermediate Eventing Show Jumping

Those gaps between combos might not always happen in the "ends of the ring" like they would in a hunter round, but the effect is sorta the same. The course flows in pieces, with a combination of related distances and longer "prep" zones. Does that make sense?

Pure show jumping, on the other hand, is far less familiar to me. Sure, I've done some lower level local jumper shows over the years - but honestly never really treated them differently than my eventing show jumping courses. 

I've seen the Grand Prix show jumping on video, but never actually in person before watching the invitational Grand Prix held at Kentucky this year. And.... wow, it struck me as really different. Maybe somehow the camera movements or cuts make it harder to follow on video, but in person what really stood out to me was.... there really were NOT any of those "gaps" between combinations. 

5* Advanced Eventing Show Jumping

Every single portion of the track seemed like an explicitly measured distance. Like, in the Karl Cook video below there is literally no distance between fences greater than 11 strides (at least, not on the lines he took). That might not exactly be a "related distance" -- it's reasonably easy to get more variation in that amount of space -- but it's definitely NOT a lot of breathing room.

My impression watching those rounds was that every rider knew exactly how many strides they planned to do between each and every fence on course.

Compare that to the MDHT or Morven videos where there are distinct gaps of longer runs between each of the combinations. Even in Oliver Townend's 5* Kentucky round there are some runs substantially longer than that. 

To me, this is fascinating. Like, we always hear about how it's so important to hold your balance and quality of canter, shape and form etc, consistently throughout an entire show jumping round in eventing. But the reality is that there is generally time and space built into the courses to recover if you get strung out or lose it a bit.

3* Grand Prix Ranking Class - Pure Show Jumping

Whereas at least in this one example of Grand Prix show jumping, any lapses in balance, pace or canter almost always caught up to the rider with a rail somewhere along the track. The only exceptions were those most freakish jumpers who could jump from seemingly anywhere haha. In that way, it seemed like a much more substantial test haha (not even considering how much bigger the fences are lol!).

Obviously we already know that eventing isn't really about show jumping, in the same way it isn't about dressage either. Advanced level eventing dressage tests are roughly equivalent to 3rd level pure dressage, after all. And this little comparison tells me, unsurprisingly, that it's the same situation in SJ too. The highest eventing show jumping tests are more or less equivalent to a mid-range pure show jumping course.

This isn't unexpected tho, right? Eventing is an entirely different kind of test for horse and rider.

It's interesting tho. I feel like I still have so much to learn about jumping haha, let alone courses above 3'. But upon watching the Kentucky Invitational class above, part of me suddenly had a very deep urge to try a lesson or clinic with a proper show jumper one of these days. I'm curious how their perspective might be different from the eventers I've ridden with.

We'll see, tho. What do you think? Do you see differences between the two types of disciplines in the videos above? Have you ridden in multiple jumping disciplines -- maybe you agree with some of my comparisons between them? Or disagree and think I've kinda oversimplified things? Do you generally think that good jumping is good jumping, no matter what the discipline? Or maybe there are important stylistic nuances distinguishing each sport that I'm missing?


***Yes I totally scraped all the 2018 FEI eventing results from Event Entries live scoring and ran some calculations. Roughly 18% of FEI eventing competitors had time faults in show jumping in 2018, tho only 5% did so without also accruing jumping faults. These riders tended to be either in the top half of their class (ie, they had breathing room) or had already had trouble enough elsewhere that they weren't racing the clock. So the clock alone doesn't appear to be the difference maker in final outcomes. Happy to dig further should you be curious tho haha!***


  1. Pure showjumping definitely seems to have more of an emphasis on speed and accuracy than eventing showjumping, which I agree is much more forgiving! The time is generally quite influential on those courses, especially in jump offs, vs. in eventing where if you're riding a good canter and making smart turns, you generally won't have trouble making time. Interesting thing to consider!

    1. yea for sure. obvi the speed is critical bc fastest round ultimately wins in pure SJ, right? but it's so interesting to me this relationship between track speed and distance -- which i think is where you're pointing with the "accuracy" aspect. it's one thing to be fast over a longer stretch of ground where you have more leeway in exactly which line you choose, and another to be operating within such carefully measured confines, where a bobble at the turn to fence 3 might finally catch up to you at the combination at 7....

  2. I have nothing to add except that I wish I had learned to jump a bit when I was a kid and was brave! I grew up watching showjumping on tv - (Ian Millar <3) but didn't really learn much lol... The timing seems super important - lots of close rounds, so making use of the course and taking some risks on corners/approaches would have been important.

    1. oh man, i hear ya on wishing we were able to do more at a younger age. i look at some of these kids in the junior divisions doing prelim and what have you, and it just blows my mind. obvi i loved my childhood with horses and was lucky to get as much horse time as i did, but sometimes i wonder how different things could be haha... sigh. that's a whole 'nother story tho.

      more to the point - yea the time is obvi critical. and perhaps it's unfair to compare a jumper speed round to an optimum time eventing round. but i don't have any video of the optimum time rounds from this Grand Prix in KY, so idk if the course was more spread out or not. still, tho, it's interesting!

  3. I think sometimes in eventing SJ, the space between fences is a double-edged sword. After XC, both riders and horses have a tendency to want to get really flat in SJ and coast a bit because we typically pick upper levels horses that have a great way of going at a more open step soooo we let them coast a bit and lose their shape.

    This is especially a factor with the long format, as horses are tired and its so hard to maintain that collected, bouncy shape for 15 strides with no fences. It's also a game of how "together" do you force the horse to be between jumps when you only have so much gas in the tank.

    1. oooh that's an interesting point, and not one i considered directly when thinking about this. but now that you mention it, i'd love to talk to a course designer about how (or if!) they change their approach to building the SJ course depending on if it comes before or after XC.

      in my area, for instance, virtually every single (non FEI) recognized event runs complete divisions over a single day, vs splitting them across two days. this means that by and large, SJ almost always runs before XC. literally every event i've been to as a rider or volunteer has been this way -- the only exceptions are the long format events, themselves relatively rare (9 of 25 FEI events in my 2018 data set had long format divisions, and long format HTs seem to be offered only once or twice per year for each area).

      even many FEI events run SJ prior to XC, even tho they run across multiple days. i took a quick look back at the data and per number of starters, for all FEI events last year that had data on event entries, it's split almost exactly half and half for starters that finished on XC vs SJ.

      in the examples above, only Oliver's KY SJ round reflects an example of an event finishing with SJ, and it also is the example above with the longest gaps between combos. could be a coincidence or selection bias, but is interesting. the other examples, Morven and MDHT, those SJ rounds immediately preceded the riders going on to XC.

      so i guess, maybe it's a geography thing, but in my area and with what i've seen, i wouldn't necessarily be approaching my training with the idea of preparing for a post-XC horse in my classes.

    2. Well, I guess I was referring specifically to the long format, which the FEI requires to go Dr, XC, SJ (quoted the rule below).

      I think it makes a lot of sense in the long format, specifically, to end long stretches in SJ with an airy vertical, which from a purely anecdotal point of view, seems to happen a lot.

      502.1.2 Long Format Competition (CCIs-L)
      A Long Format Competition may take place over three or more days. The Dressage Test will be spread over one or more consecutive days, depending on the number of competitors, directly followed on the next day by the Cross Country Test that will be directly followed on the next day by the Jumping Test.
      In the Long Format Competitions the Cross Country course will be of such a length that the Horse is required to be supremely fit and stamina will be required for success.
      The Cross Country Test will always take place before the Jumping Test.

    3. yea for sure - it definitely makes a difference!! i'm thinking Tracy basically nailed it when saying eventing SJ design is a lot like an equitation course ridden to jumper rules.

  4. I agree with a lot of what you've mentioned here! While I've only ever shown hunters (and the occasional equitation class), I've watched a lot of jumpers in person and eventing show jumping rounds through blogs I follow. To me, the courses that seem most similar are equitation (especially the higher levels, like Ariat Medals or Big Eq) to eventing show jumping... but there are still definitely differences in the courses.

    At the end of the day tho, the basic principles you've outlined here are the same across ALL disciplines. You want to know and ride your track, keep a quality and balanced canter and set your horse up to jump his best. The best show jumping rounds I've seen (especially first rounds in Grand Prixs, not really the jump-offs) actually look kind of like hunter rounds because they're smooth and calculated.

    1. ha ok so i don't know too too much about the nuances between hunter / equitation / medals / handy classes etc bc at the low local circuits i did, there honestly wasn't much of a difference. maybe just like an added rollback in the medal or something lol. but my non-insider impression was that equitation rounds were kinda getting closer to the direction of jumper rounds in terms of course design, tho obvi not in judging.

      so yea, i think what you're saying above is spot on. based on what i've seen in eventing SJ, i think so long as your pace is appropriate for the level, it seems like the best bet is to almost try to ride the course like an equitation class vs worrying too deeply about the clock. the courses definitely seem to lend themselves well to that type of ride.

  5. Funny timing (again), I was just talking to my husband about eventing dressage and pure dressage last night when he asked about the kind of dressage Cosmo would be doing at horse camp (cute question, hubby) (answer: oh so basic dressage, but oh so fancy of course). I have thought about the differences between SJ as well (not as clearly or in as much detail as you). After watching a lot of local grand prixs, the eventing SJ courses don't look "so hard." Of course I know that that is a ridiculous thought, SJ after 2 days of other exhausting efforts is most certainly difficult, thank goodness it's not as technical as a grand prix. You're battling a whole other beast

    I'm glad you got video fo Karl, he's one of my fav riders to watch. He always has really nice rounds. Beezie is another; I saw her win a GP that looked like an Eq round with her. Any chance to watch any type of upper level rider compete is always inspiring. Always something to take away.

    1. i really enjoyed watching Karl ride - and was pleased to have snagged the video and then see he won the class. Beezie wasn't in the class this year, tho i would have loved to see that too. last year we didn't watch the grand prix itself but did watch the warm up ring and it was FASCINATING haha. we definitely liked seeing the actual grand prix this year tho, plus the lead up rides the night before (where Karl won), so i'm definitely hoping to see more in the future too. like you say, there's always interesting things to learn!

  6. I second what Tracy said about eventing SJ being closer to equitation classes in regard to course design/getting around the course.

    However, it would be better the compare the first round of a SJ class to an event course rather then comparing a speed class. The speed class is going to be a smaller/tigher track (for the most part) with riders taking the tighter corners and leaving out strides where they can to get the quickest time.

    And now I've lost my train of though....LOL

    1. ha yea i totally agree that it's not entirely fair to compare an optimum time course to a speed round course, unfortunately that's just all i have in my youtube archives at this particular moment. still tho, as an eventer it's almost guaranteed that i wouldn't ever see anything like that speed round course in competition. but.... even so, i'm curious to know if i could even ride something like that (at my own heights obvi) or if i would completely crash and burn lol

  7. I took a clinic with a show jumping coach a few years ago and thought it was super useful! She focused so much on having us use the most accurate/time saving lines and there was a lot for me to learn about when and where to add or leave out strides to be most efficient. I don't find my eventing coach to quite have that focus on being precise, but like you say, it matters less in eventing show jumping. For me it helped a lot because my fat Bridget pony actually comes perilously close to not making time if I make gentle turns and canter around like the bigger horses.

    1. honestly that does sound super helpful. i used to take lessons (back in the very earliest days of this blog) at an h/j farm with a coach who had done a fair amount in the jumper ring. and all her exercises were super interesting constructions of ground poles, cavaletti, and boxes, with extremely precise requirements for riding them. i really liked working on that stuff, tho there ended up being other sorta unrelated issues that led to me not continuing those lessons. still tho, i kinda want to try doing more of that with charlie! it can only help, right?

  8. And you're not even getting into the different type of jumper classes. Timed first round, power and speed, optimum time. Knowing how to ride each different type of jumper class is a whole nother can of worms!

    1. ha for real, there's definitely a lot i don't know about pure show jumping. and even when i've done all those various classes at our local shows, i still kinda just ride them like my eventing rounds lol, bc i'm basically just doing it for the mileage anyway!

  9. Pure show jumping courses just pure dressage tests are just a lot more technical, they ask more from the horse in rider in terms of rideability and coming up with a plan. Irene always taught me it wasn't about speed in show jumping but about your track, and riding the best track for your horse and you can make up time by being smart in your track than by going balls to the wall in the speed department.

    1. ha i was hoping you'd chime in! and what you're saying makes total sense. the thing that shocked me, i think, was that people say that same thing about eventing show jumping too... so if i didn't know any better i might think my experience in the eventing SJ ring would translate directly to the same levels as pure jumpers. now i'm not so sure tho. i know how to do all the individual elements and string them together over a longer track -- but esp at the higher levels it doesn't look like you get that luxury of breathing/recovery room between elements, and that the track itself is more demanding haha

  10. I think you're pretty accurate in your thoughts here. For eventing, you're expected to be able to perform three separate disciplines all at one show, so it makes sense that each phase may be more forgiving than their "pure" counterparts. (Or at least dressage and sj... obviously cross country IS it's own pure sport.)
    I have very little experience with eventing. Most of what I think I know, I've learned from reading blogs. But it's always seemed so funny to me that eventers think stadium is the hardest/worst phase. To me, it seems like it should be the easiest. The courses seem a bit softer than what I remember from my jumper days. And I can't begin to figure out how you all learn dressage tests. Forget the fact that I'd need a change of pants after the first jump on cross country...

  11. I don't have much personal eventing experience, but the courses have always looked much less technical and forgiving to me. I'm not trying to say that eventing is an easier sport- of course it's not- just that the sj portion compared to jumpers seems less technical to someone who only does show jumping. Part of what also makes it seem more forgiving is that in eventing your goal is to go clear, whereas in jumpers time is crucial. Even if you have a rail and don't make it to the jump off, your time will determine your placing among everyone else with one fault so your time is still important. In the upper levels the track and accuracy that they ride at can mean the difference in the milliseconds that separate ribbons. That's a lot more pressure than just trying to go clear!


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