Construction Zone - Building a Jump

Text and Photos by Traci Durrell-Khalife

Whether a confirmed equine aficionado or a bystander in the equestrian world, everyone enjoys watching horses jump. It's both exhilarating and awe-inspiring to see their half-ton bodies soar gracefully through the air.

Jumping competitions fall into four broad categories: hunter, jumper, equitation, and cross country. Tack and appointments are different for each discipline, as are the types of jumps and the traits of a good mount. Hunters should be well-mannered with an even hunting pace and good jumping form. Fences on a hunter course should simulate those found in hunting country, such as rock walls, panel gates, rails, brush boxes, etc. These fences may be white, brown or dark green, but never striped. Ground lines are recommended.

wooden hunter jump

Jumpers, on the other hand, need only be fast and able to clear fences; manners and style aren't scored. Show jumping courses consist of brightly colored fences, often with stripes, lettering, logos, or other multi-colored designs. Jumps may have a theme, such as a holiday, a region or a country. They may consist of rails, planks, brick walls or other elements. Oxers (spreads) may be square or ascending. Ground lines aren't required. Jumps are often decorated with potted flowers and shrubs. Jumps should be flagged and numbered. The red directional flag is on the rider's right, white on the left.

Custom Painted Jump

Equitation is judged on the rider. Hunter and jumper fences can be used in these classes.

Endurance and courage are essential for cross country horses. Jumps are quite different from either hunter or jumper fences in that they are solid and can't be knocked down. They are constructed on an outdoor trail, which may include hills and woods.


The same basic techniques apply to making hunter or jumper fences. By varying the style and paint job, you can customize the jump to your liking. Arena jumps consist of two main parts: the wings or standards and the element to be jumped, such as rails or panel. These parts, of course, come in various styles. Here we'll show how to make a basic jump that's suitable for either hunter or jumper, depending on how you paint it. Once you're familiar with the techniques, you can try making more elaborate jumps.


Most hobby and craft stores carry wooden dowels and pieces suitable for making jumps. Avoid balsa, as it's too soft and light weight, making your jump prone to tipping over. Spruce is a good choice. Begin by cutting four 16-cm posts from square stock, four horizontal braces 4 cm, and four support feet with angled ends. An electric scroll saw is ideal, but any type of saw should suffice. Children should be supervised when using a saw. Then, sand any rough spots with medium grit sandpaper.



Use a small square object (such as a large Lego brick) to help keep the pieces squared as you glue them.  Use a ruler to keep your distances equal. Glue the horizontal supports between two posts, about 4 cm from the ends of the posts. Cut six vertical trim boards: two 13 cm long and four 11 cm long. Center a 13-cm piece both side to side and vertically over the two braces. Glue in place. Add an 11-cm piece to either side. Repeat on other wing.



For support feet to keep the wings balanced, cut four boards 6 cm long; cut ends at angles. Glue each one to the outer side bottom of each post. Use a level to make sure the posts are straight. Gluing the posts to a flat base board before adding the feet is optional.

Making realistic jump cups is a challenge. Real cups are metal, heavy plastic, or resin, positioned so the rails rest between the wings, not off pegs on the front of the wings. Real ones are adjustable, typically in 3" increments. Rio Rondo sells very realistic ready-made cups. If you'd like to make your own, however, here's one method for making non-adjustable ones. Printer's plate is an ideal weight metal for cups, although it may not be readily available. You can substitute aluminum pie tin, but it won't be as durable. Using tin snips, trim a shape as shown in Fig. 3. Cut six of these. Punch a tiny hole in each narrow tab by holding a small nail with needle nose pliers and hammering it until it just pierces the metal.

Attach the cups to the inner surface of the posts by nailing on. The height will depend upon the size of your model and its "jumping ability." Hold the rails in place next to your horse to determine what looks appropriate. When showing in 1st Year Green Hunter, for example, jumps are 3'6", while 2nd Year Green hunters jump 3'9". Adult Amateurs jump 2'9" to 3', while Regular Working Hunters jump a minimum of 4' in AA rated classes. In non-rated and local competitions, show management determines jump heights. For most models, jump cups can be placed at 3, 6 and 9 cm from the base. Use pliers to gently bend the cups into shape as shown in Fig. 3.

Depending on your painting scheme, it may be easiest to paint before completing the wing assembly. If staining, waiting until the end is fine. Remember to wear rubber gloves for staining.

Cut four dowels about 10-12" long; choose the length that looks appropriate for your horse. Real jump poles are usually 12-14'. Lay three poles in the cups. The fourth pole is the ground line. If you'd like to use the jump with a smaller horse, do not leave empty jump cups. They are a safety hazard on real jumps and, therefore, would be marked down by a model judge. Your poles can also be used for a back- through, walk-over or other obstacle in trail class.


Paint or stain as desired, depending whether you want a hunter or jumper fence. For jumper, add a flag and number. One method of making flags is to fold a white index card in half and cut a pennant shape about 3 cm long. Put a round toothpick in the fold and glue in place. Repeat. Paint one flag red. Using a nail, make a small hole in the center top of the inner post of each wing. Insert the red flag into the wing on the rider's right, white flag on the left.

The number can be as simple as a small piece of index card folded in half with a number on one side or a small pyramid made of card stock. The numbers themselves should be about ½" and can be handwritten, printed on the computer or self-adhesive vinyl numbers. The latter looks especially nice.

Horse, rider and Jump

Now you're ready to make your own hunter or jumper fence, so jump in and give it a try!


Small nails
Printer's plate or aluminum pie tin
3/8" or 5/16" wooden dowels
3/8" square wooden posts

½" x ¼" wood strips (for support feet)
1/8" x ¼" wood strips (for braces and trim)

Tools & Supplies:

Scroll saw
Wood glue or tacky glue
Needle nose pliers
Tin snips