Knowledge of the horse world is not necessary to enjoy being a spectator at our shows but some basic terminology can be helpful. Check out this glossary to find out what some of the most basic terms mean.


Divisions which are restricted to non-professional adult riders who ride horses owned by themselves or members of their immediate family.

A year-long horsemanship competition for junior riders. Riders must qualify for the finals by winning a specified number of ASPCA Maclay classes throughout the year.




When a horse completes the prescribed jumper course within the time allowed without incurring jumping faults. When more than one horse has a “clean round,” a jump-off is held to determine the winner.

Two or three jumps set up so they must be taken in quick succession, separated by only one or two strides. A combination is considered to be a single obstacle. If a horse stops or runs-out at any element of the combination (elements are lettered A, B, C), the entire obstacle must be re-jumped.

In each class over fences, competitors must negotiate the jumps in a prescribed order. Courses for each class are posted in advance near the In-Gates so that riders and trainers may memorize them. It is the role of the course designer to establish the degree of difficulty in the course. A mark of a good course designer is that he or she will gradually increase the course difficulty as the week proceeds so that both horse and rider learn as they jump in classes at the show. The grand prix is the highest level of show jumping competition so the fences are larger and the course is longer and more challenging. Grand prix courses are planned by accredited course designers. No two courses are ever exactly the same. There are usually 12 to 18 fences on the grand prix course. Spectators who hear a course described as a “perfect course” (P.C.) have seen an event in which the number of riders who qualify for the jump-off is the same as the number of ribbons offered in that class.



Equitation classes are classes in which the rider, not the horse, is judged. The rider must demonstrate good seat and hands, and sufficient management of the horse to perform the required tests, either over fences or on the flat, in a smooth, controlled, and accurate manner. Riders are classified according to their age and previous winnings in equitation classes. Many of today’s top riders, including Leslie Howard and Katie Prudent were national equitation champions while juniors. Look for tomorrow’s stars in today’s equitation classes. Equitation classes are graded, with entrants restricted by previous winnings. The grading sequence from easiest to most difficult is: Lead line, Short Stirrup, Maiden, Novice, Limit, Intermediate, and Open. Among the most advanced Open equitation events are the USEF Medals, the ASPCA Maclay, Washington International Horse Show Classic, and the Calvin Klein Equitation Championship.


Penalty assessed in jumper classes for mistakes such as knockdowns, refusals, and exceeding the time allowed. In Table II classes, (“Timed 1st jump-off”) touches don’t count; knockdowns and refusals are penalized. There is also a time limit or “Time Allowed” to complete the course. “Time-faults” are assigned for each second over the time allowed. All with clean rounds return for a jump-off, or in a “power and speed” format class, proceed to the “speed” portion of the course. In Table III classes (“speed classes”) touches are not scored, only knockdowns and refusals, as contestants are timed in the first round. Except in the unlikely event of a tie, there is no jump-off. In the Table II(c) “Power and Speed” classes, all exhibitors who have gone clean immediately proceed through a set of timers to the “speed” portion of the course. In all jumper classes, falls and going “off course” (jumping the jumps out of order) result in elimination.

Faults are scored as follows: 

Knockdowns…………………………………………………………………………………………….4 faults

1st Refusal or run-out………………………………………………………………………………..4 faults

2nd Refusal or run-out………………………………………………………………………………Elimination

Fall of horse or rider………………………………………………………………………………….Elimination

Failure to cross starting line within 45 seconds after clock is started…………………Elimination

Exceeding the time allowed………………………………………………………………………..1 fault for every second

Federation Equestre Internationale. The international sanctioning body of equestrian sports.

An annual competition governed by the FEI in which the top riders in the world meet in a different location each year to determine the world cup champion.


The different paces at which the horse travels are the walk, trot, canter, gallop, and varying speeds of each.

An inexperienced or young horse. A Green Hunter is in its first or second year of showing over obstacles 3′ 6″ or higher.

Some of the jumpers in the grand prix ring have their manes and tails braided to enhance their appearance. A tail that is braided and then turned up so the hairs do not hang loose is called a “mud tail” and is frequently used in damp weather conditions.


Although in the past most show jumpers were thought to be thoroughbreds, today there are a variety of breeds and imports that make it to the grand prix ring. American breeds include Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses and Appaloosas, etc., while import breeds from Ireland, France, Holland and Germany have soared in number and popularity. The grand prix horse is the most talented jumper in the show world and also the most expensive with several sales topping the $1,000,000 mark. A horse could make it to the grand prix ring at the relatively early age of six or seven years, and continue to compete into its early 20’s. Horses in the jumper division compete in sections according to the age of the rider (Junior, Amateur Owner, or Adult Amateur Jumper) or according to the amount of prior experience and prize money winnings (Preliminary, Intermediate or Open Jumper).

Unlike jumpers, hunters are judged on the style in which they negotiate obstacles as well as on their ability to do so. They should display jumping ability, manners, style, an even pace, and quality. They are generally Thoroughbreds or part Thoroughbreds and originally were meant to represent the type of horse that provides a safe and pleasant ride on a fox hunt. Show hunters jump naturally-styled fences simulating obstacles which might be encountered in the hunting field. Both “working” and “conformation” hunters are judged on their ability and performance. However, the conformation hunter is also judged on its physical attributes and beauty. Green hunters are inexperienced horses in their first or second year of showing. Pony hunters are 14.2 hands or smaller in size, and are judged by the same criteria as other hunters. Hunter classes are divided according to several criteria–Age and Experience (Junior, Children’s and Amateur Hunters); Size of Pony (Small, Medium, and Large Pony Hunter) or Experience of the Horse (First-Year, Second-Year, Regular, Green Hunter).


A two-jump combination, with elements separated by one or two strides.


Jumpers are judged solely on their ability to jump obstacles. They need not be any special breed or size, nor do they need to be beautiful, well-mannered or stylish. Style doesn’t count; jumper classes are purely athletic tests of speed and strength. Jumper courses are very demanding, calling for technical accuracy on the part of the rider and absolute obedience on the part of the horse. They are required to complete a course of approximately 16 obstacles ranging in height from 3’6″ to 5′ or more with spreads of up to 6 feet, depending on the division in which they compete. Open jumpers are classified according to the amount of prize money they have won; they may be ridden by amateurs and juniors, as well as professionals. Amateur-owner jumpers must be ridden by amateur riders only. Junior jumpers must be ridden by riders under 18 years of age. The rules for particular classes vary according to the tables under which they are conducted (see table of faults under “Faults”). After each performance the announcer reads out the number of jumping and time faults earned.

The general types of jumps in competition are a straight or vertical fence and a spread (wide) fence or oxer. The degree of difficulty of a jump is determined by its height, width, construction, and its placement in relation to other jumps on the course. In competition a variety of fences can be used including walls, panels, gates, oxers, water jumps, combinations, banks, and ditches. An oxer is a single fence composed of two or three elements to produce a spread. A “square” oxer is one in which the front and back rails are of equal height, making it more difficult to jump. Types of oxers include parallel, ascending, descending and Swedish oxers. A “triple bar” is composed of three fences which a horse must clear in one leap. This tests the horse’s ability to jump both height and width. A water jump is another type of spread fence that can stretch 12 to 14 feet. The lathe or tape marker on the landing side designates the end of the fence and if the horse touches the marker upon landing it is counted as a penalty. Combinations are a series of jumps, usually two or three in a row, set to challenge the horse’s ability to jump successively after one or two strides. Another name for a combination is an in-and-out. A ditch is a shallow depression dug into the show ring. The ditches at the Hampton Classic are bordered with landscaping ties and lined with wood chips. A ditch is designed to provide a visual distraction to test the horse’s bravery. A bank is an earthen mound which the horse must jump up onto or scramble over. The Hampton Classic bank consists of a thirty inch high, twenty-two foot “table” plus a sixteen foot ramp which rises to a total height of five feet. It was designed by the late USET show jumping coach Bertelan De Nemethy. Obstacles are brightly colored both for aesthetics and to add difficulty to the course. Some course designers believe the colors and patterns painted on the obstacles affect the way the horses take the jump. The type of construction of a particular fence also determines its difficulty. A fence that is composed of just a few rails, for example, appears more airy and is more difficult for a horse to negotiate than a solid looking fence.

The jumping order or starting order is determined in a drawing before the event so that each competitor has an equal chance of attaining a favorable starting position. Riders near the end of the starting order have the advantage of seeing how the first riders complete the course.

All horses with “clean” first rounds jump a shortened course against the clock to determine the winner.

A rider under 18 years of age.






Advanced divisions in which competitors are not restricted by previous winnings.




Breeches and boots, a ratcatcher, hunt coat, and hunt cap are all worn by the riders. Breeches are the tight fitting pants worn under leather boots. A ratcatcher is another name for the riding shirt worn under the hunt coat or jacket. It is common to see grand prix riders attired in a scarlet coat. A blue collar signifies that the rider has competed for the USET. Other hunt coat colors are blue, dark green or black. The hunt cap is a type of hard helmet worn by the rider. A rider may also elect to wear spurs or carry a crop, or stick, to encourage the horse over the fences.

or “trip”; terms used to describe a rider’s turn in each class.


The warm-up session prior to each rider’s round in which they jump practice fences in the schooling area.

The Show Jumping Hall of Fame conducts the Show Jumping Hall of Fame Jumper Classic Series, held under Grand Prix rules and specifications. The Series holds classes at approximately 100 horse shows across the country, including the Carolex Show Jumping Derby at the Hampton Classic. The Show Jumping Hall of Fame is located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, KY.

Horse bred especially for competition in the disciplines of show jumping, eventing, or dressage based on the performance records in the lineage of sire and dam. This method of producing equine athletes has been practiced for years in Europe, and is beginning to take hold in the U.S., where many of our horses have traditionally come from the racetrack. Scores of horses of European sporthorse breeding, including Dutch Warmblood (“VIP”), Hanoverian (“The Natural”), and Selle Francais (“Galoubet”), have been imported for competition and breeding purposes.

The various types of supports which hold up the rails of a jump.

The amount of ground covered by a horse in one “step” at the canter. The average horse’s stride is 12 feet. Distances between fences are set accordingly by the course designer.


The equipment worn by the horse depends on the needs of the animal. The saddle and bridle are the staples. Other equipment may be added such as a martingale, which attaches to the saddle and bridle to keep the horse’s head from raising too high. Horses may also wear boots or bandages on their legs for support or protection.


The sanctioning body which governs equestrian sport competition in the United States.

The USHJA is committed to advancing and representing the hunter and jumper disciplines by fostering an educated community of equestrians that promotes the welfare of the horse and fairness in competition.

A year-long horsemanship competition for junior riders which culminates at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, PA each October. Riders must qualify for the finals by winning a specified number of USEF Medal classes throughout the year.

The USET Foundation supports the competition, training, coaching, travel and educational needs of America’s elite and developing International High Performance horses and athletes in partnership with the US Equestrian Federation.


Gymnastics on a moving horse.

A fence with no spread to it, which forces a horse to make a steep arc in his effort to jump.

A rider makes the decision not to continue on the course and to leave the ring usually with a nod of the head or tip of the hat to the judge. A rider may decide to withdraw because of a problem with the horse or trouble negotiating the course, or because the rider knows he or she has too many faults to place in the ribbons and thus would rather spare his horse or save him for another class.


Riders and horses may not practice on a course prior to actual competition, but they are permitted to walk out the route, pacing off the number of strides between jumps and examining the obstacles closely. It is a course designer’s job to set up problems that will challenge the ability of exhibitors. Riders and trainers must determine what and where these are in a course and develop strategies accordingly.

Type of sport horse resulting from crossing heavier draft-horse breeds with lighter Thoroughbred-types. European warmblood breeds have been imported extensively into the U.S. over the past decade. (See “SPORT HORSE”)