How to Design an Equitation Course

Updated December 9, 2022
A chestnut equitation horse jumping at a show

Now that we’ve covered guidelines for designing a hunter course, we’re going to take those basic jump elements, adjust them, and add on components to build equitation courses that you can practice at your barn. Equitation courses can be more challenging than hunter courses with trickier elements that are similar to jumper courses.

Many smaller horse shows will set up the jumps for a basic hunter course for those classes and then slightly modify it and change the course pattern for equitation classes.

Jump Combinations and Elements of an Equitation Course

Equitation horse and rider jumping at a show.

Most horse shows will include at least two of the following elements in an equitation course:

  • Bending line - two fences set so that the path between them has a bend in it. One can either “step out” and ride an outside track to add a stride, or they can “stay in” and ride an inside track for a more direct path. The inside track often has the rider jumping one or both of the fences at an angle.
  • Narrow jump - a jump that is shorter in width between standards. The normal width of a jump is 10 to 12 feet, while a narrow or “skinny” jump is 6 to 8 feet wide.
  • Roll back turn - involves jumping one fence and making a tighter than normal turn to jump another fence. Depending on how the fences are set up, a rider can choose to take a more conservative route and go around other jumps and obstacles. Experienced riders can show off their skills by making an inside, shorter turn while keeping the approach natural and not rushed.
  • End fence - positioned on the short side of a ring. Some course designers may make the end fence a narrow jump, which can be extra tricky.
  • Long approach to a single - rider will have a great distance to approach a single fence. Many times, this will be out of a line, where the course designer has you coming from the opposite end of the arena. Keeping the same pace and rhythm is key here. If it is the final fence, the rider needs to make sure the horse knows he isn’t yet done.
  • Combination - set of fences with two strides or less in between. A typical 3’ jump two-stride combination will be set at 36 feet in distance between the jumps. It is normally marked by letters on a course (for example, 3a and 3b). At the highest level of equitation, you will sometimes find a “bounce,” which has no strides in between the jumps.

Example Equitation Jump Courses

These practice equitation courses will help you establish your basics, tune your skills, and also challenge yourself and your horse.

equitation jump course example 1

Similar to hunter courses, riders still begin with a courtesy circle before their first jump and complete a closing circle before exiting the ring. There may be a “dotted line” on the course paper usually by flowers or boxes on the ground to indicate where it is. The “dotted line” is a time saver and means that your opening circle cannot go over that line or else you will be disqualified.

equitation jump course example 2

The number of strides in between jumps is important in the equitation ring as the rider is expected to hit that number. The exception, as mentioned earlier, is a bending line where riders can choose an inside or outside track.

equitation jump course example 3

We hope that by using these equitation jump guidelines, you’ll be able to build courses that you can practice to get your skills more solid at home and then show them off at the show!

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.

Originally published February 28, 2018