Designing cross country courses is an expensive and skilled business. In fact, equestrian facilities interested in building a competition course for their site are best advised to enroll the help of a professional course designer. However, it is very possible for the everyday rider to build a selection of jumps that will allow them to practice using natural and natural-looking elements.
Below, you will find a variety of ideas and inspiration for building cross country jumps and courses.
The easiest jumps are those that require no building and make use of natural obstacles that may be found around the property. These include:
- Fallen logs
- Stone Walls
If you have access to them, telephone poles and railroad ties (sleepers in the UK) are excellent cross country fence materials. In addition to being used as basic jumps, in the same way as a fallen log would be used, they can also be used in the construction of bigger jump complexes, such as is shown in this photo of "The Moativator" at Fair Oak Estate in Sussex, England.
Other ways that you can build cross country fences is to use your show jumps, but use natural poles rather than painted ones, and add fillers such as:
- Hay Bales
- Stacks of sawn logs
- Old tires
The keys to safety in cross country jumping are solidity and security. Therefore, it's important, when adding mobile elements such as tires or sawn logs, to make the jump secure by anchoring them. That way, if your horse hits them they don't scatter and get under his feet as he lands. Tires can be partially buried and hung on a secure pole, such as is shown in this photo. Piling tires on their sides under a jump is dangerous, since a dropped hoof may catch and send horse and rider somersaulting over the jump. Sawn logs should be used perpendicular to the rider's approach, as seen in this photo and can be wired to anchor stakes to secure them.
Even the most basic hay bale jumps can be seasonally decorated with pumpkins in fall or perhaps watermelons in the summer. This adds interest and has the added benefit of accustoming your horse to the sorts of things he may see at an event. I can't guarantee that the fruit will still be edible when you're finished jumping though!
If you have carpentry skills, or have access to someone who does, the possibilities for your cross country jumps are endless! The photos in the links in the sidebar should provide you with lots of ideas for cross country jumps.
With some skill and a little inspiration, you can build the following jumps:
- Post and rails (upright)
- Post and rails (spread)
- Tiger trap
- Chicken coop
- Pheasant feeder
- Ski Slope
Many garden centers sell barrels and half barrels which can be used to make some quite impressive looking jumps as you can see below. When laying barrels on their sides, secure them with some sort of anti-roll device, such as a railroad tie.
Whatever jumps you decide to build, or have built for you, there are a few factors you need to consider when choosing a location for the jumps.
Assess the terrain on your property in order to determine which ground is level and which slopes uphill or downhill. Doing a careful assessment will help you determine which would be suitable locations for drop fences, banks, uphill and downhill jumps etc.
The footing on your property is important. Soft, deep going is harder on a horse as he gallops across country and may cause muscle strain. Conversely, rock hard ground can cause concussive injuries to horses repeatedly galloped and jumped over it. Therefore position your jumps, and the approaches to them, to take advantage of good springy, well drained ground. Avoid areas that are perpetually wet and boggy.
When planning jumps in wooded or partially wooded areas, bear in mind that a horse's eyes take a minute or two to adjust to the differing light levels and place your jumps accordingly.
If you have natural banks and streams to use in your at home cross country course, consider yourself lucky. However, make sure that they are safe for you and your horse.
Streams or ponds should have a firm bottom and a smooth sloping entry. If you want to add a jump in or out, you can use logs, railroad ties or telephone poles, strategically located. If your water has a bank to jump in, protect it from potentially hazardous cave-ins by either bolstering up the bank with railroad ties or telephone poles secured to uprights anchored in the ground, or by placing a log on the takeoff side.
I hope this has given you some inspiration to build your own cross country fences. And remember, if some of the jumps in the photos seem too big or intimidating, you can always build a scaled-down version that will be suitable for your skill level. Practicing over various types of obstacles at home will give both you and your horse confidence when you come across them at an event, even if they are slightly bigger versions.