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Jump Into It

You go to a show and return home thinking, “I’d sure like to have a jump like that wishing well” or “I wish I?had standards like those cool lighthouses.”?But the thought doesn’t have to die there. Do-it-yourself books like Lisa Campbell’s “Jumps etc.” and Mary Gordon Watson’s “Making Your Own Jumps”?outline the basic plans and materials that will get you started building your own creations. Each book provides advice, diagrams and photos and lists the necessary skills and tools.

“Jumps, etc.”?is the more comprehensive of the two, and is aimed at arena use. It’s also very practical. “A large area means your possibilities are unlimited. Is your area smaller, like a dressage arena or less space? You may want to limit yourself to schooling fences or x-rails. Doing basic schooling? You can use standards and a lot of poles, which are very versatile,” says Campbell.

She suggests that jump builders start simple, and then add more elaborate gates, pickets and panels as their experience grows. The biggest mistakes people make, she says, are buying inexpensive lumber and lightweight or easily destructible materials—remember, wind and horses can inflict a lot of damage. Plus, those popular PVC poles incite lazy horses to knock them down.

Campbell’s instructions and diagrams are fairly clear and complete; she credits many of her book’s detailed drawings to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State College. Plans cover basic, deluxe, wing and slant wing schooling standards; oh-so-versatile poles; panels; pickets, gates, coops; must-have 8’ cavalletti; rolltops; flower and brush boxes; and railroad crossing planks. Campbell shows exactly how to make rainbows for panels and a “brick” wall. Feeling extra energetic? There are plans for building a mounting block, barn sign post, saddle stand/storage box, saddle rack and grooming box, too. Campbell even shows you how to create your own dressage arena.

Her construction plans use industry-standard lumber pieces. For durability, she recommends galvanized spiral decking nails and pressure-treated lumber to avoid warping in the wood. For building boxes and other solid objects, she urges the use of untreated plywood. Tools you’ll likely need include a claw hammer, circular saw, electric drill and bits, two wood clamps, carpenter’s triangle, 25-foot tape measure and…pencils. A sawhorse helps, too.

Want to create spectacularly colorful jumps??Campbell provides cosmetic advice as well. Beyond creating visually interesting jumps, she suggests doing barn “marketing” and adding logo jumps. They make excellent photo opportunities, coupled with advertising exposure.

But don’t plan on painting your jumps immediately. Campbell warns that treated wood may not hold paint initially. “Don’t bother painting wood until it is dried,” she advises. “Once treated wood feels dry and shows surface cracks, it is probably ready for paint.” For a quick covering on poles and standards, stain is a good choice; white, black, red and brown work well. continued

As a practical matter, Campbell recommends semi-gloss or satin paints for colorful jumps. She also notes that, aside from visual appeal, painting helps preserve your jumps. Yes, pressure-treated lumber resists rot, but paint is also a preservative. And both chemical treatment and paint help repel destructive insects.

Out in the Field

“Making Your Own Jumps,” a brief, 24-page booklet by British author Mary Gordon Watson, focuses primarily on cross-country pieces. She recommends building fences that can be jumped in both directions. Watson encourages the use of pre-existing natural features, modified for safety and practical reasons. “No sharp edges or points,” she says.

For cross-country jumps, the author prefers solid-looking timber and tree trunks. “A flimsy-looking jump with airy gaps between thin poles will not be respected by a horse,” she says. She lists required timber rail shapes as round, half-round, sawed and off-cut, then sleeper (squared). In addition, she recommends attention to the bigger picture: ensure that the approach line is straight to allow a clear view of the obstacle; no false groundlines. Loose log piles and cans must be fixed in place to avoid becoming tangled in the horse’s legs, and rails should be spaced so they don’t trap a horse’s foot or leg.

Gordon Watson also shows how to construct ditches—to be jumped on their own or combined with a timber fence, hedge or bank—as well as “hold your breath” banks and steps. Her advice? Build combinations that provide an “escape route.” Water jumps, with water level controlled, are also great fun, requiring a sound take-off and positioning so that at least one bank is sloping for an easy exit.

Building cross-country jumps requires a tractor with a front-end loader or bucket and post-hole borer. Chainsaw, tow chain, hacksaw, sledgehammer, crowbar, spanner, carpenter’s brace and axe are all necessary equipment.

With a little help from books like these, almost anyone can construct their own jumps. The plans are sufficiently detailed to address most of the issues involved, but they do require some common-sense experience with woodworking (and, for cross-country courses, trail building). Chances are that someone who works at your barn has the necessary skills. These two books will help you put those skills to good use.


  1. “Making Your Own Jumps” by Mary Gordon Watson (24 pages; Threshold Picture Guides, Number 7, The Kenilworth Press Limited, 1999, $12.95)
  2. “Jumps, etc.” by Lisa Campbell (96 pages; Half Halt Press, 2000, $27.95)