For hunter, jumper and eventing barns, jumps are almost as necessary as water buckets. Unlike water buckets, though, jumps are an expensive investment, and also add risk to your property. You can minimize the risk and maximize the fun by studying the different options in materials and by paying close attention to maintenance.
Keeping Riders Safe
Because jumps naturally invite jumping, before you build or buy any, take a good hard look at who will be using them and how to make sure they are used properly. Lynn Holmes, Jump at the Chance, Winthrop, Wash., advises, “Safety is the very first thing you consider. There are enough things that can go wrong with jumping.”
You can’t prevent every accident, but you can manage who jumps your fences. Realize that riders who jump will fall more often, and may collide with rails or even standards. Set rules about jumping, and supervise your riders over fences.
Set up jumps for safety, especially a wide oxer. Wayne Quarles, an “R” rated judge with USA Equestrian, says, “It’s important that the back rail comes down. If your pins are inserted correctly, they are pointing to the back of the jump and don’t fall off.”
Matching Their Expectations
Your riders’ needs determine the amount of your investment. If they only jump for fun or ride in hunter hack classes, you can probably get by with only a few simple fences.
Serious riders and their instructors expect a course’s worth of fences, at least six obstacles. Plan at least three jump rails for every pair of standards (two rails plus a groundline). If two of those six are oxers, you need eight pairs of standards, and no fewer than 18 rails. Even setting up gymnastics (a line of two to four low crossrails) requires four to eight standards and three rails each. Taking it one step further, many busy show barns have two or more courses of eight jumps.
Plastic or Wood?
Once you’ve decided how many jumps you need, the next choice is whether to use wood, PVC or the latest plastic technology. We’ll first take a look at wood versus PVC and then compare the results to the new materials now being introduced.
Lauren Cawley, president of Jump PVC, Inc., stresses the importance of doing your homework before you buy. “Make sure you find out about the quality of the PVC a company is using because there are different grades in materials,” she says. “We have our PVC made specifically for jumps so it has a high level of UV and impact resistance.”
Economics are also a factor because vinyl fences cost more upfront. Manufacturers, however, claim that the jumps last longer because they are not as vulnerable to the elements. And, PVC does not need to be repainted every few years.
A PVC attribute that has won the hearts and backs of many trainers is the fact that they are so lightweight and easy to maneuver. The downside, however, is that they can blow over easily. You can reduce the incidence of this problem by using PVC standards with wooden rails to weigh them down, by placing small sandbags on the feet of the standards or filling the bases with water.
What about safety? Phillipe Gavet of Jumps USA says, “We use plastic breakaway screws. In case of pressure, the screw gives way leading to fewer injuries.” Good wood fences are also built to break away, but wood can splinter. Gavet notes, “The PVC flexes and absorbs impact.”
But, even with better materials, PVC can still break. It can crack and in cold temperatures, the material can become more brittle.
It is for that reason that Cawley cautions against going to the local hardware store for PVC rails. “That material is designed to be underground and has no UV or impact resistance.”
Trainers are strongly divided on the use of PVC rails. Many believe that the rails are dangerous because they are more likely to get flung around when hit, whereas the heavier weight of wood teaches horses to respect rails more.
Finally, wood proponents like the infinite choices of color they have for their jumps. When PVC was first introduced, the products were largely white. In recent years, manufacturers have introduced some colors, but the process used to color PVC can break down the stability of the material.
Cawley cautions, “Be careful of jumps that are simply coated. Like wood, it can get scratched and the color underneath will be visible. In addition, the coating might be covering an inferior PVC material with low UV levels and not much impact resistance.”
But all of these issues may not be around for long. A new vinyl material has hit the jump scene that might solve most of the problems of both wood and PVC. The new material can be routed and shaped any way desired, unlike PVC which could not, it is colored solidly through, it cannot crack or splinter and it is heavier than PVC. “This same material [called poly lumber] is used for decking and trim on houses because of its durability,” says Larry Palmer, president of LJ?Enterprises.
Jumps USA is also introducing a version of the new material. “It can take any shape and be any color—it’s the wave of the future,” says Gavet.
And technology has also infiltrated the world of jump cups. Today, you can choose either cups with pins, or the newer pinless cups. Most of the jump cups sold today have pins that break under heavy pressure, so the jump releases from the standard.
The pinless cup addresses the release problem, but also alleviates the problem of lost pins and the ever-present bees, wasps and hornets that love to make nests in the pinholes. In addition, a pinless cup slides along a keyhole track, so it can be operated with one hand. “It’s so much more convenient and easy to use,”?says Gavet, who includes the keyhole track in his standards. “With holes every five centimeters, you can adjust with more gradation.”
Building Your Own
If wood is what you want, and you are fairly handy, building your own may be an option. But keep in mind that what you save on cost, you will more than likely make up for in time and effort. Greg Mosby, a jump builder from Walworth, Wisconsin, says, “I can build a set of schooling jumps within an hour. With someone else, it could take three or four hours.”
One way to cut costs is to buy either used or unpainted jumps. Many jump companies rent out jumps to large events and, after a season or two, they turn over the inventory. That’s when barn owners can pick up the not-so-used equipment for a discount. Or, for those that are creative with a paint brush, unfinished standards and poles are a good way to go. At L.J. Enterprises, unpainted jumps are sold at a 15 percent discount.
If you opt to build your own jumps, you will need basic carpentry skills along with the proper tools. Professional jump builders have devised several approaches to construct a solid base; the description here is for a simple, four-part base on a 4 x 4, five-foot-tall standard.
For durability, build jumps with pressure-treated wood posts. “No. 2 grade is probably about the best grade for outside products,” says Mosby.
John Williams, an eventing course designer from Middleburg, Virginia, says, “Pressure-treated pine is what I would usually use. If you want a lighter standard, I would try cedar, though it won’t last as long as treated wood. Or you can use treated wood at the base only—make the rest of the standard of conventional pine and keep it painted.”
For the finishing touch, painting, Holmes advises, “Use a primer and an oil-based paint, not latex. Use a urethane enamel, high gloss, that penetrates well.”
Like a horse, a jump’s joints are its weak points. Standards must withstand gravity, the weight of the jump rails, and the impacts of the jumpers. Use heavy-duty fasteners: 3/8- or 1/2-inch diameter carriage bolts with washers under the nuts.
With the materials in place, it’s time to begin. First, measure and cut four 1 x 8 sections, 20 inches long, for the four legs of the base. Trim the top corners for safety, and sand edges.
For safety and appearance, bevel the tops of your posts by sanding edges and corners. Drill holes for the pins, starting at 12 inches up from the ground, in increments of 3 inches.
“Standards need holes in the right places,” says Quarles. To be able to insert pins easily, the holes must be drilled straight through and exactly in line with the opposite standard—which is harder than it sounds.
“The most time-consuming step is probably drilling the holes,” Mosby says. “That’s easier to do with a drill press, but it can be done by hand.”
Williams agrees on using a drill press. “To try to do them with a hand drill and get all the holes straight is nearly impossible, and it will frustrate you for years to come to try to get pins through those holes.”
Watch the size of holes, too, Hebert cautioned. “The hole in the standard tends to be too small. Or, if it’s too big, the pin is loose and the cup hangs crooked,” he said.
Once the holes are done, bolt the 1 x 8 base pieces onto the post in a spiral, one to brace each side of the post.
You can build a stronger base of two 2 x 4 crosspieces, with four 45-degree angle supports of 2 x 4. This design is more complex to construct, but it keeps the post off the ground, protecting it from moisture. Williams prefers this style, noting that it’s more solid. About the simpler standard with four feet, he said, “The feet come loose. The standard wobbles—it doesn’t quite fall over, but never stands up straight. The feet curve upwards after a year of use.”
With either construction, fasten wood pieces with bolts to resist pullout. However, Mosby noted that a bolt may loosen over the years. “On the crossmembers, I recommend using a construction glue [Liquid Nails] and also 3-inch galvanized deck screws.”
A wing standard is inherently more stable than a post standard. The standard is wider, usually from 32 to 36 inches and there are two separate bases that cover more ground.
Rabbet the top and bottom pieces of the wing standard into 5-foot posts, and bolt the bases to the posts’ outsides. You can fill the wing’s frame with plastic lattice inserts, cut to fit the frame and screwed in place.
Buy round jump rails, 10 to 12 feet long, or form octagonal poles by shaving corners off a 4 x 4. And, make sure the wood has a good heft to it. “If rails are lightweight,” says Williams,
“a lazy horse discovers it doesn’t bother him to knock the rail out of the cups. That doesn’t get him to want to jump clean. Use a stout rail in normal, deep cups, so you might create in those horses the desire to jump clean.”
Steve Wearne, Lumber Country, Portland, Oregon, describes lodgepole pine as ideal for rails. “Lodgepole pines grown straight and tall. The diameter doesn’t taper very much. It’s easy to clean and debark the tree, and make it smooth for a jump rail.” Typical diameters are from 3 inches to 4 inches.
Holmes adds, “Lodgepole pine is awesome for jump poles. It is very strong. If it does break, it breaks in two long pieces, a clean break.”
Protect Your Investment
Whether you build your own or opt for the high-tech PVC, it is important to protect your investment from both an economic and safety perspective.
If the jumps are not being used, find a dry, sheltered storage area. If you do not have an indoor storage area, put them outside on pallets and cover them with tarps. Especially with wood, any part of the fence that is in contact with the ground will suffer from deterioration.
And while it is important to have a little variety around the barn, remember that each time you move a fence, it puts pressure on the joints. Make sure that standards are lifted and not dragged. When put in place, ensure that the ground is even so that the standard stands straight.
Finally, check the joints often for any signs of weakness, and visually inspect all the rails and standards for cracks or splits.
Visit these websites:
• Wayne’s Jumps — www.waynesjumps.com
• Jump at the Chance — www.jumpatc.com
• Jumps USA — www.jumpsusa.com
• Jumps PVC, Inc. — www.jumppvcinc.com
• L.J. Enterprises — www.ljjumps.com
• Light N Lasting — www.lightnlasting.com
• Lumber Country — lumbercountry.net/4Seasons/Products/JumpRails.html
“Making Your Own Jumps,” by Mary Gordon Watson
“Jumps Etc.: Jumps, Dressage Arenas, and Stable Equipment You Can Build,” by Lisa Campbell