Part of a series of emails to our exhibitors in an effort to provide helpful information about their interaction with the show office and other staff at the show. If you have a particular question you would like addressed, please feel free to make a suggestion. Please note that every effort is made to ensure that all rule citations are current and correct as of the publishing date, however, USEF and other organizations continuously make rule changes throughout the year and with each new year.
Spreads Matter; and we don't mean Smucker's
Most exhibitors know at what height they want to jump their animal and/or at what height a division is set. But do you think about the WIDTH of the fence? You rarely walk a hunter course, but it would be wise to take a look in the ring before a class starts and make sure the fences are of a correct width. Yes, the judge and the course designer should be doing this, but (1) they make mistakes, and (2) they are not the ones actually jumping the obstacles.
HU124 states that the SPREAD of obstacles in the Pony Division should not exceed the height and must be measured including flowers, brush and ground line (e.g., take-off box). For example, if you are setting a Small Pony Hunter class, the height of the verticals should be 2'3" while the back rail of the oxers should be 2'3. For all hunter classes where a spread (oxer) is set, there must be a 3" height difference of the front element from the back element. HU 122.4. In other words, in the Small Pony class, the back rail is 2'3" while the front rail should be set at 2'. (Read discussion below about metric keyhole standards which are now being used more often in the hunter ring thereby impacting the 3" interval.)
HU 122.2 specifies that spreads may not exceed 4'. The Hunter Rules do not otherwise specify the spread of an obstacle for divisions other than the ponies, but by inference and practice, a spread fence should not exceed the height of the obstacle. Note that HU121.9 references a limit for the spread of oxers for the Children's Hunter Division but this rule is superseded by the USHJA Zone rules, none of which addresses the width, just the height of fences in the Children's division.
And remember, the first fence in a class restricted to ponies must be a vertical. HU122.7. In fact, you will rarely see an oxer as a first fence for any hunter class.
Fifty percent or more of the obstacles must be AT LEAST the required height and none may be more than 2" over or under. HU119. Many shows still have 3" spacing on their standards in the hunter ring, but many have gone to metric key holes. Having the 2" leeway therefore becomes important. (See further comments below.)
In Equitation, for Open Equitation classes for riders 12 years of age and older, the ASPCA Maclay classes, and all USEF Medal Classes, the course must include . . . a combination including an oxer and [one-third] of the obstacles must be oxers. EQ111.10. More specifically, for the Hunter Seat Medal, fences are to be set at 3'6" with spreads to 4', or if a triple bar is used it may have a spread to 5'. EQ111.11 For the Talent Search, fence spreads may be up to 5'. EQ112.14 Other Equitation classes do not have specific spread guidelines or restrictions.
The jumper rules require that a minimum of three obstacles in the course must be a spread and the spread must exceed the height by at least 2" but no more than 6". Triples bars may be up to 12" wider than the height listed. JP 120.3
Jumper classes are now set on a metric standard, and as referenced above, more and more horse shows have standards in all their rings with key holes based on the metric system. Below is the Jumper Metric to Inch conversion table and you can readily see with standards using metric key holes, some stated hunter or equitation heights cannot be set.
Meters - Inches
So once you decide how wide a spread fence can be in your division, how do you determine the spread? JP123.2 states that a spread obstacle is measured from its two outermost top extremities on a line parallel to the ground. Also see HU124.1.a. In the hunter ring this would include any brush piled before the fence, any flower boxes and take-off boxes. Considering the material on the take-off side of the fence becomes particularly important in the small/medium pony hunters. Most take-off boxes are 6", add rails of about 4" each, and before you know it, a little bit of distance between the rails or a pile of brush on take-off makes the jump far too wide. Not only does an over-wide fence make an animal jump in poor style, it can be a safety issue, particularly with a less experienced animal and/or rider.
So take a minute to study your course, look at the jumps, and ask the crew to check the ENTIRE width of a spread obstacle if it does not look proportional. Most exhibitors can easily identify if a fence does not look like the right height, but each exhibitor needs to teach themselves also to eye the width of jumps in the ring. Remember, spreads matter, and not just whether you pick apple or strawberry.