The Case for Consistent Fence Heights in the Low AO Jumpers

Photo © Andrew Ryback Photography


It’s a funny thing when a nervous ammy rider finds herself in the big, bold jumper ring. But that’s the kind of thing that happens when you find a horse that makes you feel like you can conquer the world. That’s how I find myself here: having dabbled in a few shows at the Low A/O Jumper height and on the brink of really competing in a division I was never sure would be more than a far off goal. 

Now that we’re halfway through the 2021 show year, I find myself facing unforeseen challenges from one of last year’s rule changes. Based on JP 117, which went into effect in December of 2020, I’m now looking at courses that may run from 1.20m-1.25m. This may seem like a small change from the previous rule of just 1.20m as the Low A/O fence height, but we have to look at the broader picture. The previous division (High Child/ Adult Jumpers) offers a range of 1.10-1.15. The Saturday classes run at 1.10m and the Sunday classes at 1.15m (at least at most of our Zone 7 shows- I know some zones run this at just 1.10m). The same can be said for its previous division, with a range of 1.0-1.05m.

Photo courtesy of Megan Smith

So, think about what it’s like to move up through these levels. This is the experience I had earlier this year: 

I moved up in December and had two good shows in what is a new division for both me and my horse. Then in the second week of a series showed up to find basically the whole course maxed out to 1.25m (our previous week had been fairly 1.20 with maybe an occasional 1.25 fence). Mind you, this was also the week that the winter storms rolled into Texas—so the maxed course height plus brutal weather resulted in a confidence bruising weekend.  

To factor in the range of these fence heights, horses and riders moving up are being asked to step from as small at the 1.10m (in the High Child/ Adult) to a course that may be 1.25m in the Lows. This is setting many up for a break in confidence, if not a potential injury. 

I recently wondered how many of my fellow amateur riders have experienced the same issues and decided to reach out to see. I was overwhelmed with the number of responses who shared similar situations they’ve seen at shows, with fence heights being allowed to run the gamut from week to week with the change of a course designer. 

Photo courtesy of Megan Smith

This wide of a move up in fence height was also recognized as a problem in the hunter ring, hence the 3’3 division being added. In the jumper ring, some have seen this solved by running a Modified Jr/Am division at 1.15m, but many horse shows do not offer this. Without that 1.15m division, riders who need that bridge are forced to travel outside their zone to find shows that do offer this option. This potentially leaves near home show managers concerned about the missed financial opportunity for them. With amateurs making up the bulk of the horse show income, our opinion should matter.

As a working amateur, I take immense pride in being able to have purchased a young horse and brought him along successfully. My trainer, Raegan, provides invaluable guidance in lessons and training rides, but she does not pull double duty at horse shows. There’s not a schooling trip with a pro for Linus during the week. In the show ring, it’s just me and my horse. Which is why it’s so important to me to ensure our strategy for progressing through the divisions leaves us both feeling as confident walking out of the show ring as when we walked in. 

All of this explains why I felt compelled to reach out to our Zone Committee, to both bring the challenge to light as well as offer a few potential solutions. As riders and owners, it’s our responsibility to speak up for our horses. Just because something has always been done one way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. We must recognize what we need as riders to help us best care for our horses and speak up to ensure our voices are heard. As a community, we must come together as riders, trainers, owners, and show management to find solutions for the long-term benefit of our equine partners. After all, we wouldn’t be on this journey without them.

Below is the email I sent to my zone. If you have concerns of your own, I encourage you to reach out to your representatives. 

Photo courtesy of Megan Smith

“Hello Zone 7 Committee Members, 

My name is Megan Smith and I am an amateur rider at Double Rainbow with Raegan Comeaux. I have been training and showing with Raegan since 2010, and am currently competing on a jumper that I purchased back in 2013 as a 5 year old. My goal with him was to compete in the Low A/O division, which we moved up to in December of last year. However, I feel that the recent rule change (JP 117) has made the transition up from the high adults a bit more tricky.

So far this competition year I have seen a wide application of this rule, with substantial variance not only between show venues, but also between weeks of the same management series. It seems the option to run at a range of 1.20-1.25m has shown to be more up to the course designer than the show management, which has made it difficult to know what to expect even from week to week within a series. I’ve also seen inconsistencies with whether a single height (1.20m) is show on the schedule vs what is displayed in the prize list (a range of 1.20-1.25m). 

This may seem like a small difference to some, but can be a deciding factor when moving up to a division that is new for both horse and rider. I’d love to explore the option of a more consistent standard across the zone. This seems to be what is used in some of the other zones (ie zone 4) where the fence height is consistent at venues such as Gulfport and Brownland, rather than varying with each week’s course designer. 

An alternate concept would be to have the division run with increasing fence heights as your low and high child/ adult divisions are, with the Friday/ Saturday classes being a consistent 1.20m standard and the Sunday division class/ classic at 1.25m. This would give us working amateurs the peace of mind of knowing what to expect and being able to ease ourselves into the division by opting into a schooling trip during the week and only doing the Saturday division classes at first. This eases the gap of moving from one division where you’re jumping as small as 1.10m and having to move up to a division of up to 1.25m. 

I’d love to know both of your thoughts on this concept as I work towards setting ambitious but attainable goals for both my own success and that of my equine partner. 

Thank you, 
Megan Smith”

To help fund her equine addiction, Megan can be found working by day as a digital marketing expert. Her evenings are filled with plenty of barn time with her heart horse, Linus. When not at the farm, she enjoys spending quality time with her two golden retriever fur-babies and catching up on a good book.