There's nothing quite like standing next to a six foot hedge and hearing the thunder of a team of horses on a chase galloping towards you, then clearing the jump one after the other, half a ton of muscle whistling past your head. Being on the horse, is tenfold better!
For both horse and rider, the trick to achieving this kind of daring feat is extensive training, starting with little hops and working up to great big leaps of faith.
Horse jumps, both of the show jump and cross country jump variety, are how you achieve this, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
The type of jumps used for equestrian show jumping are designed specifically to be easy to knock down, for the purpose of both training a horse to jump in a relatively safe and controlled manner, and to test the ability of the horse and rideer to speed around a course with the agility and concentration necessary to go 'clear round', that is to say, within time, and wihtout knocking a single jump down, in competition,
More about Show Jumps
Cross Country Jumps
The type of jumps used for equestrian cross country are traditionally designed to be as much like 'everyday' obstacles such as hedges, fences, ditches, rivers, lakes, hills, carts as possible, however the modern approach is becoming more and more to make something look real to horse and spectator, but in a safer way.
More about Cross Country Horse Jumps
Jumping For Safety
The biggest problem with jumping a horse is the substantially increased danger involved. Sitting atop a horse already puts the rider at risk of a dangerous fall, and travelling at speed further increases this risk. Hence, when adding further height into this equation, in addition to the horse carrying out a manouvre which tests its ability to return to its feet having cleared a jump without substantial collision, things can get very dangerous for both parties.
In recent years greater emphasis has been placed on jump safety as horses and riders have died tragically, particularly when riding cross country, where the obstacles have not traditionally been designed to collapse, causing horse and rider to tumble on collission. Thankfully things are improving, and course designers are accepting that 'big' shouldn't also mean 'extremely dangerous', with engineering playing an increasinbgly important part.
Hurdlers, high-jumpers and pole vaulters aren't required to jump dangerous objects, and so as a competitive sport, should horse riding be any different?!