Learning how to set jumps quickly will not only make you a better ground person in general, but if you're interested, it will also give you a better chance of becoming a show groom if you prefer the horse show side of things to mucking out stalls. Many riders won't allow their grooms to set in the warm-up ring until they've displayed the ability to set jumps quickly at home. Coming to the job with that ability will give you a step up from the start.
Different riders and trainers have different preferences for the spacing of rails and ground lines and many variations can be made with those four rails and four standards that you have available. For that reason, I won't mention too much about when to move out/in ground lines or how to space the bottom rail(s).
The key to setting jumps quickly is to be efficient; if you minimize the number of steps to do or distance that you need to cover, you will be faster. It is much easier to set quickly with two people so that one can stay on each end of the jump without crossing back and forth and any changes in height or width can be made in unison to lessen the chances of rails accidentally falling. You're never guaranteed to have a partner, though, so this post will explain how to set jumps when you're alone. The same concepts apply, just with a few more steps and walking.
When you initially set up a jump, aim to get the height right immediately. With practice, you should be able to put the cups at a good starting height on all the standards so that any adjustments are within a hole. You can measure the jump against part of your body or simply remember how far down to reach your hand, whatever works best for you. If the standards all have similar markings or screw holes, those can be used to make the height even, too.
Most riders or trainers have a preference for what type of jump to start with, so you can go ahead and set the usual first jump before you've had a chance to ask what they'd like. Any changes from it are likely to be minor and setting the jump as soon as you get to it will allow the rider to begin their warm-up sooner.
If you're setting up the jump from scratch, first lay the jump rails on the ground where they will be positioned (just start with one for a vertical or two for an oxer). This will give you the spacing for the standards. Add the standards and then set the rails on the cups. Make your final height adjustments and then add in your ground lines and any rails below the top rail.
If I'm setting an oxer initially, I find it easiest to judge the squareness by using just the cups without rails. The roundness of the rails can throw off your sense of crouching level with the height, whereas the edges of the cups can give you good points to judge by. You can't accurately judge the squareness of an oxer without getting your eyes level with the rails or cups.
Once your first jump is set up, the variations will include changes in height, changes in width (for oxers), and changes from an oxer to a vertical or vice versa. Combinations can also be used in the warm-up ring at many shows, but those aren't used very frequently.
Changes in height
Changes in height are usually asked for by the rider or trainer calling, for example, "Up two", "Down two", "Up two behind" or "Down two in front". For a change that is specified as front or back, only change the side specified (it will be to either make a rampy oxer square or to make a square oxer rampy). Front is the side with the ground rail, or the side that the rider just jumped from or is in a position to jump from if there are ground rails on both sides. Just specifying the number of holes when you're setting an oxer usually means that the change should be made all around.
It's very important to keep track of which hole the jump was set at when you change the height. If you remove the pin or cup and the pole sinks down or bounces up, you won't have a reference to count from. For this reason, you should keep one hand under the rail as you remove the cup/pin with just enough force to keep the rail level (this can take practice). You can count holes with your fingers or your eyes depending on your personal preferences, as long as you're consistent. Ending up with an uneven jump for no good reason after a height change is frustrating to the rider warming up.
Changes in width
The most common mistake I see with oxers being widened occurs when the changes are made in big steps rather than small ones. If you think about it, when you pull one standard out further than the other, you're making the distance between those standards greater. The rail will slide closer to the edge of the cup and if it slides too far, it will fall off and hit you or the ground. Having to reset the rail not only takes longer, but that heavy rail can cause a lot of damage to your body if you end up too close to it.
For that reason, if you're alone, you should make changes in width gradually, about six inches at a time, alternating sides. It takes a bit longer than doing each side in one shot, but it's safer and faster than having to reset a fallen rail. Make sure that you don't pull the standard towards the outside as you move it over or you'll make the distance even greater; the straighter you can keep the standard, the better.
Also, check that the rail is snug in the cups before moving the standards. If the rail is on the edge of the cup to begin with, it's almost guaranteed to fall when you widen the jump.
|Small increments keep the rail in the cups|
|Larger increments bring the rail to the edge of the cups|
If you have a ground line on each side of the oxer and need to widen it, first roll the ground line out on the side you're moving. Trying to push against a ground line is hard work and is likely to result in an angled standard and a fallen rail. It's much easier to roll the ground line out first and then roll it back into place after you've finished.
If you're ever asked for a skinny oxer, this usually means an oxer with the smallest width you can create. This is done by bringing the standards in with the feet beside one another but still resting on the ground, like this:
Oxer to vertical
Changing an oxer to a vertical is very easy; all you need to do is drop the back rail to the ground, swing the standards out of the way and then adjust the ground line on each side.
The reason for swinging the empty standards out is for safety and to make it easier to roll the ground line out without interference. If the horse drifts over the jump, leaving the standards in place could result in an injury to horse or rider from the cups or the standards themselves. Simply pivoting them away on the foot closest to the standard beside brings them out of the way and makes it easy to pivot them back into place for another oxer.
Vertical to oxer
Changing a vertical to an oxer is more complicated because it's more about building than about disassembling.
First, pivot your empty standards back into place and at your desired width. If the jump height has changed, try to make your height change now while there's no weight in the cups.
Finally, double-check the height and roll the ground line in on the front side as far as desired.
Whenever you're rolling ground lines in or out, roll them from the center of the rail. If you try to roll them from the ends, the rail will roll on an angle and will require fixing. Nudging it with your foot as you walk past the center of the jump will make it roll out straight and takes very little time.
Whether you're grooming, simply helping a friend or setting jumps for yourself at home, learning how to set efficiently will make the process much easier on everyone and is a good skill to have and can help to avoid injuries on the ground that could interfere with your riding time!