photoThis week marked our first show of the season and despite Mother Nature’s best efforts to ruin the weekend with torrential rains on Saturday and temperatures in the single digits on Sunday, we managed to have a great weekend! Saturday’s rain decided to fall during our lunch break, lasted just long enough to get everyone fed and it saved me the trouble of having to water the ring. Bonus!

We’re in our fifth season of hosting competitions and I still get a kick out of watching the jumpers go. There’s something very satisfying about getting to know our competitors and watching their progress as they mature and challenge the more difficult levels each year.

What always surprises me though (even though it really shouldn’t because many of our competitors are new to the sport) is how many people don’t understand how a course actually works.

The course designer always has a plan and that’s something all competitors should understand long before they ever step foot into a ring. It never hurts to make sure that the competitor’s dedicated support crew also understand the ins and outs of course design. Designing a quality jumper course requires dedication, time and effort. It also doesn’t hurt to have an abundant supply of really big erasers. No matter what you may think as your trying to remember which fence comes next, courses don’t just “happen”.

Every quality course usually allows for a couple of different approaches or “tracks”. There’s the traditional/safe track and usually a less conservative/more challenging track. The traditional track offers wider turns, longer approaches and landing strips, and it sets the horse up properly for a safe, well executed round. The more aggressive track gives a knowledgeable rider the opportunity to make those inside turns because they’re able to maintain a balanced and rhythmic ride all the while traveling at or slightly above the set pace. Well laid out courses that are well ridden should appear smooth and fluid, not choppy and death defying. A rider’s ease in executing either of the options is an indication (along with a multitude of other components) that the course plan has at least been a marginal success.

I firmly believe that it is crucial to teach riders and their support teams the importance of understanding which questions are being asked by the course designer and why. Especially if we as course designers want to give them the tools they require to continue up the ranks. The lower heights offered at the entry levels make excessive speed and hair pin turns “doable” and it’s mighty tempting to compromise the integrity of the course all for a the sake of a ribbon. As coaches and trainers it’s our duty to explain to our riders how and why courses are designed the way they are. It’s also imperative that we ensure riders challenge themselves to answer those questions as accurately and effectively as possible.

Analyzing the course allows a rider to understand how proper pace and educated turns will help them get over the jumps within the time allowed safely and correctly. Riders who are constantly slicing half the time off the clock might want to consider whether they’re riding the course in the “correctly”. The course sheets post a time allowed for a reason. It helps riders to gage how they should correctly tackle the course without jeopardizing the safety and well-being of themselves and their horses. No one should be aiming to ride a course in less than half of the time allowed! The only reason a feat of this magnitude should be possible is if the poor course designer has severely screwed up the time allowed. And let’s face it, if that’s the case we’ve got some seriously bigger issues at stake!