Walking the course is one of the basic foundations and elements of any show jumping competition. Why would you not want to learn or improve such a great skill? Understanding why this is important will allow anyone to be able to move up into higher competition. The main objective is to “walk the course exactly as you plan to ride it. Walk to the middle of the fence and follow the exact line you will ride to the next jump. This allows you to plan the best route, count the strides, and spot any potential distractions” (Horse&Hound, 2003). The few main reasons to walk the course are as follows:
- It trains your mind to stay focused
- Practice at walking the line/track/route to make good approaches to fences
- It makes you double check related distances and combinations of fences
- To train your ‘eye’ for detail, for example, spot a top pole that is uneven, remove an empty jump cup left on a standard, etc.
- To walk the course with a sense of feel to how your horse will perceive the fences and to plan for this. Visualize the speed and rhythm you want to achieve between the fences. Know your horse and ride appropriately when you practice not just for the competition
- It is just good safe practice.
To be able to reach this objective, you must first start by arriving on time to participate in the time allotted to walk the course. This should be commonsense for most, but you must make it a point to show up even before your trainer does. Do not forget to be dressed in what you will be wearing when you compete. Wearing anything else other than your competition clothing, is not appropriate. When you are allowed to step on the course, you generally are given about 15 minutes, depending on the circuit of the competition. Utilize this time wisely and pay attention to detail. Listen to what your trainer has to say, regarding how you will ride your course and do not be afraid to ask questions, regardless of how silly they may sound. This is the time to ask questions, not right before your turn in the class.
Remember “apart from the overall course layout, the turns into the fence should be studied. Decide how far you need to turn out to arrive on a good line into the jumps” (Hesford & Davies, 2010). This is vital because this is your preparation on how you will mentally ride then physically ride this course. This moment and other moments are when you should be learning the feel (footing, noise level, etc.) of the arena, what your horse could be spooked at (i.e. cameraman wearing a poncho) and of course, memorizing the course.
Lastly, remember to keep these indispensable tips in mind when walking the course:
- Two human strides are equivalent to both the horse's landing and take-off
- Four human strides are the same as one average horse's stride
- A one-stride double will be around eight human strides
- A two-stride double around 12 human strides
- The height and type of each fence will affect any related distances — the take off point is closer to an ascending spread than an upright
- If an arena's surface is deep, then the distances will ride longer
- Make a note of where the start and finish signs are, plus any timing equipment
- Walk the jump-off course while you are in the arena, including any options, such as a chance to turn inside a fence to save time
As one moves from schooling shows to the A Circuit and beyond, you can always come back to these basics to help you refine your technique as a rider. It also allows you to revitalize a tip or two that you have forgotten and need a refresher on. Don’t skip on these walks and always remember that it can only help you become a better and more prepared rider.
Graham, S. (2008). The show jumping course. Retrieved from http://www.equinepositivelearning.co.nz/Show Jumping/Sample The Show Jumping Course.html
Hesford, V., & Davies, A. (2010, July 19). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.teamequestrian.co.uk/2010/07/is-it-necessary-for-me-to-walk-the-course-before-i-compete-2/
Horse&Hound. (2003, October 20). Top tips: walking the course. Retrieved from http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/competitionnews/article.php?aid=41627