Tips for Walking a Jumper Course

Jumper courses are often technical and include lines where riders have several options for track and striding. For this reason, understanding how to effectively walk a jumper course to come up with a successful plan for the show ring is essential. BarnManager spoke with U.S. Olympic silver medalist and international grand prix rider Peter Leone to learn his tips for walking a jumper course.

Know the Format

The first step to walking a course is knowing the type of competition. When I walk a course with a student, I always ask them what kind of class it is, and I expect them to know the answer. Knowing the format tells us how we need to walk that course in order to strategize how to win and be competitive. For example, I’m going to have a different plan for a speed class than I would for a class with a jump-off.

Make a Strategy Based on Your Horse

It is important to take into account your horse’s strengths and weaknesses during a course walk. When I walk a course with a student, and it’s a jump-off or speed class, I’ll explain the striding, turns, and angles the winner will do. We then take that information and personalize it to their horse based on its strengths and weaknesses. Strengths to think about could be the horse is brave, quick, slow with a big stride, or careful. On the other hand, we also consider if the horse is spooky, jumps hard to the left, or is very aware of and drawn to the in-gate.

Anticipate How Your Horse Will React to the Jumping Questions Being Asked

Photo by Jump Media

It is important to consider how your horse will react to different jumps in the arena. If you have to jump a spooky wall heading into the end of the ring, ask yourself how you think your horse will react to that. If your horse is the type to shrink back and be hesitant about boldly approaching that fence, then understand that jump could be a problem and come up with a plan for how you, as a rider, can help your horse. For example, I would make sure to get straight to that jump, have a short, active canter, good connection, and also let my horse see it during our entrance. Another fence you may have to consider during a course walk is a plain, airy plank. The careful, attentive horses will pay attention to the plank, but the big brave horse will not give it the same amount of respect. So, when you are walking the course make sure to think about what you can do to make your brave horse pay attention to that jump and give a good, clean jumping effort.

Jump location is another important factor to look at during a course walk. Anticipate how your horse will react to a jump going toward the in-gate versus one going away from the in-gate. Look for jumps on tricky angles or blind turns and come up with a plan for how you can give your horse the best chance of jumping the fence clear.

Look at Footing Conditions

The course walk gives you an opportunity to see what the footing conditions are like. You can identify if the ground has a nice texture, if it is firm, or if it gives way on the turns. At the majority of competitions now the footing is so good that horses’ strides are longer than we expect. Oftentimes when we walk a line and think it will ride long, it ends up riding normally. This is because of how much the footing has improved over the years, so it is something we should think about when walking a course.

Pick Spots To Save Time

During your round, you will not jump every fence dead center, especially when you are going against the clock. When you are walking the course, you should pick particular spots on the fences that you aim to jump. When walking a broken line or a line to a line, always walk a 12-foot stride and the direct track first as opposed to the wider bending track. A direct line will help save time so only put big bends in your broken lines if you have to. Identify other places where you can cheat the clock and be under the time allowed. This might be turning on landing and galloping over to the next jump or making a tighter turn to a jump that is friendly and relatively low risk in terms of having it down. If you can cheat the clock in certain places, then you can take time to those trickier obstacles or combinations that need a more respectful approach.

Make a Smart Entrance

While walking your course you should also consider your entrance. Preloading, when allowed, and making a smart entrance is to your advantage. When you enter the ring, make sure to let your horse see those critical fences or possible problem areas in the course. When deciding your entrance, you should factor in your particular horse and what you think would be most beneficial for them to see such as a combination or spooky oxer.

No matter the height or level of track you are riding, coming up with a solid and effective plan during the course walk will go a long way to helping you have success in the jumper ring.

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Tips for Walking an Equitation Course

Properly walking a course ahead of your class is a skill that takes time and practice. It is more than just counting strides between fences, especially in the equitation divisions. BarnManager talked with accomplished hunter, jumper, and equitation trainer Stacia Madden of Beacon Hill Show Stables to learn about her recommendations for walking an equitation course.

Walk the Course and Then Walk It Again

Photo by Jump Media

The first time I walk a course, I try to walk it separately from my students, and then I walk it again with them. I like to walk separately from my riders first to allow them to come up with their own plan rather than relying on me to tell them what I think of the course. When we walk together I never single anyone out, but I quiz the riders on what they walked and why. I also go over what I walked and why so we can have a discussion. I like to rewalk courses or certain parts of the course multiple times because I find my step at the beginning of the walk is not quite as open as the end. So, if I’m questioning a first line I find it especially important to rewalk it before I make my decision.

Come Up With Contingency Plans

When I develop a plan with my students while walking a course I often explain how I would send a rider into the ring if they were to go first, and I explain my reasoning. Then I point out the parts of the course I think could potentially change if the rider is later in the order and can watch other riders go. I ask my students to walk the course both ways so they are prepared for both situations.

Understand the Reasoning

At the end of a course walk, I think it is important for riders to know the plan and understand the reasoning behind it. When I walk a course with my students I try to explain as much as I can so they can learn why I think a line or track should be ridden a certain way. I want them to feel confident and understand they have all the tools they need. Practicing this thinking helps prepare them for times when they have to walk courses by themselves at the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals and the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) Equitation Championship, or in situations where their trainer can’t make it to the ring. I never walk a course and just say, “You’re going to do a bending five, direct six, and inside turn.” I explain all the reasons and plans for different parts of the course.

Look for Horse-Specific Parts of the Course

Occasionally there are different ways to ride parts of a course depending on your horse. If I think there is a line or section of the course that does not have to be ridden only one way I call it “horse specific.” I will explain how it is horse specific and why, and discuss the best plan for each type of horse. For example, I’m going to have the horses that jump hard left do a different striding than the horses that get quick through in and outs.

Photo by Jump Media

Show Up Prepared

I believe riders should know their course before their walk and not expect the trainer to tell it to them. I like to see if they notice things like a dotted line, specific instructions, or the test in the course. So much of this sport is mental so I’m always trying to make sure my riders are independent and have the tools to do it on their own.

Equitation courses can be extremely complicated and technical, which is why it is important to understand how to get the most out of a course walk. The more prepared you are before you get on your horse, the more confident you will feel walking into the show ring.

Have questions about utilizing BarnManager or want to give it a try for yourself? Request a live demo here!

BarnManager is designed to be a part of your team, with the compatibility and credentials necessary to improve communication, simplify the management of horses, and get you out of the office, off the phone calls, and into the barn with the horses you care about! Click here to get a free demo and find out more!