Tips for Walking a Jumper Course To Win

Jumper courses ask technical questions of horse and rider at every level in order to achieve a clear round. Winning requires even more precision, so a solid plan developed in the course walk is essential. BarnManager spoke with U.S. Olympic silver medalist and international grand prix rider Peter Leone to learn how he walks to win. Read Peter’s general course walking tips in our first part of the blog HERE.

 Be Prepared

It is important for the rider and their trainer to have an honest conversation about where the horse and rider are in their development process before adding the pressure and nuance of riding to win. For any rider, the first step is being comfortable with the fundamentals of riding a jumper course. The rider should have an understanding of their horse’s stride length and be able to lengthen and shorten their horse’s stride while maintaining balance and without losing their position. They also should be able to ride an exact track to and from each obstacle.

Similarly, the horse has to understand how to jump different types of obstacles – verticals, oxers, and liverpools, for example. They also have to be comfortable when presented with a variety of obstacles in succession – like in a combination, a direct line, or a bending line. Of course, riding to win isn’t something that should be done all at once. It is a gradual process of introducing horse and rider to different course challenges before putting it all together.

We only learn and improve by pushing beyond what we already know. You can’t be afraid to try to apply what you learned from the course walk to your ride. You have to have confidence in what you walk.

Photo by Giana Terranova Photography

Do Your Homework

Like a talented artist, each course designer has their own style and elements they tend to favor in their course plans. Knowing your course designer for an important upcoming competition can be an advantage in your preparation. One course designer might like to build jumps off of short turns, while another might test the athletes with questions of adjustability. Knowing what to look out for and then practicing those challenges at home before the competition can lead to a pleasant sense of déjà vu when walking and riding the course.

Have a Plan

Remember that even when walking to win, knowing the format of the class is still very important. For example, in a class where faults are converted to seconds on your overall time, you might want to take more risk. In a class where you need to qualify for a jump-off, riding the first round cleanly is paramount. There’s also the case where you have a class that takes back only the top 10 riders for a jump-off, in which case a clear round might not be good enough if it’s not quick enough. I always tell myself and my students that when riding a first-round track, to think of it as a speed round where you want to place between fifth and tenth, so you aim to be efficient. Keeping all of this in mind when you walk will help you make the best plan.

Smooth Is Fast

Photo courtesy of Peter Leone

The smoother rides are almost always the fastest. Walking a track that allows the jumps to come up out of stride, without interrupting the horse’s pace or direction, is much faster than a more reckless ride with control difficulties.

When you walk to win, try to find and walk the most direct lines between jumps. Sometimes that means jumping an obstacle on an angle to line up the next jump. Another way to be faster than your competition is to make a tighter turn on landing. You also have to judge where there is opportunity to make turns inside other obstacles or arena decorations. In some cases, it can be faster to go around so that you can keep a forward pace instead of losing time in an abrupt turn.

Be sure to take a look at the most difficult parts of the course for you and your horse in your entrance. This will maximize your chances of answering those difficult jumping questions. Because you and your horse will have already seen and felt these challenges in your entrance, you can be as smooth as possible in your execution.

Take the jump material into account. Even though you are trying to be as quick and efficient as possible in order to win, you have to be sensible about the risks you take. A tall, airy, delicate fence requires more balance and consideration than a more impressive oxer which you can ride at more aggressively.

You also have to consider your horse’s tendencies. Many of today’s courses have lines built on fractional striding. A line might walk six-and-a-half strides, or seven-and-three-quarters strides, or four-and-two-thirds strides. That forces the rider to make a decision. If you have a bending line to the right and your horse has a tendency to drift right, then you might walk the leave-out striding. If your horse bulges to the left, then you might have to plan for the extra stride. These questions challenge the rider to make the smoothest, and therefore fastest, plan to suit their individual horse.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It is so, so important to practice walking courses. When you walk, formulate your own thoughts on how the course should ride, and then watch how it actually rides. Combine what you walked and what you watched to find the best plan for your horse to win.

When I compete in a grand prix, even if I have a pole down in the first round, I still stay to watch the jump-off. I think about what I walked to win the class, and then see what ends up winning. Nowadays, the footing at most of these competitions is so excellent, that horses are able to open up to 18’ strides instead of the typical 12’ or 14’ stride. I am often surprised and impressed to see riders leaving out more strides than I thought was possible when I originally walked. Practicing walking to win, particularly with jump-offs, and watching classes gives you more knowledge and better preparation for when you are riding to win yourself.

There is so much to learn from walking a jumper course and watching the class. Practicing this skill and coming up with your own effective plan can help you and your horse achieve the best results.

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!

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!