The Importance of Walking the Course - blog by Grace Wallace

With season just around the corner, you may be preparing yourself for a year full of jumping or may just be taking the plunge for the first time. One of the upmost important aspects of showjumping is walking the course. This is often underestimated in importance but could potentially be the difference between first and last place, and how well your round goes.

Most showjumping courses are built to be ridden on certain distances and lines, varying from doubles, to combinations, to straightforward distances and dog-legs, but all must be planned out and strided before you ride the course in order to give your horses the best chance of jumping cleanly. It will also help you to decide whether to shorten or lengthen your horse's stride and places to turn if you find yourself in a jump-off.

Firstly, find the first fence and decide on how you plan to approach it. You need to have a forward, active canter and you should aim to meet it on a comfortable stride- not too long nor too short. As they say, start as you mean to go on, so make sure to ride confidently and positively into the fence. Also ensure that you are approaching as straight as possible and use the corner to turn smoothly so that the balance of the canter is not lost. 

Striding distances is also very important, as this will allow you to meet the following fence on the best stride possible. It is important to know how big your horses stride is, so you know whether to ride more forward or collected into a fence so that they meet the distance nicely. Both horses and ponies have different stride, but generally one horse stride equates to 4 humans strides, which acts as a guide as to what the distances are expected to ride as. 

Doubles are either one stride or two strides. Theses have to be treated with respect and ridden accurately to give your horse the best chance of jumping out well. An average one stride double will walk 8 human strides and an average two stride one 12 human strides. Stick to these distances when riding in and adjust appropriately, making sure not to unbalance your horse in the middle and plan out the line you plan to ride afterwards to the next fence.

It is also important to make note of the type of fences you are jumping into a set distance. Often, oxers will lead to a more parallel jump where the horses lands further away, whereas uprights will lead to a more ascending jump where the land quite steep. In these situations, it is important to think quickly and ride appropriately, such as pushing forward to make up the distance lost from landing steep, or shortening up if you have landed too far away. 

It is important to make note of where the timing equipment is and where possible jump-off turns are when walking the course, as you will not be allowed to walk again before the jump-off. Just keep this in the back of your mind, and walk the turns as you plan to ride them. Timing lights may begin after certain fences or may be situated a short distance away from the final fence, so make sure you check- this may save you valuable seconds! 

I always find that it helps me to stand in the middle once I have learnt the course and ride through it in my mind. If there are any areas that I think I may have problems, I ensure to go back to that section of the course again. I also find it very beneficial to watch other riders go if possible, to learn from their mistakes and see what works and what doesn't. Also keep an eye out for any possible distraction for you horses, such as where the gate is situated, any banners, fillers, flowers or anything your horse may consider spooking at. Make sure you are confident of the course in your head, but don't overthink it- just ride it how you walked it and all should work out.

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