I’ve always been interested in course design, and have almost an entire notebook full of courses I’ve dreamt up through the years. From crazy jumper derbies to challenging and though-provoking equitation tracks, I definitely shy away from the run of the mill huntery course. Even in my riding, I always try the inside turn, the oblique angle, or the crazy line of jumps that aren’t even in a line and were never meant to be.
As a jumper, jumping such difficult and irregular tracks sharpens up my horse and makes me a thinking rider, which is something any rider should be. The ability to size up a course from the sidelines–figure out what route to take, how many strides to get, where to gallop forward and where to balance–is valuable in hunters and imperative in jumpers.
Let’s take a look at this course. It’s an equitation course, but it is designed as a jumper course would be, which means it leaves a lot of unanswered questions open for the riders to figure out.
The route from fence 1 to 2 is a somewhat awkward bending line. Since the turn to fence 1 is a bit sharp, I would jump fence 1 at an angle and take a more direct line to fence 2. If this were a regular equitation round, I would jump fence 1 straight and take the bending route to fence 2; however, since this round is meant to simulate a jumper ride, the more direct route will produce a more flowing ride. After fence 2 is a pretty straightforward rollback to fence 3, followed by four strides to 4. Without exact numbering in the lines, we can’t know if the four strides is forward or short, which is why walking the course is imperative. Fence 5 is one of those tricky fences that seems to be in the way of a flowing track from line to line. A rider could take the more conservative path by riding a wide corner and then jumping 5 at a bit of an angle for a more direct route to fence 6, or they could make a sharper turn and jump 5 straight, then land and make the turn to fence 6. In this instance, the route really depends on the horse and what they are better at handling. Fences 6a and 6b to 7 are pretty straightforward.
After 7 though, things get tricky. I would jump 7 at a bit of angle away from the rail to give myself enough room to rollback to fence 8. If this were a legit jumper round, I would jump 7 straight and land a turn quickly, but such a dramatic move would wipe the polish off this equitation round. After fence 9 is another rollback to fence 10, followed by an easy bending line to the triple combination.
Now let’s take a look at a real jumper course, and how each question can be handled without the pressure of judges. This course is a very technical upper level jumper course.
This course begins with a sharp bending line from fence 1 to fence 2. Fence 6 could be problematic, as it is in the way of a straight line from fence 1. This can be fixed by coming off the rail a bit early and jumping fence 1 at a slight angle, swinging around to fence 2, then making a wide rollback to fence 3. After fence 2, many riders will want to slice that whole side of the rail off on their way to fence 3. Unless the rider plans to jump 3 at a rather oblique angle, it would be wiser to take the time to go all the way along the rail, and even going a bit deep into the corner to give a proper set-up to fence 3. That way, the rider has a straight shot at the triple combination of 4abc.
Again, it’s hard to tell how you would want to ride into the combination without knowing the exact striding. However, since this is a 1.60 m course, a rider would need to come into 4abc with a strong pace and a very balanced horse. Say the striding between fences 3 and 4a is short; a rider will need to balance right after landing from fence 3 and have enough power built up by the time they jump fence 4a that they will be able to make it through the combo. However, if the line from 3 to 4a were long, a rider would need to come in to fence 3 with enough pace to get them down the line but to allow themself to take their horse back a bit right before jumping into the combination. That way, they won’t come in too fast and risk overshooting the verticals at 4b and 4c.
After the combo, riders make a dogleg turn to fence 5, canter straight to fence 6, and make a bending line to fence 7. This is a stretch where riders can gallop forward through the turn and over these three fences. However, one needs to be capable of quickly getting their horse back for the sharp rollback to fence 8. I would gallop forward after fence 4c, and upon landing from fence 6, I would slow down a bit and collect my horse’s stride so that I can jump seven and land turning to fence 8. This is a tricky rollback, and many riders will have too much pace coming to 7 and will overshoot the turn, wasting valuable time. If your horse is handy, the gallop from 4c t0 6 and the quick turn after fence 7 will be fairly simple. However, many horses can get worked up after galloping over a few fences, so it may be wise to maintain the same pace from 4c to 7 so that you don’t overshoot that turn.
Fences 8 to 9 may very well be a forward-set line. Horses will be very collected after making such a tight rollback to fence 8, so even if the line is set on a regular stride, a rider will need to move forward so that they can get their horse back to a flowing pace.
After the line is an almost 90 degree turn to fence 10, followed by a left hand turn to fence 11. At first glance, 11 looks like a good fence to angle to obtain a more direct track to fence 12. However, the position of fences 1 and 4a don’t allow for a very good path for angling 11, so it’s probably best to just jump it straight and then turn right to fence 12. Depending on how wide the oxer is and how scopey a rider’s horse is, (also take into account the fact that this is the last fence on a fairly challenging course!) one could turn right after fence 4a and angle fence 12. The safe bet, though, would be to simply make a generous bending line and jump 12 straight.
Now to the ever-exciting jump off round. I’ll use the same course, which has a posted JO of 1-7-3-4a-4b-11-12. Notice that 4c has been removed, meaning that other jumps may have also been removed, which could potentially change a few approches. However, for our purposes, we’ll pretend that all the jumps except 4c remain, and we’ll plan the JO accordingly.
Fences 1 to 7 should be jumped the way fences 1 to 2 were jumped in round one. The prescence of fence 6 means a rider can’t really angle fence 1 to ride a more direct route. After 7 is a rollback to fence 3. There are really 2 viable options here; go deep into the corner to get a straight shot at fence 3 and thus fences 4a and b; or shave the turn between 7 and 3 and jump fence 3 at an angle. While this approach can save time, it is riskier, and a rider needs to be prepared to straighten out for fences 4a and b.
I strongly believe that fence 10 will be left in the ring for the JO because it creates an option of sorts that can make or break a ride. After fence 4b, a rider can immediately turn left and canter around fence 1 to fence 11, or they can go around fence 10, which will be quite costly timewise. Depending on the proximity of fence 4b and fence 5, turning inside fence 5 may be possible, but it would definitely be a risk.
Now riders must decide whether or not to angle fence 12 or jump it straight. If time is a factor, I would definitely angle it. On the other hand, if a rider just needs to go clear to win, I’d give fence 12 plenty of room and jump it straight.