Walk this way

An often overlooked part of competition day, there’s no doubt that course walking is a real skill. However, you don’t have to jump as many rounds as a Whitaker to learn the tricks of the trade.

Finding your feet

Walking your course gives you a great opportunity to take a good look around the arena before you start focusing on what you’re jumping. It’s important to physically walk your course, rather than just point out the fences in order.

Work out any areas where you can save time – reducing the risk of time penalties, or handy in a timed section or jump-off – and spot places where you should take a wider turn to get the perfect line. Similarly, if your horse is green it’s handy to look out for any banners or particularly spooky fillers, as you may need to give him a little reassurance.

TOP TIP: Bear in mind that the more you worry about fillers, the more likely your horse is to have a look. Ride positively, but try not to panic on the approach.

When the going gets rough

While many venues are fortunate enough to have surfaced arenas to hold their jumping on, you won’t be so lucky everywhere you go. Walking the course gives you a super opportunity to get to grips with the ground and any undulations on course, so you’ll be prepared to adjust your horse’s canter where needed. Fences approached downhill will need a more contained canter than those ridden uphill, for example.

Where your round has been preceded by inclement British weather, you’ll likely find the going will get deep in places. You might need to take a different line, perhaps jumping slightly off centre, to avoid the mud. Walking the course is the prime opportunity to consider this.

TOP TIP: Set out two poles with three of your steps between them. If your horse canters through comfortably, this is the length of his stride. Play around with the distance between the poles until you find the perfect length for your horse so you’ll know how a distance will ride when you walk courses in future.

Double trouble

On course, a one-stride double will walk on eight of your strides, and a two stride should walk on 12. This accounts for two of your strides on both take-off and landing, too.

If the combination walks slightly shorter for your horse, you’ll need to ride a more contained canter to meet the second part in the right place. Equally, a short-striding horse may need some encouragement to move on over the ground. Consider the type of fences that make up the combination, too. An upright first element and an oxer out of the combination will require a contained canter in, then positive riding through the middle. However, the opposite will need a powerful, but not rushed, approach and for you to encourage your horse to shorten his stride to jump out clear over the upright.

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