Jun 14, 2017

A Closer Look Into the Course Design of Young Event Horse Jumping Competitions with John Michael Durr

By Carly Easton - Mythic Landing Enterprises
John Michael Durr likes to use terrain in his YEH courses. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

The Young and Future Event Horse article series is being provided through a partnership between Mythic Landing Enterprises, LLC., and the USEA.

John Michel Durr sits on the committee for the USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) program where he’s worked to design guidelines and expectations for the courses presented for the 4-and 5-year-olds contesting these divisions. His guidelines present a variety of questions to the horse without being too much of challenge. The goal is to always allow the horses to walk away more educated than they had started. Additionally, as well as being properly evaluated for a future career in the sport.

When constructing the guidelines for what course designers need to include in their courses Durr explained a few of his favorite go-to questions. The test starts off with a short show jumping course where Durr likes to set jumps that the judges can see the horse's natural tendency to jump up and around the fences. If set correctly, there should be a marked difference between the show jumping test and the cross-country.

Durr likes to set fences in show jumping that show horse's natural tendency to jump up and around the fences as demonstrated by 2015 YEH East Coast Champion, SpectraVET Cohiba. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

On every Young Event Horse cross-country course Durr likes to present the horse with a question where they must handle a difference in terrain. Durr explains, “This is critical for the horses to be able to do. Either they will have the natural instinct or they won’t. I may present this question with either a simple mound or a placing a jump on a bit of a hill.”

Additionally, Durr likes to create a question that makes the horse look through a line of jumps. “I like to include this element because the judges can get a picture of whether that horse has a desire to find the next jump or if the rider has to ask them to keep moving to the next jump.” A judge can really tell a horse’s natural cross-country instinct with questions like this, which is vital when evaluating the future of these young event horses.

It’s important to note that either a ditch, water or bank must be included in each class.

“These questions should be set in a way that getting it right is easy for the horse. It’s unique in the YEH classes as the horses are allowed to walk around the courses and look at the jumps along with walking through the water. This presents an opportunity to ask a simple question and have the horse get it very right and show off.”

A water jump must be on all YEH courses, but competitors can school it before their round. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.

The basis of these Young Event Horse competitions is to begin to identify future top horses that will rise to the highest levels. Durr continues, “Out of fairness for the horses we’re not setting up mini four-star tracks but we do need to test them so they can show off their instincts.” Durr adds that any regular horse trial course below the Advanced-level is meant to educate the horses, regardless what the rider does. But these courses are a bit more of a test.

Course designers for these competitions should be creating courses where the good horses can show off and the ones that aren’t going to be four-star contenders won’t be punished. It’s important to include bending lines where the good horses can be aggressive and find the next jump, and for the horses that aren’t as aggressive can still easily find their way through the line.

The guidelines for course design at the YEH level have developed much more over the past few years. They’ve become more specific, especially on heights for the jumps but it is still a work in progress. Durr explains that qualifiers have become much more developed and they are finally gradually progressing in difficulty as the year goes on instead of being a bunch of little speed bumps culminating to a big final.

Learn more about the programs that USEA offers for Young Horses here: http://useventing.com/competitions/younghorses

John Michael Durr. Leslie Threlkeld Photo.

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