Many of us, when we walk courses, have a routine. Things we look for, things we know will catch certain riders off guard, things we’re careful to point out to our students. Even the way we walk, the practiced length of our strides, the lines we take between fences. We think about this stuff from the rider or trainer’s perspective, carefully honed over years of walking, thinking about, and riding courses. Time, and experience.
In my years of course experience, the course designer’s perspective is something I thought I understood. Because I’d carefully considered the course and then (some of the time, at least) survived it, I’d essentially taken the course designer’s class, and passed.
But as I mentioned in my first blog, one of the reasons I’m pursuing my “r” license is to further my education. And one of the biggest realizations I came to at our recent Jumping Training Session in Aiken, S.C. in March was that my time-honed routine was missing a crucial element: while I thought I’d grasped the concept of course design, in reality I hadn’t the slightest.
For three days, our cohort was immersed in the nitty-gritty of design, construction, safety, and analysis, walking and considering cross-country and show jumping courses at the beautiful Full Gallop, Sporting Days, and Stable View facilities with Gretchen Butts, Tremaine Cooper, and Sally Ike as our guides. And in the company of luminaries like these, you realize too quickly the details you’ve been naively hazy on. Which types of stakes are available to hold fences in place, and how should they be safely implemented? Considering the footing and slope of a certain area, where do you optimally place a table, in terms of both rideability and competitive value? What types of frangible technology should you use, and where? How can decoration change the way a horse reads a fence? How many turns left, how many right, how much distance, etc, etc.
The more we learned, the more I realized the infinite number of decisions made before any competitor even starts out on a course walk. It starts to sound like an awful lot of responsibility, and it is. As riders and trainers, it’s not so much that we take these decisions for granted, but that it’s hard to envision the scope of this type of work without actually engaging in it. As “r” eventing judges, in addition to judging dressage, we’ll also be able to judge show jumping and serve as President of an event’s Ground Jury, essentially overseeing all of the course inspections and decisions of a given competition. The license starts to look pretty daunting.
At the end of three days of this type of engagement and analysis, you either throw your hands up and run away screaming, or you get determined and dig in for the duration. I knew I had a couple of students competing at the upcoming Morven and Loudoun Horse Trials in Leesburg, Va., where Tremaine Cooper was the designer, and I was determined to put what I’d learned to the test.
And the funny thing is, my routine still worked. From a rider’s perspective, I still had those years of experience on my side, still knew how to comfort my student’s qualms about a downhill approach or bending line.
But there was also this new sense of wonder, this new appreciation for the details, and the sense that I’d been missing out on this perspective for too long. See how the slight curve in the approach to this fence sets you up just so? Or how the brush on the back corner of the edge of this wide table helps define it? I’m certainly no expert yet, but I’ve got plenty of courses to walk this year, and a determined enthusiasm to explore this new idea.
My take-away advice is this: the next time you walk a course, slow down. Take a breath, look at everything. Take into account all the tiny little details of every fence you jump. There’s intention in everything, and more analysis than you can imagine. Eventing is a passion, no matter which angle you take.
Abby Gibbon is the owner, trainer, and manager of Fine Idea Farm in Mt. Airy, Md. She is currently pursuing her “r” Eventing Judge license and looks forward to writing about the process throughout the year. Stay tuned for more!
At the second-to-last of 40 efforts, "I thought, 'This is actually happening,'" said Amber Levine of a faultless finish with Cellar Farm's Cinzano today to stay on their 31.5 lead going into show jumping tomorrow morning in the Twin Rivers Spring International CCI4*-L. The Jeffs Hot Tub Waves complex at 19 a/b was the awkward exception to a Hugh Lochore-designed course that otherwise "rode great" for the 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Classe VDL x Walta) in his long-delayed debut at the level. An entirely new portion of the course around the racetrack featured a series of bright-white painted obstacles, but nothing distracted Cinzano's "tunnel vision for those flags." Levine expects a similar game attitude tomorrow and has a rail to spare.
Black stallion antics after the CCI4*-L jog inspection yesterday were not a preview of Cinzano's dressage test today. "When you are riding and working him, he's all into what you are doing," says Amber Levine, who owns the 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Classe VDL x Walta) through her Cellar Farm. A 31.5 dressage test puts them atop a field of four, three of which, including Cinzano, are first-timers in the division in Paso Robles, California.
Are you following along with the action from home this weekend? Or maybe you're competing at an event and need information fast. Either way, we’ve got you covered! Check out the USEA’s Weekend Quick Links for links to information including the prize list, ride times, live scores, and more for all the events running this weekend.
The Chattahoochee Hills H.T. is hosting one of three CCI4*-S divisions this weekend across the country and with 34 entries they have the largest turnout as riders prepare for their spring CCI4*-L and CCI5*-L goals. The facility in Fairburn, Georgia is running seven events in 2021, but their April event is the only one offering a CCI4*-S.