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I’ve spent part of the winter designing courses in the US, in particular Florida and West Palm Beach. I’ve noticed some key differences and certain trends in many of the competitions in the States.

The time allowed for the majority of classes is incredibly tight — in some cases it is almost impossible for riders to cross the finishing line without incurring faults. The sport
in America has always been about forward riding, but riders tell me they would much rather be tested on a number of technical lines than a series of rollbacks to wide oxers and a battle against the clock.

There is little doubt that the quality and standard of horse and rider at all levels is extremely high, including some very accomplished amateur riders who are competing at 1.35m-1.45m level. My experience last week in Ocala was that related distances, together with some long bending lines to and from combinations, were equally as effective at reducing clear rounds, and that the time — although still a factor — was there as a reminder, not as a test of speed over the fences.

Course analysis

The approach to course-walking in the USA is also more analytical. Most riders are walking with a trainer and will study the course in some detail, often walking a second and third time. For that reason they demand that course plans are posted the evening before, or by 7am on the morning of the class at the latest to ensure that even those in the final class of the day can study and prepare well in advance.

A flexible concept

I was also involved in a fantastic new venture in West Palm Beach, organised by former Olympian Nona Garson and her partner George D’Ambrosio. A different course was designed each day for each of the two arenas, one which suited horses jumping 80cm-1.20m and the other 1.25m-1.45m. Both courses had the option of being a speed, jump-off or two-phase competition. Although the course did not move, the fences and lines could be jumped differently and were judged under national rules. Riders arrived any time during the day with a number of horses, and with the exception of the grand prix, they could ask for the fences in each arena to be raised or reduced in height to suit their class requirements.

The concept allowed riders like Ben Maher, Laura Kraut and McLain Ward to compete up the road at the Wellington Horse Show and then bring their up-and-coming rides to compete in the classes they wanted to without the pressure of start and finish times. This is a super initiative and definitely be food for thought for British weekday training shows.

Ref Horse & Hound; 16 February 2017