Course-building: the ins and outs

  • Building a course at home

    As head trainer with the British Show Jumping Association (BSJA), Di Lampard builds show jumping courses for training purposes on a daily basis and has some words of advice.

    “It depends on the horse and rider as to how big and how difficult you make a course at home,” says Di. “If you are at the lower levels and jumping British Novice courses, then it is advisable to build fences at the same height as in the ring. When you get to Foxhunter, however, you can’t expect the horse to keep trying so hard when you are training at home – keep it varied.

    “Having said that, every horse and every rider is an individual, so you must build a course to suit your own needs. If your horse tends to get a bit long, for instance, it is useful to practise over a shorter distance, while longer distances are better if you want
    to encourage the horse to move forwards.

    “It’s not always easy, but get as much help as you can building a course,” Di adds. “For example, it is very hard to build a straight combination – a course builder would measure it accurately, but I lay the poles on the ground first to make sure they are in line.

    “If you are trying to recreate the competition environment, don’t use placing poles as you would at home. Equally, it is important to use a variety of fillers in training, so the horse won’t spook when he is faced with brightly coloured fillers at a competition. Even allowing for this, you won’t need to invest in lots of fences. Instead, use four or five and set up the course so that you can jump most of them in both directions. For instance, you could go from a parallel to a vertical, back over the opposite way and then go on over a double from both directions.

    “Although you can practise turns to a fence, you can’t recreate a true jump-off situation at home. You will see experienced riders gallop to the jump, but this is not advisable as a regular part of your training, in case it becomes habit-forming or causes wear and tear to your horse’s limbs.

    “The most vital thing to remember when jumping a full course at home is to make sure the horse is warmed up properly first, in the same way as he would be at a show.”

    Points to remember

  • Courses should be flowing and forward-moving, to encourage a clear round that will build the horse’s confidence.
  • When building a course, keep the obstacles the same size or gradually increasing in size. Never have one element lower than the previous one, as this will encourage ‘diving’.
  • Ensure that turns are not too tight – you should have enough room to make your turn and then get several strides of approach in a straight line.
  • Take into account the going, layout of your arena and incline of the ground as you prepare a course of jumps – for instance, your horse will shorten his stride in heavy ground, if space is tight or when he is jumping uphill.
  • Remember that bright colours will draw your horse’s eye, so avoid using these at the base of a fence.
    Similarly, combinations of plain-coloured poles will merge in your horse’s line of sight, making a clear round more difficult.

    Building a course – the vital statistics

    Bear the following measurements in mind when planning a course or training session:

  • One average canter stride 10-12 ft
  • Bounce between fences 10-14 ft
  • One stride between fences 21–22 ft
  • Two strides between fences 32-34 ft
  • Three strides between fences 42–44 ft
  • Placing poles Around 18-20 ft from base of fence
  • Ideal take-off point Between 1 and 1.5 times the jump’s height away from the base
  • Distance between trotting poles 4.5-4.75 ft

    1 foot = 0.3 metres. Above distances are approximate and will vary according to each horse.

    How different fences Ride

    Being aware of how different types of fences can influence your round is vital. Each requires a different plan of approach, as Jon explains:

  • Uprights: An upright can be anything from a wall or gate, to planks or three or four simple poles. The level of difficulty depends on the types of fillers used, whether it is a related distance and where in the arena the fence is located.
  • Ascending spreads and triple bars: It is common for horses to knock the back poles of ascending spreads, particularly if they stand off the fence. As a result, it is important to make sure you take off at the correct point.
  • Oxer: An oxer is a very square fence and more testing for a horse than an ascending spread of the same height – this is because the front pole is the same height as the back pole, so to clear it the horse must jump in a more rounded outline, or bascule, over the fence.
  • Doubles and combinations: Most show jumping courses consist of at least seven obstacles in the first round and at least five in the jump-off. Combinations are classed as one obstacle, as are doubles. The most important thing to remember when jumping a combination is to take off at the correct point at the first element. If you put in an extra stride, or take off too early, it will be very difficult to clear the remaining obstacles. You also need to make sure your approach is straight and to jump the centre of each fence.
  • Water jumps: The water jump is one of the most difficult obstacles to master and your horse should be trained carefully at home. As a general rule, when approaching water jumps, the last few strides of canter before take-off should be lengthened.


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