It barely seems possible that this time last week I was having a riding lesson with both my pony and I dressed to face what could only be described as a monsoon. My trainer (Rachel Turner) taught from the cover of what was effectively a waterproof yashmak (with goggles) in order to brace herself against the weather.
Recently, I have had the great excitement of being asked to compete on the English Connemara WHP (working hunter pony) team at the prestigious Dublin Horse Show. Having been told by many people that it is an amazing experience and a fantastic show, naturally I can’t wait.
One of the things that I am waiting most eagerly in anticipation of is the course we will jump which is to be built by Kevin Millman. After a string of quite small and possibly disappointing courses in the RIHS (Royal International Horse Show) and HOYS qualifiers (or at least the ones that I’ve seen), one that is up to height, interesting and in a decent sized ring will be welcomed with open arms and on my pony’s part, neat feet (I hope).
There is nothing more disappointing than a dull course. My most recent encounter with one of these was just last week. After the initial excitement of seeing a new raised rectangular platform with a continuous step all the way round, and only being able to imagine what the course-builder might choose to do with such a versatile piece of kit (the options of which must have been endless), we quite quickly realised it was in fact not going to be used at all. The course-designer chose to use it the following day, but only as a pavement that you stepped on and stepped off again.
We competitors might have been able to recover from this disappointment had the rest of the course shown any kind of any ingenuity. But alas, it did not. As we watched pony after pony dribble round what was almost designed to prevent you from being able to get into a nice rhythm, it really made me start to think about what makes a good course.
A show like Lincoln County for example, is always worth travelling to for the joy of the ride.
Plenty of shows offer a beautiful ring, but not all use the space they have to the same advantage. With a new, interesting fence almost every year and a course that has been clearly thought out and includes life-size model cows, foam rocks and greenery, makes it a challenge to ride and interesting to watch. Just thinking about it makes me look forward to competing there again this year.
For some course-builders, you can even go as far as to predict how many clears there will be in each class (I think there are several who build with a number in mind). A really clever one does not have to build a huge course or (God forbid) trick distances, but can create a seemingly simple course, which can in fact get the right spread of faults while rewarding thoughtful, accurate riding.
This includes the new Scottish course-builder at the BSPS Summer Champs last year who really shook things up with extremely creative lines and questions, and the right number of clears, as well as the right winners.
And so, just as we riders are constantly having to up our game, Lisa Kelly (a very respected course-builder) commented that with improved ponies and riders, she is forever trying to reinvent the wheel to create good courses which produce the right results. Let’s hope this mindset is infectious.