Working hunter course builder Graham Barclay: ‘I often learn from the riders’


  • Leading working hunter course-designer and builder Graham Barclay on how the game has changed

    I’M admittedly a person of a certain age and have been involved with horses for many years, starting out in my local riding club in Fife.

    I was given the chance to build British Showjumping (BS – then BSJA) classes by the Low-Mitchell family who were based at Balcormo Farm and ran a number of shows during the season.

    With the help of two British Show Pony Society (BSPS) course-builders, I moved on to building working hunter tracks, and this is where my heart has been ever since.

    In the early years, my tracks were usually confined to horse and agricultural shows in Scotland. Six years ago, I was given the opportunity to design and build at the BSPS summer championships.

    I’m known for being a little adventurous with my courses, often opting to bring trees into the jumps, setting up pens and building offset combinations, so I think I frightened the life out of some of the competitors who hadn’t seen my tracks before.

    With the compliments I receive it’s nice to know they now appreciate what I build and most enjoy the challenges I set.

    Moving with the times

    OVER the years, I’ve noticed how the riders are able to see the lines through the combinations much better. I like to add in alternative routes to make combinations think, and at times I’m amazed at the routes they take; often, it’s me learning from the riders.

    In the past, most working hunter classes were held on grass, but as more and more equestrian activities are held at equestrian centres with all-weather surfaces, this has become the preference. I can be more adventurous with the tracks on grass, but have had to move with the times.

    With this in mind, riders need to ensure that they’re doing the work at home, practicing on multiple surfaces and learning to ride corners. When walking the course, those who fare best have taken the lines they’re going to ride.

    A course-builder is only as good as the material they have to work with, too. The fences should be of a solid appearance, with additional fillers, greenery and some dressing to make the jumps inviting for both horse and rider.

    I always try to build a hunting course to adhere to the name of the class – working “hunter” – though some courses are becoming rustic showjumping tracks, and this is a shame.

    Encouraging future builders

    THERE seems to be some interest from young riders who want to move into course-building, which is promising for the sport.

    If someone is interested in pursuing it they need to act as a probationer under a panel course-builder for a minimum of three shows before being thought suitable to be considered for the panel.

    I often wonder if the competitors think the jumps go up by themselves. It’s very time-consuming and I would like to think the riders appreciate the work that has gone into the track they’re jumping.

    We need to encourage anybody with the intention of taking up worker course-building as we don’t have the same opportunities as BS builders.

    It was such a personal achievement when I was asked to build my first Royal International and Horse of the Year Show qualifiers, and an even bigger honour to be asked to build at the BSPS summer and Heritage championships.

    I would definitely like to see more qualifiers in the north of England and Scotland to give any new course-builder something to aim at.

    Unfortunately, we are losing some of our members to other sports, such as eventing, at a much younger age, so changes are needed to bring in riders who wouldn’t normally compete in worker ranks.

    • This exclusive column can also be read in H&H magazine, on sale Thursday 9 September

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