Tips on Walking a Course with Tim Stockdale - More from Spruce Meadows '09

Tim was able to give me some very important considerations to keep in mind when you're walking a course. The key point is, 'know your horse.' Here are his tips:

1. Look at the course "through your horse's eyes." Specifically, walk the course thinking about your horse's eye line; you need to see the fences as he/she will see them. What's in the background that may take the horses eye off the fence? Is the fence big and bold, or does it blend in with the background? For example, are there white rails against a light colored background, or green rails against green grass, or does the line to the fence head straight into the stands? These are the kinds of things that a course designer uses to create problems for the rider to solve.

For example, Leopoldo Palacios, the course designer at the Spruce Meadows Masters, is a master of putting fences in awkward places. This makes the horse's eye-line distracted by color or by a busy background - one of the real challenges faced by the riders here.

2. Decide "which horse you're riding on a given day." Be clear with yourself what your horse's strengths and weaknesses are. Does your horse have a big, ground-covering stride? Then ask yourself, Is this course built for the type of horse you're riding? If it doesn't suit your horse, it might be wiser to leave him in his stall. There's no point in coming out of a class with 8 or 12 faults and complaining that the course didn't suit your horse. Why ride him then? Be smart in managing your horse and getting the best from him. Horses only have a certain number of jumps in their career - use them wisely.

3. It can be a good practice to walk the course on your own. Other riders may be concerned about some parts of the course that are perfectly suitable for your horse. If you spend too much time listening to the others, it may set up questions in your own mind when you really shouldn't be concerned.

4. Decide what the emphasis of the course is. Some courses require power - big fences, wide oxers - while others require a very careful type of horse. Here at the Spruce Meadows Masters, the international competitions take place on a large field with big fences, and the time allowed in each class is very tight, so you have to school beforehand at a bigger, bolder pace, a stronger rhythm, so the horse won't be unsettled when you come in to jump courses here. Aachen is another venue which requires a bold, galloping horse. Whereas at Hickstead, while the courses might be bold, but they might also have a more delicate track, where a horse that shortens well would be an advantage.

As you gain experience, you'll become familiar with the different venues and course designers and you'll learn how to prepare your horse appropriately.

Jumping up onto a table. Kalico Bay is being very careful not to touch the rail with his hind end.

Coming down a steep bank.

Tim's careful ride down the bank set up a clean jump at this very difficult airy vertical.

After the bank and vertical, Tim Stockdale could make good time to this oxer. His experience over natural obstacles - knowing where to be careful and where he could make up time - along with his confidence in the suitability of his horse on this course helped him achieve second place in this very competitive class.

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