How Do Course Designers Prepare for Their Assignments?

Renowned course designer Alan Lohman shares how he sets courses at home—and at the biggest shows in the country.

Have you ever wondered what fuels a course designer’s creativity? Where do they get their ideas for the wide array of hunter, jumper, and equitation courses that they design at any given show throughout the year? Do they experiment with innovative jump materials ahead of time? Do they mimic ring dimensions at home to see how different paths will be perceived by riders and horses at the show?

For course designer Alan Lohman, a large outdoor ring plus an indoor arena serve as his “laboratory” right at his own farm. With a clientele of hunter and equitation riders of all levels at Lohman Stables in Poolesville, MD, Lohman can give future course elements a “test drive” with horse and rider combinations at home before he presents them to exhibitors at the shows where he serves as course designer.

What might seem like similar rings at different show venues across the country is actually an optical illusion, Lohman tells The Plaid Horse. There is no “one size fits all course” that designers can rinse and repeat from week to week.

Factors such as ring shape, slope, and size; class specifications; horse and rider education level; footing material used; and, oh yes–the weather–all bear a lot of weight in a course designer’s plans.

Doing His Homework
“It’s nice to be able to come up with course tracks and design elements from my experience of training riders and horses of varying levels,” says Lohman. “My outdoor ring at home is large enough that I can manipulate its dimensions to see how tracks will ride in some of the smaller rings I have to work with at shows.”

Having designed courses at many of the top show facilities in the country (among them: Devon, The Hampton Classic, Harrisburg, Washington International, and USHJA International Derby Finals), Lohman is familiar with the dynamics and nuances that almost any ring can present. But that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for always wanting to try out new and different course components each year at any given horse show.

“I am very lucky to live in an area where I have access to many types of jump-building material,” he says. At derby finals or a major equitation final, “I can play around at home with materials to see how the ideas I conjure up in my head will look aesthetically,” says Lohman.

“Sometimes my ideas work out, and sometimes they don’t. But it’s nice to know what won’t work before I get my heart set on making it happen at the show.” For major events, Lohman is able to work with show management ahead of time to know what materials will be available for him to use in the ring. Sometimes, he will work with an assistant course designer or an individual who aids in ring décor.

Lohman adds, “My experience as a course designer over the years, as well as my experience riding and training, have helped me set appropriate courses for different classes and shows.”

How Does the Horse See the Jumps?
Knowing how horses perceive different types of jump material and where horses might anticipate challenges in the ring, helps Lohman design very exhibitor and horse-friendly courses—something he’s well known for doing.

“Horses tend to jump solid, sturdy objects well – such as walls, logs, and straw bales. Horses like the fuzzy, green rails because they appear more substantial than typical jump rails,” says Lohman. “On the other hand, delicate jumps such as split rail jumps or airy jumps don’t tend to bring out a pretty jump from a horse.”

Lohman also notes that jump color plays an important part in where an obstacle is placed in a ring. “A white vertical heading towards a white wall of an indoor will cause challenges for horses,” says Lohman. “I try to make sure there’s plenty of color contrast when possible.”

Preparing for the Show Ring at Home
“It’s always a good idea to practice different tracks with simple ground poles. You can accomplish a lot without putting wear and tear on your horse,” says Lohman. As for jump elements, he adds, “With access to a Michael’s craft store or Home Depot, you can create pretty much any type of jump or decoration for your home ring that you might see in the show ring.”

“A course designer who is out to set traps or tricks for riders and horses is not a true horseman. I want to bring out the best in horses and riders,” says Lohman. “I also want exhibitors to feel that I set fair courses for the questions that class specifications require me to ask.”

Alan Lohman started his hunter/jumper business Lohman Stables Inc., in 2004, in an effort to help riders and horses of all ages to excel in the show ring. Lohman graduated from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) with a business degree. After riding as a junior with Carolyn Krome and Ken Krome at Persimmon Tree Farm in Westminster, MD, Lohman became their assistant trainer, preparing him to start his own training, showing and sales business. Lohman has his “R” judging card in Hunters and Equitation, and is among the top course designers in the country. He has qualified numerous horses, ponies and riders for USEF Pony Finals, USHJA Junior Hunter Finals, Devon, Pennsylvania National, Washington International, and The National Horse Show, as well as many local and national medal finals.

Photos: Courtesy of Alan Lohman; Shawn McMillen Photography.

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