Reading Course Diagrams Part III: Equitation

Reading Course
Payton Baker and Lightly Frosted at The National Horse Show. Photo by Shawn McMillen.

BY TPH Staff

In past weeks, we dissected ways to interpret all the information presented on hunter course diagrams and jumper course diagrams.

We only have one more ring to cover – the equitation ring! The equitation course diagrams can be a unique combination of elements you see on a hunter course diagram, AND on a jumper course diagram. 

As noted in the previous two articles in this series, after you get accustomed to the language and questions you might see posed on the equitation course diagrams, you will have no problem approaching the course board each morning with confidence! 

Here we go!  

Many of the elements you might see on an equitation course diagram will be quite similar to what you may have seen in the past on hunter or jumper course diagrams. 

Equitation course from Wellington International.

At any well-managed, well-run show, these are elements you may see on an equitation course diagram:

  • The show name and date
  • The class name and number
  • The ranking of the class – i.e. National versus FEI
  • The name of the ring 
  • The name of the course designer
  • The shape of the ring, and sometimes even ring dimensions. If you see something on the course diagram such as “1” = 30’, that is in reference to the “scale to size” of the ring. You may also see the center of each side of the ring marked with a “0”, and then the footage marked out to the end of each side – think about how football fields are marked on the sidelines. Some show rings presented like this on course diagrams will be marked in feet, others in yards.
  • All of the jumps set in the ring (whether they are part of your course or not) and if they are a vertical, oxer, triple bar, or water obstacle
  • Numbers on the take off side of the obstacles that are a part of your course. If your class is going at the same time as other classes (often times an equitation class might be run “open card” along with hunter courses) – make sure any single verticals on your course map are set appropriately to be jump both ways should the equitation class jump the single verticals in a different direction from the hunter courses that are being run at the same time.
  • Where larger decorations/islands are placed
  • Where the ingate and outgate are located so you can decipher the course more easily
  • In equitation classes that follow more of a hunter format, you may see a dotted line on the course map designating a portion of the ring you must stay in before proceeding to the first jump – and even a portion of the ring you must stay in after completing the last jump before exiting the ring
  • Many course designers will include arrows in the direction that the jumps are to be jumped on the course diagram
  • Combinations will be noted as (i.e.) 7A and 7B. This is different from the hunter courses where combinations are noted as two separate obstacles (i.e.) 7 and 8, as opposed to 7A and 7B)
  • If there are any option jumps – i.e. there could be an end jump that you are allowed to jump in either direction before proceeding to the next jump. There may also be two jumps placed next to each other and you are allowed to jump either one, also known as an “option”.
  • It will be noted if a jump is to be trotted, or handy galloped – or if a rider is to come down to a walk or halt anywhere on course
  • Larger shows may offer a QR code on course diagrams that allow the viewer to pull up all the courses for that day’s schedule. This can be a great asset for large, spread-out show venues.
2020 ASPCA Maclay National Championship course.

If the equitation class follows more of a jumper-class type format (i.e. WIHS Jumper Phase and USET Talent Search), these elements will be on the course map:

  • The start and finish lines (along with where the timers are set) for the course
  • Numbers on the take-off side of the obstacles that are a part of your course. Many course designers will include arrows in the direction that the jumps are to be jumped on the course diagram. Combinations will be noted – i.e. 7A and 7B, 4A/4B/4C. This is different from the hunters when combinations are noted as two separate obstacles (7 and 8, as opposed to 7A and 7B)
  • Some of these types of classes will even have a chart that notes the set height of each individual jump
  • Often times, the course will be “traced” or marked with the intended track
  • Number of obstacles included in the course and how many efforts that totals – i.e. the highest jump number on the course might be 8, but that could total 9 efforts due to combinations
  • Length of the course – noted in meters
  • The time allowed for the course – noted in seconds
  • The speed needed to achieve the time allowed – noted in meters per minute (m/min)

Additional tips:

Make sure the course aligns with the specifications of the class! If it doesn’t, talk to the ring starter who can work with the course designer to get it corrected. It is perfectly possible that your class will not count if at the end of the day if it is determined that the course didn’t follow the rules and requirements of the equitation class. At Regional I, Regional II and Local Member competitions, National medal classes must be certified by the following: A course plan showing the actual height and spread of all the fences, signed by the judge and the course designer (the steward must sign if the course designer is not present on the competition grounds) which must be provided to the steward no later than the end of the competition day on which the national medal class is held. The signed course plan must be included in the steward’s report to the Federation.

Unlike hunter courses, the distance between related elements will not be marked on the course diagrams for equitation classes. This is for the riders to determine when they walk the course.

Always check your course diagram again right before you show to make sure the designer didn’t have to change anything due to scheduling, time constraints, the condition of the footing, or a recent monsoon.

To the prior point, the course designer is often one of the hardest working people at the horse show. Mistakes happen. They are human. After the first horse goes, they may realize they marked and element incorrectly on the course diagram. CHECK THE COURSE BOARD AGAIN RIGHT BEFORE YOU SHOW. Numbers may have changed or scratched out and updated since you looked at the course diagram earlier in the day.

If you see something that’s amiss on the course diagram, kindly mention it to the starter and they will contact the course designer to see if any corrections need to be made.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series. There is more than meets the eye when you quickly glance at a course diagram – be it hunters, jumpers, or equitation. 

Take your time when learning your courses. As you’ve read in this trilogy – A LOT of information is presented on the course map that might be easily overlooked if you aren’t paying close attention. When in doubt, take a picture of the course map with your phone so that you can study it before you show – should your time be limited when reviewing the course board early in the morning.