A group of 12 members and their guests including three Irish representatives gathered at fence 2 for the annual course walk. This year we were lucky to have Eric Smiley FBHS as our guide.

Eric began by explaining that there would be three groups of riders walking the course that day. The “oh my goodness I have made it here “ contingent. The “ I want to complete” riders and  finally the riders who would be competitive. Everyone starts the course with 3 buckets, one containing the energy, one honesty/confidence and one containing the time given to complete the course without penalties. The goal is to manage the contents of the buckets round the course so that you make the best use of the horse’s energy whilst maintaining his confidence level and keeping up with the clock.

Eric then took us on the journey around the course. He is a master at looking at things from the horse’s perspective. At each fence he discussed the options, what things would take the energy out of the horse, such as needing to change direction and leg a number of times, the rider taking pulls and the wrong camber in the ground.

The emphasis all the way round the course was Pace and Line, you only need one stride straight to jump the fence. Practice at home so when the course builder tests you, you are ready. Teach the horse to make quick decisions but ride so he has time to make the right decision.

As we entered the intense part of the course Eric emphasised the need to be having the debate with yourself about managing energy (taking the direct route) versus maintaining confidence (choosing alternative routes). The important thing here is to recognise the mental stress for the horse of answering so many questions in a short space of time and for the rider to recognise if the horse is losing focus.

Eric explained that good course builders understand how horses think and so towards the end of the course fences are positioned well to make it easy for tired horses. However riders still need to adapt to the horses energy levels on the final few fences, holding the line but allowing the horse to find the stride. It was somewhat prophetic as it turned out, sadly.

I have only managed to pass on a snippet of Eric’s wisdom here. He is a master storyteller and made us feel as if we were riding the course ourselves. Thank you Eric, it was brilliant, although I am still trying to work out how to jump all those fences carrying three buckets………..

Report by Liz Eaton