Things to Consider in Course Design


My Example Course Map

By Belinda Rodriguez

I recently attended a Course Design webinar with Trish Hyatt from Working Equitation Simplified based in Canada. Trish is a WeCan Technical Delegate and WEDU Judge. Her guest was Doreen Atkinson, a senior judge in the USA and masters level competitor.

Trish Hyatt runs online Working Equitation courses and one of these is titled “Course Design and Rider Strategy”.  The webinar was a chance to understand the course content and ask questions with Trish and her guest Doreen Atkinson.

Quick points to take away

  • Know the rules – the Working Equitation Rules!
  • Plan for both right and left handed riders.
  • Consider the minimum distances between obstacles and arena edges stated in the rules.
  • Consider the minimum number of obstacles for each class stated in the rules.
  • Plan for the gait between obstacles and the gait(s) of each obstacle stated in the rules.
  • Consider a variety in stationary, bending, carrying, up/over and maneouvering/precision obstacles.
  • Degree of difficulty should be less for lower levels.
  • Consider the challenges and choices offered in lines.

The Rules

Here in New Zealand we are currently using the Working Equitation Down Under (WEDU) rules as the national standard. A thorough understanding of the Ease of Handling rules is important, including the specific guides and directives at each class level.

For example in the webinar, a particular course design was discussed that caused competitors to be in counter canter as they headed to the garrocha pick up (at the lowest level in cantering obstacles).  In this case, because the course design was too tight to make a tidy progressive lead change, the judge would be likely to consider a circle prior to the obstacle for the change of lead as the same level of difficulty to a direct line and thus no adverse affect on scoring.  However, avoiding this type of line would be more ideal at the lower levels.

Here are some factors that are stated in the version 4 of the WEDU rules:

  • Recommended arena dimensions are 70 metres x 40 metres.
  • There must, whenever possible, be a minimum distance of 5 metres between spectators and the course.
  • There must be a distance of at least 10m between obstacles in the line of travel between obstacles.

Left and Right Handed Riders

Usually the majority of riders will use the right hand to touch the obstacles, however the course must not disadvantage left handed riders. For example, where there is a solid gate obstacle the left handed rider would pass through in a backwards manner. Ensure that there is adequate space for this manoeuvre to take place. Keep the line of the bull straight (rather than curved favouring right bend) so that it is balanced for both sides. In the case of the bell corridor, place the bell where it can be reached adequately from either left or right (crossing of the arm across the body is acceptable).

Variety of Obstacles

Select obstacles from your rule book that will create different tests for the participants, such as bending, maneouvering, stationary pauses, negotiating up and over, and carrying. Alternate the type of tests so that the same skills are not repeated in concession. Expect that the lower levels will find repeated bending more challenging, therefore consider using a single slalom instead of double slalom, and choosing between the two barrels (figure 8) or the three barrels (clover leaf).

Lines and Challenges

Designing for each level, especially when the course is used for multiple levels, is tricky. As the course level increases, it is expected that the difficulty and challenge increases. The lower levels require more space and opportunity to set their horse up well.  At the higher levels, a course that is overly difficult may result in a higher number of disqualifications.

In the WEDU rules, at Novice levels and above, 3 refusals at an obstacle or refusal to move forward for more than 15 seconds anywhere on the course is a disqualification.

A challenge is offered where there is a choice between the direction to take in the obstacle or the length of the path to the next obstacle. A challenge can be achieved by placing obstacles at points that are “in the way” of a line towards the next obstacle during the between obstacle section of the course (but not in the way of an arrival to or departure from an obstacle). The rider must choose how to navigate, taking a shorter path with less space or a longer and easier route.  A challenge is also presented when an obstacle, such as the Stockpen or the Two Barrels, involves a choice in the direction to bend first.  This is more so at the higher levels where a change of canter lead is required. It is customary to leave adequate room around the Stockpen so that the rider may circle around the outside to set themselves up for arriving or departing the obstacle.

Transition markers introduce more challenge as the rider needs to be more precise at the point of the transition.

The Bull obstacle is one of the more difficult obstacles involving three parts. The course designer should enable plenty of space (at least 9 – 10m between each part) for the rider to gather themselves after each section of the obstacle.

Involving some obstacles between the garrocha pick up and drop off will introduce more challenge for the higher levels.

Some obstacles, such as the Side Step pole and the Bell Corridor have a range of options to introduce a higher level of difficulty.

It is helpful to plan a course design using a grid to map out the spacing with a level of accuracy. There will always be some differences between the vision of the course designer and the people who set up the course. Slight angles can have marked differences. It helps to walk through the course twice!