From everything I`ve read, seen, heard, the single most important set of people in modern eventing for the good or ill of our sport are xc course designers.
A horse friendly, knowledgeable, caring designer can construct courses which can challenge but not hurt or intimidate for the appropriate level. You come off these courses feeling positive and exhilarated.
Whereas an arrogant, know it all, adversarial kind of designer seems intent on discovering what you and your horse CAN`T DO, rather than what you CAN do.
As far as I can determine, there is no ranking system, or control system over these people.
Sure, the TD and/or Rider Rep can theoretically make waves, but look at the reality.
You get to an event with, say, those huge white boxes like the ones at So Pines that all the riders hate. And yet keep appearing year after year. Each one of those thing weighs a ton, and how, at the last minute, are you going to modify those? Examples like this are legion.
The key is to educate xc designers not to conceive of bad jumps, horse unfriendly jumps, BEFORE they get built.
But who teaches future xc designers?
Often, the current ones who are already the problem. And this is a huge problem.
I think we need a ranking system for xc designers like college rankings of professors.
You know, the rankings that tell it like it is.
And these should come from compilations of opinions from lots of people, not just some angry individual who got eliminated.
So these people are held accountable.
If I were a xc designer, and I read that my courses were "often vertical, with trappy, difficult lines,---loves to use big square tables----poor use of ground lines---etc, might it not make me shape up?
Or discourage events from employing me until I did?
We rank riders, we rank horses, we rate insructors, why don`t we rate the people who have the greatest control over where our sport is heading?
Great concept - but I have 2 nuances/complications/factors to mention which I suspect must be quite important.
One - the designer builder relationship. My understanding is that often a designer will say "I want an imposing table here, and a half coffin there." Then the guys with the chain saws and heavy machinery come along, and I bet can possibly unwittingly have huge impact on the resulting course, depending on whether they use rounded material at the front edge of the jump, or whether the owner tells them "The sponsor tent will be there. Make this pretty!"
I'm sure everyone involved is well meaning, and talented. I suspect that some builders must be hugely observant of how horses jump and think, and others less so. Some likely get to travel to more courses and see other builders work, others are likely sticking closer to home, for better or worse. I thought it was very interesting Pegasusmom's comment that John Williams did a lot of the building himself when he took over at the CHP, because I have seen John watching horses jump his jumps, and studying their hoofprints afterwards to see what lines they took. I've also heard him talk about groundlines - what ones are useful, and which ones look useful but are in fact trappy.
Which sort of leads me to mysecond nuance of course design - any given year, *someone* is listed as the designer at a course - but a lot of courses are tag team efforts. Designer A starts with the blank slate, then 4 years later Designer B gets to re-mold the course. Year 1 she might take off the two fences which offend her most from the existing course, but she likely doesn't have the budget to totally remake a course, cwertainly not in 1 year...
Of course, there are enough new facilities out there that some clearcut "This is THIS designer and THIS builders' work" , but I figure if someone might be making a spreadsheet, might as well consider various layers early.
On this hypothetical spreadsheet I would be intrigued to see a column for how recently the designer has competed in eventing.
Trish Gilbert - I've done N and T courses designed by her. courses are very challenging but fair. Nothing trappy. good use of groundlines. Lots of room to gallop and establish a rhythm. courses seem to be aimed at rewarding the horse and building confidence.
Tremaine Cooper - same as Trish Gilbert. Makes really good use of the terrain.
Craig Thompson - seems to cater to horses/riders moving up and really needing to establish confidence. Like his courses.
Nina Fout - seems intent on catching riders and horses out. Makes more use of the maximum difficult side of the curve than the normal area. Courses do not flow. Uses terrain to maximize difficulty. I know I am not alone in this opinion.
Robert Butts - Waredaca is always, ALWAYS designed well. Always solid for the level, but not designed to catch you out. Designed to instill confidence if you are ready for the level. Love his courses.
John Williams - Have only done SP. Courses are tough but reward the horse and rider that are ready for the level. VERY good use of groundlines to make the tables inviting. Good use of terrain. Wouldn't use his courses for move ups (at least not SP), but for horses who have had at least a few runs at the level and are ready for more of a challenge within the level. Horses and riders feel a sense of accomplishment after course, but not overfaced.
Last edited by flyingchange; Mar. 19, 2008 at 10:10 AM.
Reason: To add John Williams
I agree with flying. Especially on Nina. When in the hell is CDCTA and Middleburg going to get a clue as to why no one enters? It's so frustrating! Maybe the ranking would let them know how we feel. Maybe I'm smoking something.
Anyway, I would like to add
Brian Ross and VA
David O'C - rubicon's n/tr. I've heard to not enter prelim as it's quite up and down but I don't have first hand exp.
My instructor has ridden some of Mike E-S courses and she gushes over them (as much as a pro eventer "gushes"). I wish he wasn't retiring as cd!
We should also include sj because there are some events that really knocked me out because of rather silly courses and I won't go to them.
As a reformed show jumper/hunter all I can say is bring on the breakaway cups.
If it is all going to be this technical then for heaven's sake give the horse and rider an out. Stop making everything soo solid in the technical portions of the run. The XC jumps were intended to last year after year in your pastures. With the settings as they are now they can afford to move things around and lighten things up.
We have all kinds of new materials that can be used to promote safety.....why not advance from the dark ages? The courses have changed why not the materials. Just look at the jumper rings of today......nothing is stationary and the poles aren't real wood. Why is that? HMMMMMMM
Just my thoughts....now I will retreat while everyone shoots at me. BON BON in hand.
The rider casts his heart over the fence,
the horse jumps in pursuit of it.
Europa, that's something that I've thought about for awhile. Why can't the jumps be made out of more forgiving materials? I'm not sure what those materials would be. I'm also not sure if having different types of materials would cause another set of problems, but at least, one of the problems wouldn't be rotational falls.
I have only ridden through preliminary (and one or two intermediate courses). Experience on multiple horses at novice and training level. We should find out if we have a good programmer in the group. We could have the equivalent of tripadvisor for courses and course designers. You could assign 4 things to a courses 1) number of oxers for how big, 1-5; 2) number of Ts for how technical 1-5; 3) number of hills for terrain and; 4) overall rating 1-5 where 1 is easy move up, more like prior level and 5 is serious championship level course. You would also write a little few line review. For example: Training level (Tremaine Cooper) at 2007 Radnor:
A nice inviting course. Some difficulty level in large ditch in half coffin combination prior to midpoint of course. Must ride through several gates. Water complex well conceived, but footing not well dealt with, making approach difficult. Fairly flat, easy to see from fence to fence. Well decorated, fun course limited by need to use primarily portables.
David O'Connors courses are great - challenging, but flowing and really asking interesting, but doable questions at the level
John Williams - also, he is likely to speak up if he is riding at an event and sees something that he perceives as dangerous and works hard to make his courses serious, but inviting
Trish Gilbert - great, friendly courses
Tremaine Cooper - well thought out courses with good flow and tough questions appropriately placed
Nina Fout - haven't ridden her courses, but having seen them, they wouldn't be my first choice
Mark Phillips - I have never really liked his courses. Have thought they are within the lines of the rules, but not the spirit of asking questions appropriate to the level (remember I've only ridden his training and prelim courses)
Robert Butts - great courses at Waredaca, but his name is on others I like less
Brian Ross - always great, but variable in difficulty level, so it is hard to know exactly what to expect.
Sure Hony. My thinking behind my statement is this - Every designer puts their stamp on a course that they deem perfectly fair and rideable. Captain Mark, after the carnage at Red Hills and after many riders displayed displeasure in his courses, stated that he didn't understand why there were so many problems and he doesn't know what people were expecting. Here's the problem. He expects these courses to ride well but he doesn't ride them himself. Most riders thought all of these courses unfair for the horses and not in the true spirit of eventing. Well I'm sure there were many potential team members that thought the same, but what can they do? Their hands are tied if they wish to make the US team. If they speak out against the designer at an event and the designer was unrelated to the US team and to the selection process, that would be one thing and I would think more would be willing to take a stand. However, when the designer IS the head of the team and is very much involved in the selection process, how do you speak up against what he feels a fair course if you want a shot at the team?
I rode an M E-S course in early February and thought it was fantastic. LOTS of galloping room, very fair, inviting questions, and ~just~ enough difficulty to challenge my horse and me for the level. Granted it was BN in early Feb, so it should be inviting. But I was more than thrilled with it. I walked the N, T, and P courses and felt they were also fair, open and gallopy, with just enough difficulty for that time of year.
I like the ranking idea, although I personally love M-E-S's course at Richland, at least how it was several years ago, haven't been in the last year or so.
I'm not sure how the ranking idea would work out. I have one memorable case of a course design from a person who I believe is a very good course designer but as it turned out my horse and I both misjudged the jump badly due to shadows at the early time of day. Square dark table with large shadow thrown in front from early sun, dew sparkling, freshly blacked table sparkling with dew. Add in that the previous jump was a huge ditch and black sloping wall, and you can guess what happened. Thankfully my horse has incredible heart and a lot more scope than I dreamed of. The rest of the course was fabulous but we had a near miss. I'm sure the designer never dreamed that would happen.
I think even good course designers need to be there to see how the course is jumping so they can make adjustments if necessary as I believe most have the best ideals at heart. Would that be a good use of money? I'm heartened to hear about JW being there on course and watching how things are going. Maybe a rating system from competitors would make it more compelling for designers to make things more rideable? Just throwing some ideas around....
Last edited by Hannahsmom; Mar. 19, 2008 at 01:45 PM.
I agree, Mike E-S and John Williams are brilliant.
Many others (at least in this area) - not so much.
We definitely need some sort of system in place to bring the levels back where they belong. Many, if not most, of the courses in this area feature questions that are NOT appropriate for the level. As a competitor, I feel like there is NOTHING I can do about this. The "suck it up" mentality of eventers makes me feel like I am the only one who will complain, and my concerns will be dismissed as a result. My only option is not to ride - which frustrates me, because I enter a certain level based on my expectations of what a course should be at that level. Has anyone actually looked at the guidelines for levels of horse trials in the rule book lately? They make me laugh...because almost NOTHING that we see around here actually conforms to the guidelines.
Sorry - I just wrote an email about this very issue to Kevin Baumgardner (in response to his message on the USEA website) so I'm a little fired up right now. What he said was right on - things are getting way too technical, all the way down to BN. I find the number of "starter" or equivalent levels that are popping up everywhere a little disturbing - this tells me that *Beginner Novice* is too hard!
I like the idea of a rating system. My fear is that people who are used to the courses that we are seeing in recent years don't know any better. That, plus the "suck it up" mentality, may not make a rating system as useful as we would like. Hopefully I'm wrong about that, but I agree that we need to do *something* to police course design, and get the levels back where they belong.