For Show jumpers and Eventers, walking a jump course is much the same. The idea behind walking the course is getting the best route to be ridden for you and your horse. There are quick routes, and places where the rider and/or the horse can take a deep breath. For each it is a chance to understand what is being asked of the rider and the horse.
Most riders will walk the course with their trainer or a friend. This is a good approach, but can sometimes be distracting if there is a large group walking together. A good trainer will walk with their group of students and then follow it up with speaking to each student one on one about the places they have questions around the course. In some cases the trainer should be willing to walk to those places. While walking with friends is sometimes helpful, it can also be detrimental. It is human nature to seek companionship with another likeminded person, so because of this we end up chatting, sometimes about things that have nothing to do with the course walk. If you choose to walk with a friend (and when walking alone or with a trainer) it is always a good idea to walk the course again at least one more time to get a good visual of where to go and what you want to do with your horse.
While walking your course visualization is key. Most of competing horses is psychological. We need to see ourselves being successful. For Event riders this pertains to both cross-country and show jumping. For Show Jumpers it is in both the first round and the jump-off. While walking the course once on your own you should be able to stop and “see” yourself flying to the other side of the fence cleanly. A sports psychologist might tell a rider, if you see yourself failing at the fence somehow, choose a word to make you interrupt your thought process, so that you can go back and see the jump being successful. When you see things going wrong in your visualization a good word to use would be “stop”. This will make you pause in your thought process. This way you can go back and visualize the jump being positive for you and your horse.
Another point to take into consideration while walking the course is what the course designer is looking for from the rider and horse. Is the course supposed to be ridden very carefully? Is it technical or gallop-y? How tight are the turns? Do the lines measure straightforward or are they long or short? Most course designers have a certain style or pattern they tend to follow. The idea for all of them is to create a challenging course where the best rides can be successful, but one that will also teach all of the competitors something. So, while walking the course see if you can start to learn the different styles of the different designers. It will help you in the future of walking courses.
When walking a course the best approach every time is to be analytical. Take in what course of action will best suit you and your horse. Remember every rider is different, so is every horse. This will help you to take the time to walk the course through your horses’ eyes instead of the eyes of your best friend on her packer pony. If a line doesn’t work for you this time, take into consideration that there were many factors that contributed to your decision in riding the course the way you did. Take your time getting to know the course. It can be rewarding, especially if all goes according to plan.