February 2018 - Peter Grant Clinic

Understanding course design is key to horse and rider progression.

by Ginger Freeman

Along with several other riders from Shady Lane Farm, I took a day off from riding to learn from Canadian FEI course designer, Peter Grant, in early December.

Understanding the dynamic and technical aspects of course design is essential to achieve effortless beauty on course. Peter’s in-depth description and hands-on activities about course design gave me a different perspective on show jumping and some helpful hints of what to focus on while practicing at home to achieve success on course.


Peter began the clinic by telling us about the evolution of show jumping and its connection to course design. In the early years, the sport did not prioritize horse and rider safety, Peter explained. It was standard practice then to use hard poles and deep cups, which created jumps that were nearly impossible to break down. Luckily, the sport has evolved from “jump or die Darwinism” to safety over the past few decades.


Peter’s process works to set up the horse and rider for success and good course designing is critical to horse and rider safety. A course can either do damage to a horse or make them better. Despite the importance of quality course design, horse show management is often money incentivized and neglects to invest in hiring a course designer to save money. Peter urged us to  encourage show management to invest in course designers, which will, in turn, improve the sport.

Thankfully, stricter safety regulations implemented by USEF over the past 15 years have led to better courses that have contributed greatly to the evolution of the show jumping horse. The horses themselves and what they can handle are constantly changing, so the course designing process has to be dynamic. A good course designer works like a teacher designing curriculum because they assess different skills at each level. The same basic questions of shoulder control, compression, and stride length are asked at each level but complicated by the course designer depending on the experience and ability expected at each level. The lower the level, the less is asked from horse and rider. At 1.40 meter and above, questions beyond the basics are asked. This level is more about showing the horse what they can do rather than the horse showing the rider what they can do.

Flatwork First

Author Ginger Freeman is a Junior Jumper rider with Matt & Lindsay Archer’s Shady Lane Farm in the East Bay Area’s Alamo.

Peter’s course design philosophy is contingent on good flatwork, which creates a course that has rhythm and flow. The most important fence is the first because it should set up flow for the rest of the course. Additionally, he includes a break on course to achieve an ascetic “classical music rhythm,” and to add drama by giving viewers more time to process the athletic efforts they are watching. Peter begins his design process by assessing the philosophy of the show management, scale of the arena, the plan for combination fences, and if there are necessary materials to build a proper water jump. He then creates the Grand Prix course. The courses during the week act as building blocks for the skills needed to execute the Grand Prix. For example, the course for a Wednesday class will typically work to establish a desired stride length for the Grand Prix. While Thursday, Friday, Saturday courses may require lengthening, shortening, and/or hip and shoulder control of the desired stride length learned from Wednesday.

To conclude the clinic, Peter incorporated several hands-on design activities that solidified my understanding of the course designing process. My peers and I practiced the initial steps of course design by drawing original courses on paper. Peter compared and contrasted each of our courses and picked one for us to build in the arena at Shady Lane Farm. The group then walked into the arena and started placing poles, jump cups and standards in the footing for the combination, other lines, then single fences. We learned that we should always build the combination(s) first because the placement of lines and single fences can be modified more easily.

Reflecting on my experience at the Peter Grant clinic, I am now more aware of a skilled course designer’s motives and the technical aspects of show jumping. I believe it will enhance my ability to connect with the sport. For instance, when riding on my own or in lessons I will focus on practicing the various flatwork skills that could be asked on course at a show. Additionally, I will be more conscious of the progression of the skills expected through the week at shows. I will think of what the designer is intending and being conscious of those skills as I ride (or watch others ride) through the week.