Friday, March 1, 2013

Creating Cross-Country Courses


Hugh Morshead  c2013

Chapter Outlines

Chapter 1: Creating Courses.
 Course design is all about heads and toes, giving horses confidence and keeping them sound. The challenge is how to do this with the economy and climate swinging on their hinges.

Chapter 2: Good Footing in Bad Weather.
Here are ways to work with all the vagaries of weather, soil and landscape.

Chapter 3: Rock and Brush.
Rock and brush are the yang and yin of course building. Stonework gives character and permanency, while the strength of brush is in its weakness.

Chapter 4: Portable Jumps.
There are three things on a cross-country course: jumps, fences and obstacles. Jumps are built with natural materials and look and ride like jumps, fences are built with milled lumber and obstacles are all the rest. Here are step-by-step instructions on how to build eleven portable jumps using logs.

Chapter 5: Ditches, Banks and Water Jumps.
Water table fluctuations and soil dynamics can take the poetry out of course building. Their construction is not as complicated as perceived. Here are affordable ways to build these feature fences that will pass the test of time.

Chapter 6: Elvis on Velvet.
Too often, the pristine natural beauty of a cross-country course becomes two miles of Elvis on velvet because of the floral extravagances of garden centers. Natural landscaping looks better, saves cash and is sustainable.

Chapter 7: Safety Depends Upon Risk.
Three things are unequivocal: horses and risk are inseparable, outdoor conditions are variable and duty of care is sacrosanct. Ensuring safety is further compounded by sport being amateur and safety being a professional endeavour. Here are suggestions and thoughts on how to get it right.

Chapter 8: Chainsaw Carving and other Skills.
Course builders live in a world of rules, dimensions, deadlines and inspections. Chainsaw carving is about doodling with the discarded to create the unnecessary. This chapter also gives insider tips on related matters for the DIY folk.

Chapter 9: Portable Stalls, Show Jumps and Dressage Rings.
Here are detailed instructions for building portable stalls, general tips on making show jumps and some secrets about dressage arena footing.

Chapter 10: The Third Exit Past Sanity.
Every horse show has the same address – just take the third exit past sanity. Here are ways to prevent the bad fairy flying over the night before the show and sprinkling all messed up dust over everything.


Cross-country courses can cost less to build today than a decade ago, yet the cost to organizers has skyrocketed. This book is about how to thrive in a changing world were both the economy and climate are swinging on their hinges. Aligning endeavours with nature turns these seemingly insolvable problems into opportunities.

 Land stewardship and storm water management not only mitigate against extreme weather, but they will also improve the footing when times are good. Design and construction techniques continue to evolve; these changes are both good and bad. The sharing of knowledge, best practices and education has removed much of the uncertainties of competition; the downside is that spectators and sponsors are as much a part of the sport as are the horses and riders. The prestige expense of packaging events takes cash away from the critical components, such as, footing and land stewardship. Natural landscaping amplifies the inherent beauty of the countryside and is self-sustaining; this frees up cash for jumps. 
Jump construction has seen a shift away from natural logs to milled lumber. The convenience and versatility of portable jumps cannot be denied. The downside is the originality of competition sites is eroded by cloned jumps. This book gives instructions for building eleven rustic portable jumps. They are horse-friendly and easy on the eye. This book is aimed at horse farms and the organizers of lower level competitions; my goal is to encourage the less experienced to build jumps. A good plan is to start with the simple log jumps and then progress to banks, ditches and water jumps. Knowing what to do and what not to do is as important as carpentry skills, as is safety, this overarches all aspects of design and construction.

The challenge is that equestrian sport is amateur, while safety is a professional endeavour with trained officials and Emergency Medical Services. These opposites are reconciled in three ways: rule changes have shepherded the wayward, there is a general acceptance that safety is everyone’s responsibility and there is awareness that an active lifestyle with its attendant risks is essential for quality of life.  International riders are a known quantity, the lower levels ride on the margins of ability. The subtleties of course design can play a significant role in giving the wobblers an unseen hand.
Finally, horse shows are as much about people as they are about horses. Success or failure depends upon the people putting it all together, rather than the budget or attributes of the site. It is a shared commitment by a team working under stressful conditions – and there’s the rub. I call it the Faulty Towers paradox – you have to be mad to run a horse show, but if you’re mad, you cannot run one. Here is a look behind the scenes and suggestions for staying on the sunny side of sanity.  It is also a glimpse into the slightly feral world of the course builder. At the heart of designing and building cross-country courses is the satisfaction of creating things. It is as much fun makes jumps as it is galloping over them and that is why I hope more people will have a go at building jumps.

Note: I will post a chapter every two or three weeks as revisions are completed. Comments are welcome and encouraged.

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