COURSE DISCOURSE: The Open Water Edition

What does the water jump mean to you as a rider who wishes to compete on the world stage of show jumping? If you are a rider who wants to compete in classes that will give you the experience to move up in difficulty and prestige and improve your chances of competing on a team representing your country you need to have a horse that can jump the open water. If you have the horse you need to learn how to ride the open water.

Eugenio Garza Perez and Armani SL Z over the open water at the 2018 Nations Cup in Wellington
Eugenio Garza Perez and Armani SL Z over the open water under the lights in the 2018 Nations Cup at the Winter Equestrian Festival

This is not a jump that rides like any other so experience jumping it is paramount. Water jumps can be built at home and there you gain some experience. Competition is vital to any young rider and learning to deal with the stress of completing major courses that will include some or all of the major jumping tests is also part of the process. The average open water is between 12 to 13 feet. (3.65-4meters.) The average length of a horses stride is about the same. The modern show horse has a bigger step than horses 10 years ago. The test of riding the water is to get your mount with nice momentum as close as you can to the base of the water and be confident that if this distance at takeoff is achieved your horse will find it comfortable to jump over the water. If you wish to move up in difficulty in show jumping an experienced horse is what I take for granted. You cannot move up easily if your horse does not have the experience to teach you and not the other way around. I have tried to make the case for a more liberal use of the water at this venue (WEF) for a long time. The best argument for not using the open water has been that most of our major grand prix are held under the lights at night and the water is too spooky. I have done a little research and will take you back to 2014 and work our way forward to present day.

2014 week 8 there were 4 toes in the tub under the lights.
2014 week 10 there were 4 toes in the tub under the lights.
2014 week 12 there were 2 toes in the tub under the lights.
2014 in daylight there were 4 toes in the tub.
2015 week 5 in daylight there were 4 toes in the tub and 1 refusal.
2015 week 8 there were 9 toes in the tub under the lights.
2016 week 7 there were 7 toes in the tub and 1 refusal under the lights.
2016 week 8 there were 6 toes in the tub under the lights.
2016 week 12 there were 2 toes in the tub under the lights. ($500,000 GP.)
There was no water this season in daylight due to bad weather. Derby field).
2017 week 4 there were 5 toes in the tub and 2 refusals in daylight.
2017 week 9 there were 6 toes in the tub and 2 eliminations. (1 fall) (Under the lights.)
2017 week 11 there were 4 toes in the tub under the lights.
2018 week 4 there were 6 toes in the tub in daylight.
2018 week 11 there were 6 toes in the tub and 3 refusals under the lights.
2018 week 12 there were 8 toes in the tub under the lights.

Shane Sweetnam and Indra van de Oude Heihoef over the open water during the day in the Nations Cup at the 2019 Palm Beach Masters
Shane Sweetnam and Indra van de Oude Heihoef over the open water during the day in the Nations Cup at the 2019 Palm Beach Masters

My opinion is that these facts support my belief that there is very little difference between the use of the water jump in daylight or under the lights. As I have stated in the past I do not want the water to be used too much but never is not doing the sport and our developing athletes any favors. I work with the Canadian youth riders and in selecting teams one mandatory requirement is that they can prove capability to jump water on the horse or horses that they submit for team competition. Go anywhere in the world and the water jump will be used even in young horse developing classes. The use of the water must be used for developing our future team riders and horses that will be used for competition at the highest level. If the decision is made not to use the water under the lights we need to find a better excuse.

This is a passion of mine and may not be yours so I invite any challenges and comments from the reader. I have divided this article into 2 parts so I can bring the present into focus for reasons of comparison. We have arrived at week 8 and this is the week of the Rolex Nations Cup at WEF. The water jump is a required jump in a Nations Cup and so we will see the open water used for the first time this season (2 months).

Before the week began, the course designer posted a schedule indicating when and how the water would be used during the week. This is how a course designer should inform the competitors in which classes and which form the water will be used. This gives the competitors ample opportunity to enter or not enter specific competitions. The water was used in the U25 warmup with a pole in daylight. The U25 semi- final was Friday night and the water was open and was faulted a few times but was not a serious factor. The WEF class was in daylight and the water was not used. There was a warm-up class for the Nations Cup competitors on Thursday night using the open water in a related line from another jump on the diagonal right towards the big screen and created little or no difficulty.

Lucy Deslauriers finds trouble over the open water at the 2019 Palm Beach Masters
Lucy Deslauriers and Hester find trouble over the open water in the Nations Cup at the 2019 Palm Beach Masters

On Saturday night the open water was presented in an almost identical way and was far more difficult to ride. Why? In my opinion the fence before the water was the delicate short pole vertical and had to be ridden far more accurately and if there was a miss then the distance to the water changed and the water became the test. I have said in the past that the water along with the triple bar and the wall are set up jumps and the test should come after these jumps. This should not be what a course designer must do in all cases and as this was a Nations Cup so be it. In 62 tries (2 ROUNDS) there were 11 toes in the tub and 1 refusal (average 5.6 toes per round). The Nations Cup was well designed and an exciting class. The following afternoon the grand prix was held and the water was on the same diagonal line but away from the big screen and for the most part a standalone fence (there was a number but horse specific and on a sweeping left bending line). The water set up the test to the following shot pole vertical and was faulted 8 times with 1 refusal that resulted in a fall and elimination. The water was faulted 4 times. In conclusion I repeat that the water should not be used every week and there are many classes where the water is not needed ever but there are classes where it is needed to develop our young riders and they need experienced mounts that know the water. Course designers need to know that they can use the water and they should know how to use it. We as coaches and riders need to know that the water will be used in a constructive way and the use of the water during the winter season will be properly spaced out over the whole season and not just for the final 4 weeks. We will probably see the water at least 1 more time. As long as the water is part of major show jumping courses our riders must expect to see it in daylight and under the lights. This is a controversial subject and you now have my opinion and some specific statistics to back up my thoughts. Please let me know your thoughts. Until next time I am Dave Ballard.

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