Tips for making your obstacle course run smooth and efficient!
By Brandy Von Holten
There are ways to design your course for your competition to run smoothly and time efficiently. Understanding the two major types of obstacles will help you begin designing a course that people will rave about and look forward to returning to in the future. There are typically two types of obstacles: a flow obstacle and a foot placement obstacle.
A flow obstacle is when the obstacle should be completed without changing the speed of the equine through the obstacle. Flow obstacles are much faster than foot placement obstacles. A cowboy curtain/vine simulator is an example of a flow obstacle. If the obstacle involved picking up an item like a bucket and placing it at a second location, this would be a flow obstacle. If the rider was able to maintain a constant speed and have good horsemanship skills and the equine stayed straight and appeared to be confident, then this would receive a high score. Sometimes a flow obstacle can be turned into a foot placement obstacle. To make the same obstacle have a different set of criteria, the host could design this same obstacle to require a stop, side pass over to the obstacle, back up to the second location, set the item down, and then side pass away from the object. There would be a whole new set of judging criteria for the foot placement obstacle compared to the flow obstacle.
You must find the right combination of flow and foot placement obstacles. If you have too many flow obstacles, your competition could turn into a judging nightmare because it takes a seasoned judge to keep up with the fast pace and make split decisions. I have seen some divisions be completed in less than two and a half minutes and consist of thirteen obstacles. That is less than 12 seconds per obstacle. That is not only hard on judges but it is also really hard on scribes trying to keep up with judges.
On the flip side of this problem, if you have too many foot placement obstacles, you could greatly increase the length of your event. The saying “slower than paint drying” comes to mind.
Other things to consider are time consuming obstacles such as mounting and dismounting, roping, and backing. These obstacles get much faster as to horsemanship skills of the rider increases. If you want to see a novice rider handle a lariat rope, have them make the loop and limit the number of times they can throw their rope. If you want to incorporate a backing obstacle, make it a straight shoot, and then make the same obstacle a backing L for the more advanced divisions.
Predetermining a set amount of tries an equine can have per obstacle before the competition and having a “move along” signal will help keep the course moving. This could be done verbally, with a whistle, or an air horn. Making sure the riders know their run order and having a gate worker that has the next rider waiting will expedite getting through all the divisions.
You, as a host, must be the cleaver creator with this perfect combination between the types of obstacles. Not too fast or too slow, not too difficult but not too easy; not too much flash and flare but not too basic. By adding variety to the combinations of the different types of obstacles, could completely change your course. For example, by having a free ride (canter a lap around the arena) and then asking the equine for a slow foot placement obstacle is going to be a lot more difficult than starting with a foot placement obstacle without the free ride.
The last element to consider is the overall flow of the course. For less advanced divisions, the angle of entry needs to be less severe than the angle of entry for advanced divisions. What this means in less complicated words is the order of obstacles needs to be straighter and more in line for lower levels. Lesser experienced riders can get lost on the course.
Do not feel that you must reinvent the wheel for every obstacle competition you host. Changing the color, adding a barrel next to it, or changing the order can really diversify an obstacle with minimal effort on your part. You will get better at designing obstacle courses as you host more events. I like to keep a map of my old courses and make notes on the back about ways to change the course for next time. Remember, obstacle competition is supposed to be fun. Make sure that you have fun designing your course!