by Ronda Payne/Special to the Langley Advance Times
The fluid motions of a horse and rider as they move over jumps and around a course, like that at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup at Thunderbird Show Park, are due in part to the horse, part to the rider, and part to the person who creates the course.
In this case, Peter Holmes, an equestrian course designer has extensive experience with the tbird grounds having worked with the show park since the early 1980s – when Dianne Tidball contacted the then 19-year-old to help with the April show.
“Tbird was my first show off the island. I live on Vancouver Island,” Holmes explained. “I grew up here at my mom’s stables.”
His initial exposure to course design wasn’t exactly glamourous.
It began because he was able to lift and move the jumps around; that progressed to him taking the jumps to various courses and setting them up.
“That’s how I got started,” he recounted.
Holmes was in university when Tidball first called him. tbird’s April show was just a week before his exams, so he recalls rushing to put the course together then hurrying back to university to study.
He continued creating courses for tbird after he finished his schooling.
It’s a story one wouldn’t necessarily expect as the background and career development for one of Canada’s highest ranking course designers.
The show park is lucky to have Holmes, said Chris Pack, chief operating officer and tournament manager with tbird.
“He works all week at putting the various courses together,” Pack explained. “He builds different classes every day.”
There are a great number of considerations for a world cup course. The fact that at tbird it’s a grass footing and “you can’t just run a tractor over it” to smooth it out, according to Pack, is one issue.
Another is that it has to be challenging enough for competitors qualifying for the world cup final – which will be held in Las Vegas in April 2020.
“He has to take into consideration the seasoned competitors, the ones with a lot of horse power, and the new ones without scaring them,” Pack noted.
“Not all of them are going to be at the same level.”
Part of course development, Holmes said, is determined by FEI restrictions. But there is also the need to allow horses to perform as they naturally should.
“You want them to have success,” Holmes shared. “You want the horse to finish the course with heart. You want them to gallop and jump. That’s the sport – it’s galloping and jumping and it’s the rider’s job to have the controls.”
Pack describes Holmes as something of a “mad scientist” in how he manages to create a harmonious, flowing course for the best riders that is still safe and motivating for the newcomers to world cup level competition.
“You want to encourage free-flowing forward movement,” Holmes said. “The sport of jumping now is about rhythm and maintaining that.”
He grew in his role as a course designer just as tbird’s events grew in their status.
“I really enjoy the team atmosphere at Thunderbird,” he said. “Now it has the highest level of competition in the world. I’ve enjoyed the challenges of keeping up to that level. I grew with it as it grew.”
Most spectators will be watching the horses and riders who make the jumps look effortless. But, Holmes hopes some will spend a bit of their time appreciating the course itself and the work that goes into delivering a world-class jumping experience for all levels of horse and rider teams.
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