Course walks allow you to see what you will be jumping before you start your course. They can be as simple as just walking the course to mapping at how your how ride should go. I had a great opportunity to hear Cathy Wieschhoff talk about course designing and her course walking techniques. She definitely wanted everyone to know that using your course walk time to your full advantage can help your stadium round be a lot smoother.
The position of each jump is a great thing to note. Is the jump facing the in gate? Most shows have their first jump towards the in gate for several reasons. First, it gives you the chance to see some of the arena. Second, it allows you to use your lead of choice. Lastly, horses usually are more willing to go towards the gate than away from it. Make a mental note of what your horse will see on the other side of the jump and adjust your plan accordingly.
Of course, striding is big as well. Allow 6 feet from landing and 6 feet for taking off. Most horses have a 12-foot stride so walk each stride as 4, 3-foot steps. If you walk a course and your measurements are quite adding up, check how you are walking. Jump poles at shows are 99.9% of the time 12 feet long. Compare your steps to the length of the pole and then rewalk your combinations. Sometimes, course designers will adjust the length in between jumps to fit the jumps position in the arena. They want it to be a tight distance because the jumps are going up hill or just to raise the level of difficulty. Make sure to remember any odd distances for later as it may be the difference between a rail or clear round.
The time in the season will also affect the course. Courses earlier in the year won’t be as hard as ones later in the season. Check the spread of your oxers and height of the jumps. Courses in mid to late season will be maxed out on height and width while ones at the beginning will probably be on the smaller side. This will affect your landing distance and striding. Horses land closer to an oxer than they do a vertical because of how their arc differs over the jump.
Making several notes and having a plan when you go into the ring will help deal with any problems that may arise. But, don’t over think it because that will be worse than not having a plan at all. Pick one or two things like speed and straightness to think of and other things will fall into place.