Holmes stays the course


Advertise with us

On a daily basis, Peter Holmes can be found at his computer, arranging patterns of challenging obstacles that test the skill and ability of horse and rider.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

We need your support!
Local journalism needs your support!

As we navigate through unprecedented times, our journalists are working harder than ever to bring you the latest local updates to keep you safe and informed.

Now, more than ever, we need your support.

Starting at $14.99 plus taxes every four weeks you can access your Brandon Sun online and full access to all content as it appears on our website.

Subscribe Now

or call circulation directly at (204) 727-0527.

Your pledge helps to ensure we provide the news that matters most to your community!

On a daily basis, Peter Holmes can be found at his computer, arranging patterns of challenging obstacles that test the skill and ability of horse and rider.

The lifelong horseman and designer, who has worked at the international horse show level, has returned to Brandon after two decades as course creator for the easy-to-watch, fast-paced equestrian jumping event at the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair.

While a well-designed course strikes a balance between challenging horses and riders and ensuring a fair, safe and exciting competition, Holmes said his goal is to create a course that fosters harmony between horse and rider.

A rider and horse prepare to leap over an obstacle in the Hunter Jumper show during the Royal Manitoba Winter Fair at the Keystone Centre on Tuesday morning. Peter Holmes is responsible for designing the horse jumping courses at the fair this year. (Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun)

“I always say that it’s a good course if the horse finishes and looks like they could show the next day,” Holmes said.

Holmes prepares the pattern the night before the competition, using a computer program that puts the drawing to scale, ensuring the crew can set up the jumps accurately in the arena.

“You want the course to encourage a forward rhythm jumping. It’s very easy to get horses stuck and lose their rhythm by putting the jumps too close to the corners.”

The rules of show jumping are straightforward — the horse and competitor duo that rides a clear and fast round over the pattern of obstacles wins. Competitors can accumulate penalties for knocking down a rail, refusing a jump or taking longer than the set time to complete the round. Horse and rider need to be fast, but also careful, and the design of the course can challenge their ability to perform both of these.

“It takes judgment. Judgment takes experience, and you get experience by making mistakes.

“But it’s also part of your personality,” Holmes said. “I enjoy courses succeeding.”

Success seems like the opposite of a course designed to challenge riders and foster a close competition that has spectators holding their breath as a rail wobbles, or breaking into applause after a horse glides effortlessly over the final jump in a clear round.

But for Holmes, balancing the difficulties in a course allows horse and rider to jump well. His approach to course design changes based on the level of competition, he added. For example, low-level riders are given more time to complete rounds than high-level competitors. He also watches horses perform in his courses to see if any adjustments need to be made.

While Holmes has a crew of people who set up his courses at the Winter Fair, it hasn’t always been that way. As a teenager in a sport where many girls were in the barn, Holmes would offer to carry jumps around, move them and take them down. Since he could do this, riders asked him to set up courses for them.

“Sure, I can show off, run around lifting poles,” he laughed.

Holmes stayed involved with course design and competed in show jumping himself. He now runs a horse-breeding facility in Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Returning to Brandon to design the show jumping course again has been enjoyable, Holmes said, and he has even encountered people who are still working at the fair after all these years.

“It’s just the passion and the involvement in the community here. It shows when you have people here for 20 years — they’re doing something right,” he said. “I think it’s wonderful.”

One competitor who appreciates Holmes’ course designs this week is Frank Hough, who travelled from Saskatoon. Hough has been riding for more than 20 years and competes at the Winter Fair as part of a circuit across Canada.

“I’ve been doing it forever and I just love it,” he said. “I wouldn’t change anything.”

Hough said he plans to bump his five-year-old horse up a level later this week because he has been handling the courses so well.

“To jump indoors is tough on these younger [horses], but he’s done two or three classes and never touched a rail yet,” Hough said of his grey horse, whom he affectionately calls Norm, after the easy-going character from the television show “Cheers.”

Although throughout Holmes’ career as a course designer he has received criticism from competitors about his courses being too difficult or too easy, at the end of the day, he wants riders and horses to be fulfilled and for the audience to see teams succeed.

“The best riders always show a harmony with the horse,” he said. “And no matter what the competition is, the horse is happy [and] wanting to do its job.”

» gmortfield@brandonsun.com

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us