I arrived at Carolina International yesterday afternoon and immediately went for a course walk around the CIC3*, eager to check out what was in store for the riders come Saturday afternoon. This is the second year that Ian Stark is designing the three-star course here at the Carolina Horse Park, and after a big splash last year with the changes, we are all waiting to see how it rides in 2017.
For the most part, the course follows the same track that it did in 2016, and starts off very similarly, with the first fence about seven strides from the start box, and three subsequent tables with a good gallop to get the horses and riders going in a good rhythm.
The first question comes at 5AB, which is in the same location as last year, with a rollercoaster design of two fences placed on opposite sides of a large dip. This year, the A element is a much more inviting solid log, which I think will encourage horses and riders to jump into the combination with a bit more confidence.
The next question is the first water complex, which is early in the course at 7AB. The A element is, let’s say, rather substantial with a bit of a drop on the off side. It also has an angled ground line, which could look like something of a ditch if you get off your line, or cause some horses to take a little peek on takeoff. When leading a guided course tour for the Southern Pines community earlier this month, Ian said, “You’re going to sit back and ride this confidently, or you’re going to cry for your mommy”.
The next combination is the Village Smithy, which was on the course last year with a different B element, which caused a few falls. This year, they subbed in an interesting U-shaped jump on a short two strides, which should cause less trouble, but is still an intriguing question.
We also have the double corners at Stonehenge that are the same as last year — challenging for a few combinations but rewarding if ridden accurately and boldly. After that, there are a few large jumps before the main event: the Cloud 11 Pebble Beach combination.
The talk of the town in 2016 was the enormous trakehner fence on top of a mound, rolling down to the new water complex. This year is no different, with many riders still considering it as one of the most challenging questions on course. A lot of experienced pairs had rather sticky rides over the trakehner last year, as it’s not exactly where the horses expect it to be, and they peek a bit on the landing side.
This year, Ian changed the subsequent question from a brush corner into an angled line for B and C. It will be easy enough to get to B, but some real accuracy and coordination will be required to complete all three elements and not have a mistake along the way. As you can see from the picture, more than a few riders were spending time considering their lines and approaches at this combination.
Once you get through the second water, you’re away over a huge ditch and wall, and down to a large hanging log followed by a tight keyhole with a ditch ground line. Then it’s across the bridge around the lake, and up over a few more fences before we get to what I consider the most challenging question on this three-star course.
The Landmark Hollow is an entirely new coffin complex, which many riders are referring to as a four-star question. Coming off a short left-handed turn, the A element of this combination is massive, and my picture doesn’t do it justice. The ground drops away on the landing side fairly significantly, and combined with the airy nature of the jump in, I’m glad that it’s pinned with frangible technology. I can see several horses putting their hind end down a little too early, in preparation for the slope and the ditch at the bottom.
This combination poses a tough question for the riders, who have to have just the right balance of confidence and composure to jump the A in the correct shape and have enough impulsion to get over the ditch and the quite skinny brush chevron at C. There is an alternative for C, which I believe will get its fair share of use on Saturday as well.
After this, the riders are almost home free, with just four jumps to go, including an angled roll top combination and a small open oxer at the second to last.