Now in his second year of designing the cross country course at Turniergesellschaft Luhmühlen, Mike Etherington-Smith has definitely upped the ante in terms of the track’s technicality and difficulty. This year’s course demands an attacking, forward ride right from the start, and we can almost certainly expect it to cause more trouble than last year, when 77% of starters jumped clear rounds.
While the course follows much of the same route, the optimum time has been wheeled much tighter. Last year, 17 pairs made the time (36% of starters). This year we can expect the optimum time of 11 minutes, 17 seconds to be more difficult to catch. As Jesse Campbell so aptly put it: “You have to be very determined for 11 minutes and 17 seconds.” Riders are meticulously planning their routes around the twisty, winding track to ensure no precious seconds are wasted.
That said, we definitely have fast ground here in Germany. Following 12 weeks without rain in the area, the grounds crew at the venue are literally working around the clock watering the course to provide the best possible going for the horses. A massive thank you has to go out to the entire Luhmühlen grounds crew for their mammoth effort.
The first three jumps, Auftakt der Sparkasse Harburg-Buxtehude, AGCO/Fendt Haus and Fledermaushotel, are galloping fences set at maximum width and designed to settle horses and riders into a rhythm. Fence 4 is the beefy Trakehner, followed by the Hasenstal table at fence 5, which brings riders to the first question on course.
Horses will make two passes through the revamped water complex at the Krüll Premium Cars Village. Riders will need to kick boldly up the mound to the first brush at fence 6A, before going on to jump the second brush into the water at 6B, then turn left to jump an arrowhead in the water. After looping around the field, riders come back to the water and bounce two hanging rails at fences 7 and 8A, then splash through the water and out to a left-pointed brush corner at 8B.
Then it’s on to the Charles Owen Royal Works, the hollow at fence 9, where riders will navigate two houses. The Hof Sudermühlens Jagdszene at fence 10 is a let-up table in the woods before the next question on course at fence 11, the Heiner’s Wellenbahn. Riders will jump a large house set on a slope at 11A, then navigate down the hill to two sharply angled brushes set on one stride at 11BC.
The Horseware Jump includes fence 12, an imposing ditch and wall, with a right-pointed brush corner at fence 13. Fence 14 at LVM Am Waldrand features a line of two angled logs that leave little room for error. The Hof Sudermühlens Jagdszene at fence 15 is a let-up table with a bit of a drop on the landing side.
There is a definite feeling of increased intensity going forward to the latter half of the course, starting with the Meßmer Teich water complex. Riders will jump an open oxer at fence 16, then jump into the water over a massive angled log at fence 17A, before kicking on to a triple brush at 17B. There is not much time to get organized after that for the up bank and bounce over a set of rails at 18AB. The entire series of fences requires boldness, accuracy and control in quick succession.
The Biertisch, a big hammock at fence 19, and Auf nach Tryon, the bridge at fence 20, are two straightforward let-up fences. Riders will then head towards the main arena, first jumping the big Rennbahnhindernis brush at fence 21, then entering the arena and jumping a maximum width table at fence 22, Lotto Niedersachsen Tisch.
The Longines Kombination at fence 23 follows soon after and is a domino effect type of question — get the first part wrong and the rest could snowball. It starts with a left-pointed corner at 23A, with a right bending line to a table at 23B, then a right bending line to another left-pointed corner at 23C. All of the tables and corners in the main arena feature MIM frangible technology and are collapsible.
Riders then leave the main arena and go on to the Manzke Kombination at fences 24 and 25, an open oxer set at maximum width and height followed by a left bending line to a right-pointed open corner. Fence 26, a table called Auf dem Trainingsplatz, brings horses and riders to the final real question on course.
The final water, the DHL Komplex, starts with a set-up table at fence 27, followed by two angled boats set on one stride in the water at 28AB, then three strides to a curved brush at fence 28C. Horses will need enough gas left in the tank to power through this final tricky combination.
Riders then head for home. A narrow brush at fence 29, Vogelnest, is designed to ride straightforward but still needs to be respected. The Ariat Kombination at fence 30AB is the final question on course, with a line of a table to an angled rolltop. Fence 31, appropriately titled Luhmühlen 2018, will bring riders to the finish.
The course is beautifully presented, and our hats are off to builders David Evans and Carl Fletcher for their spectacular handiwork. The footing feels significantly better today after constant watering. Be sure to scroll through the beautiful photos of each fence taken by Antonia van Baath and listen to Mike Etherington-Smith’s audio commentary. Many thanks to our friends at CrossCountry App!
Stay tuned for quotes from the riders as to their thoughts on the course. CCI4* and CIC3* cross country will stream live on Horse & Country TV, which is the only option for watching in the U.S. Stay tuned for full details on how to watch live. CCI4* cross country starts at 9 a.m./3 a.m. EST. Go Eventing.