Red Hills Cross Country Course Preview + Mike Etherington-Smith Analysis

Photo by Shems Hamilton Photo by Shems Hamilton

Never one to rest on his laurels, when we bump into Mike Etherington-Smith on course at Red Hills Horse Trials, he’s already finalising plans for next year’s cross country in his head. Today horses will set off on his course here for the first time and he says he’s still learning about the land, and getting to know the layout but that he’s already much more comfortable.

“This being my first year on this course it’s taken me a bit of time to get to know it, but now that I’m more familiar I’ve got 90% of it sorted for next year and it’s just a case of maybe fine tuning it. It’s a relatively straight-forward three star; there’s been a huge amount of work done on the footing and that will be the primary ambition for next year: to continue upgrading the footing, and at the same time make a few changes, I’ve got a few things up my sleeve [naughty grin]. I’ll run the same direction in 2017, with a view to turning it around and going the other way in 2018, so a work in progress. This is step one in my mind of a three step process. I’ve been here a few times just to get familiar with the place and we’ve placed a few new tracks and paths through here to try and improve the flow.”

Photo by Shems Hamilton

Photo by Shems Hamilton

“From here on in I’ll need less visits because I can do a lot just talking with Tyson (Rementer, course builder) and with Jane (Barron, Co-Organizer). I’ll come back and I’ll pop in because I’m in and out of the States quite a lot (Ocala, Great Meadows, Plantation…) I can remember sites quite well luckily, and it’s a package — you do a lot of thinking as well as the time spent on the ground, chewing things over, and you try and come up with a balance and a package, it’s not just a series of fences randomly dumped on grass. That’s what takes the time. It’s coming up with something that has a good feel, a good flow, a good balance, and that just takes a little bit of thinking time, and then you can get into the look of the fences.

“That’s where I am at the moment, finalising what fences I’m going to put where for next year, how I’m going to change the questions a little bit. I have two little things to resolve. I’m not entirely comfortable with the finish of the course at the moment, it needs to be better but everyone’s done a fantastic job to date this far, and I’m learning also that grass management in this part of the world is nothing like grass management in the UK! I was aware of that obviously but it takes longer to get grass established here than it does in other parts of the United States, so it’s a work in progress.”

Photo by Shems Hamilton

Photo by Shems Hamilton

“I had a bit of a break because I got fed up with all the traveling and I’m not going to get myself into that position again so I limit the amount of courses that I’ll do, and I don’t travel quite such a stupid amount as I used to. You’ve got to stay fresh as well, and I get a lot of fun in finding opportunities for younger designers. If they can pick my brains and I can share some thoughts with them and they take one thing away then that’s good, and I enjoy that. I don’t have any outrageous ambitions, I’ve been there done that, so first and foremost it’s fun. People overcomplicate it, it’s very simple.”

The jumps, as usual, are beautifully built and presented, and not having been to Red Hills since the course switched from the other side of the park, it’s a completely different feel. The tracks encourage more galloping, and on a hot, sunny day like yesterday (sorry to everyone reading in UK, and up in the cold, cloudy North, it’s been completely heavenly here!) the gorgeous oak trees covered in spanish moss offer welcome shade and some cool.

Thanks to EN’s good friends at CrossCountry App and Red Hills photographer Shems Hamilton, we have photos of every fence on the CIC3* course with commentary from course builder Tyson Rementer. View in full screen mode to scroll through all the fences. You can also click here to view them on CrossCountry App’s website. Keep scrolling below to see a full photo gallery of the CIC2* designed by David O’Connor.

Today is going to be a busy and exciting day — the competition is full of depth and quality, and we’re hopeful for another good day weather-wise. Cross country starts at 8 a.m. with the CIC2* and runs all day, and the CIC3* show jump starting at 11 a.m., and then go cross country later in the afternoon. Many thanks to Mike Etherington-Smith for stopping to chat with EN!

Go Red Hills, and thank you for reading.

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