Capt. Mark Phillips’s cross country course for the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games has been a hot topic of debate over the past few months, and riders finally got their first look at the track yesterday. Eric Bull and his team did a masterful job of building the course here at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. The carvings from Joe Stylos would be more correctly termed works of art than cross country jumps — they are stunning!
Built on the former White Oak golf course, the track features undulating terrain throughout the first 8 minutes, 45 seconds, followed by a 600-meter uphill climb. Friend of EN John Kyle dubbed it “Heartbreak Hill” — and we’re definitely calling it that, too.
The climb will serve as a final test of fitness at the very end of the course before horses and riders enter the U.S. Trust Arena to jump the last in front of cheering crowds. After hearing much discussion about the hill in the months leading up to WEG, I was anxious to see just how substantial it is. CMP was not exaggerating when he said horses would need to be very fit for WEG — this hill is proper.
The optimum time is set at 10 minutes. EquiRatings has predicted that at least six pairs will catch the time, but much of how Saturday plays out will depend on the amount of rain Hurricane Florence brings to the area over the next two days. Severe thunderstorms have already dumped a substantial amount of water on the track so far this week. The footing is holding remarkably well in most places, but other areas are already water-logged.
This galloping lane, for example, is a bridge connecting fences 12 and 13 and was flooded yesterday after a heavy storm rolled through the area …
As for how much rain Hurricane Florence will bring to the area, we are starting to get a more accurate picture of the forecast. The National Weather Service’s daily update is currently forecasting thunderstorms starting this afternoon and evening, with “cloud to ground lightning, briefly gusty winds, and locally heavy rainfall.” Looking ahead to Friday and Saturday, “very heavy rainfall due to Florence is becoming increasingly likely.”
I spoke to Will Coleman and Sam Watson, pathfinders for the U.S. and Irish teams, respectively, to get their insight on how they think the course will ride.
“The first couple minutes are pretty intense,” Will said, “and then all of a sudden it seems like it’s an onslaught of combinations and difficult turns. I think the middle part of the course will be very testing, especially if you are going for the time, and then you have to climb the hill to come home. How efficiently you can do that difficult middle part of the course without using up your horse will be key.”
Sam added: “You have to concentrate. It may be a test of fitness — we’ll see what the weather does. You can tell the difference between a 4* championship and a 3* championship, but that’s where the concentration is going to come in. I think there will be a lot of people kicking themselves on Saturday who had a problem because they might have underestimated the course in places.”
As for Sam’s thoughts on the ground, he said it’s “a little soft, but that’s brilliant” — spoken like a true Irishman! “I don’t think we’re going to know exactly how it’s going to ride with the amount of rain that’s in there. It doesn’t feel too bad under foot, but sometimes it can ride a lot softer than it walks.”
Needless to say, we are gearing up for one hell of a cross country day here at Tryon. Scroll through the photos below for a fence-by-fence preview of the course. I walked all the direct routes, so these are the lines you’ll see riders take if they are trying to make the optimum time. The course will end in the U.S. Trust Arena, and the final jump, the NASCAR Finish Line at fence 26, has not yet been placed.
Shoutout to CMP for a fantastic test for the horses and riders, and the entire course building team for a job well done: Eric Bull, Jamie Gornall, Dylan Barry, Joe Stylos, Noll Smith, Jake Wilson and Steve Riley. Janine McClain is the talented course decorator, and we also must thank her for her beautiful handiwork.
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This post has been updated to include additional information as the final fences have been placed on course.