Beautiful Bromont: Walk the 4*-L Cross Country with German Team Coach, Rodolphe Scherer

Final fence with a view. Photo by Abby Powell.

Nestled into a scenic valley beneath the ski-trail striped Mont Brome is, you guessed it, the MARS Bromont CCI Three Day Event, which takes place at the Bromont Olympic Equestrian Centre, host to the equestrian portion of the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. Organizers, volunteers and competitors alike are thrilled to be back in the first post-COVID running of their beloved long format spring event, even if the start of the event has been a bit, for lack of a better adjective, wet.

The courses at Bromont are a true test of endurance across all the levels, as the naturally undulating terrain found throughout the cross country tracks mimic the rolling landscape of this ski town. While the ground in this area is generally good and drains well, the extremely rainy week has heralded what will likely be a muddy (though thankfully sunny) day of cross country. Since the ground in a number of places can only can only be described using the very technical term “squelchy”, horses’ endurance will be tested even more than usual over this course.

We were fortunate to a join a course walk led by French rider and trainer Rodolphe Scherer, who is taking over coaching duties for the Bromont Rising program from Andrew Nicholson, who was unfortunately unable to attend due to a family emergency. However, a very capable substitute is present in Rodolphe, whose resume includes the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the 1998 World Equestrian Games in Rome, the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy. Oh, not to mention he was recently named the cross country coach for the German National Team.

Rodolphe Scherer and Makara de Montiege at Luhmühlen. Photo by Jenni Autry.

This is Rodolphe’s first trip to Bromont — and first trip to North America since the Atlanta Olympics — and he was very complementary of the Derek di Grazia-designed courses, citing them as equally challenging as any of the same level in Europe. 

“I’m very impressed. It’s a very nice course — beautifully built and a beautiful place — and it’s very interesting because it’s very up and down,” he told us. “The level is a strong level, but very fair for horses. It’s a good course because of the questions for the rider. The horse needs to jump, but the rider needs to drive. You need to make decisions, choose where you’re going, and ride with the mind.”

“Another point is the weather. With lots of rain, the ground is a little bit more deep and for that the rider needs to ride much more with her head too.”

While the sun mercifully made an appearance yesterday afternoon in time for our course walk, the grounds crews have been working nonstop to prepare the footing across all tracks for the best possible going.

Organizer Sue Ockendon and her team have been hard at work on the footing. Pictured is the C element of 15 ABC. Photo by Abby Powell.

Now, let’s get to that course walk. Since there’s no live stream, we’ll be doing our best to set the scene for you here though truthfully, no photos can really do the terrain (or the beauty of the venue) justice — you’ll just have to come experience it for yourself someday!

The course follows the same track as previous years, with plenty of jumping efforts throughout the first half, which runs out to the northernmost point of the track and across the fairway — which served as the parking lot for the Olympic events — and then back parallel to the first quarter of the track before riders jump through the main arena. After exiting the arena, competitors are in for a long gallop around the far side of the lake, out to the top of the course again, and then back across the fairway once again before jumping the final horseshoe fence and crossing through the finish flags.

Screenshot via CrossCountry App.

The first three fences gives the riders a chance to establish a nice rhythm and forward ride over the the undulating terrain before encountering their first more challenging obstacle at fence 4. While fence 4 is a single jumping effort, riders will need to navigate an unflagged edge of a larger water complex with a steep entry and exit in order to get a straight shot to skinny “turtle” fence.

Rodolphe Scherer explains the positive ride needed on the approach to fence 4. Photo by Abby Powell.

Fence 5AB, an oxer to a curved brush set on a bending line to the right, is the first related distance on the course and requires a good jump in over the oxer and maintenance of a nice forward rhythm out over the brush, though Rodolphe thought it would be natural enough to add in an extra stride here if needed.

The course then dives downwards, taking competitors through a tunnel of trees and over over a small mountain stream before emerging into the fairway where fence 6, the Tiger Trap, is set to the right around a tree. Rodolphe cautioned the riders to make sure they give their horses enough time to see the MIM-clipped triple bar around the tree, but not too much time to see the ditch underneath! 

Riders will then reach the northern most point on the course and will need to gallop up an acute hill to the left to reach the coffin complex at fence 7ABC, the Fairway Question. The A element is a MIM-clipped set of upright rails at the zenith of the aforementioned hill and in order to safely navigate the entire complex riders will need to collect their horses quickly after their effort up the incline, which is steep enough that horses will likely not be able to get their eye on the coffin until they’re in the air over the A element.

Fence 7ABC, the Fairway Question. Photo by Abby Powell.

The course then takes competitors back in the direction they came and they’ll only have moment to breathe before next portion of the course where, as the great Smash Mouth once said, the fences start coming and don’t stop coming (or something like that) and they’ll have to navigate the crests and troughs of the terrain (and the wetter footing at the lower points) throughout. 

The first flagged water on the course comes at 11ABC, the Spring Water. Horses will be galloping somewhat downhill to the A element log that drops into the water and rider’s will need to keep a positive ride so as not to lose momentum to the B element, a house set in the water, and then out over a brush arrowhead at the C element — which, due to the wet ground, the ground jury made the call to move from it’s original positioning at a slight left angle to a straighter line in order to give the horses better ground upon takeoff. 

A few more single fences in the form of various of rails and hanging logs stand in the competitor’s path on their way to the next question: 15ABC, the Owl Hole Moguls. Here, horses will be asked to jump through the large owl hole, stay steady to the B element, and jump out accurately over a shiny brush at C. Rodolphe noted that riders would need to take care to maintain their horse’s balance throughout this downhill complex.

Looking back towards the A and B elements of fence 15. Photo by Abby Powell.

The track will now lead the competitors down to the main arena where they’ll tackle a large table in the shadow of the iconic Bromont sign and then loop to the left to their next question: fence 17AB a brush oxer to a brush corner.Rodolphe thought that riders might be tempted to take a more direct line from the A element to the B corner to shave some time, but observed that a slightly less aggressive wider line would actually point the horse nicely in the direction of the arena exit.

Fence 17 A and B. Photo by Abby Powell.

The longest gallop stretch now comes between the arena exit and fence 18, which should wake the horses and riders right up again as it comes after a small downhill slope that points directly towards the now very nearby lake. 

You better have control or you risk an unplanned splash! Photo by Abby Powell.

While riders may have visions of flying straight into the lake, they’ll actually take a left turn and then head to the last water complex of the course at 19ABC, the Trackside Pond, which consists of a jump into the water over a log pile, a smaller log on the way out of the water, and then uphill to an angled brush C. 

Another weather-related modification to the course was made at what would have been fence 23AB. Horse and rider would have needed to navigate a set of upright rails on an angle and then find their line to a left-handed corner, but the A element has been removed from the course, so now competitors will only have to contend with the corner. After this, they head south again across the fairway and the last major question in the home stretch is asked at fence 25AB.

This question — a log at A and then downhill and to the right over a stump at B – might seem like a simple enough bending line at first glance, but it will be tricky for a tired horse and rider. The bulbous little stump of a B element could easily cause a glance off for a pair too tired to maintain straightness.

“When a horse is tired like that, a nice turn is in your dreams,” Rodolphe cautioned the group. “As soon as possible: straight line, two legs, two reins.”

Fence 25 AB. Photo by Abby Powell.

In total, CCI4*-L horses and riders will navigate 39 jumping efforts over 5748 meters. While the track distance is only slightly over the minimum required for the level (4*-L must be between 5700 and 6270 meters), no-one is overlooking the fitness it will take tackle this course within the optimum time of 10 minutes, 5 seconds.

The action being at 9 AM ET with Canada’s own Jessica Phoenix and Mighty Mouse first out of the box in the 4*-L. (Find ride times here!) We’re looking forward to a beautiful day for sport today and while there is no live stream available, we’ll be bringing you a detailed report and loads of photos from all divisions at the end of the day.

In the meantime, you can take a walk though all the divisions’ courses via CrossCountry App (the other divisions are nothing to sniff at but hey, there’s only so much time ton the day to walk courses and then write about them) and catch up on how the dressage played out here.

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