Catching Up with Capt. Mark Phillips and Katie Malensek at Stable View

Capt. Mark Phillips surveying the scene as cross country kicked-off on Saturday.

Stable View has come a long way since it ran its inaugural H.T. with 127 entries in 2014. Among the early supporters of Stable View are cross country course designer Capt. Mark Phillips and 4* eventer Katie Malensek, both of whom, eight years later this past weekend, reminisced with us about building a recognized show facility from scratch, talked about progress in the sport of eventing, and offered advice for riders creating their own cross country schooling courses at home (spoiler alert: Don’t.).

SV: Tell us about your initial visits to Stable View almost ten years ago.

Katie: Of course there were already some existing structures, but so many luxurious experiences have been added for riders since then. Just the stabling and riders’ lounges alone for those of us coming in from a long trip are crucial. The courses have evolved as well. The progression of cross country with the addition of permanent and mobile obstacles has provided new challenges for those of us preparing for the big spring events. Especially at the upper levels, where we need the horses to last as long as possible. The footing here is exceptional and a no-brainer. There is a lot to take into account making sure an event is right for horses at this level.

Mark: It is difficult to accelerate nature and therefore, looking back ten years later, a lot of what you see now has come from the input of grass seed, fertilizer, organic matter … this is what nature needs. You cannot get here in one year. It takes time to get a root structure.

Then years ago we sort of came up with a bit of a master plan, some of which [Stable View facility owner Barry Olliff] has retained, and some of which he has thrown out! First, the basics—a derby field, rings. From then, the new arenas, the Boyd Martin cross country schooling area, the Academy fields, that’s all grown! The schooling areas used to be over by the dog kennels. But the first rule of course design is, don’t do it on paper. Let the ground talk to you.

SV: Please share your thoughts on how eventing has evolved.

Mark: Feeding, training, vetting, all has changed. In sports nothing stands still. Take golf and go back 20 years when very few people could hit the ball 350 yards, and now you don’t even begin as a pro if you can’t hit that. As soon as you stand still, you get left behind. How did we predict Modified was going to even exist? But it is completely logical. The move up from 1.00m to 1.10m is a massive jump … at 1.00m you don’t have to ride, you just point and kick. If you do that at 1.10m you are potentially running into trouble. You actually have to start to ride it. However, the horse today is the same animal as the young horse of 20 years ago … an animal learning its job with its rider. Therefore, the educational process hasn’t changed. Some people forget this and try to make the lower levels too technical. Keep the basics in the lower levels! In the upper levels, plan one step ahead of where those horses and riders are.

SV: Talk a bit about this weekend’s 4*-S course at Stable View.

Katie: The attractiveness is that it is a beautifully built course. The horses read the questions well. It encourages bold, forward riding, and the layout of how this property was designed to address cross country, it is a beautiful flow. The rolling aspect of some of the hills is good for the horses’ fitness, especially horses like mine in Florida that are on flat ground all winter. There is a very well thought out progression through the levels here.

Mark: The beginning starts out warming up over the first five or six fences, then progresses with questions through the middle. At the end, the last three fences offer a feel good factor. A few new features are the alp that we’ve not done here before, with offsets at the bottom, and the G.L. Williams Water has a corner coming out of it, which is interesting. The Pavilion Splash and the Blanchard fences are a variation on a theme that we’ve done many times. Going back to the evolution of Stable View, from a riding perspective, the trip here is not just for the upper levels. The atmosphere is good for up-and-coming horses … to gallop past people, and go into an arena in front of a big building. A grass field is not going to prep them for bigger venues.

The Pavilion, a new feature jump within “Stable View Village.”

SV: Mark, do you have any advice for a rider putting together a cross country course at home?

The competitor we’ve created is one who wants to be able to practice everything at home. What is a table? It’s an oxer. What is a ditch to a brush jump? A triple bar. We have no different shapes than in the stadium, so why do you need to go cross country schooling? If you need to practice cross country at home, you can’t. You just can’t replicate it. Do you really want to be jumping those jumps at half the speed you need on the course?

SV: Any parting thoughts?

Katie: If ridden well, a course not only ends in success, but your horse has gained experience without getting hurt. This weekend’s course has Mark’s signature bold, forward riding with the technical aspects that are always there, but it’s not trappy. It rewards bold, forward riding. We always say, if you are going to make a mistake, make it going forward so that the horse has the power to deal with whatever is in front of him.

Mark: One of the best course designers of the late 20th Century, Wolfgang Feld, said, “It’s the responsibility of the rider to take their head with them when they leave the start box.” All I want from riders is for them to respect the fences, and jump every fence.