Riders heading out on the CCI 4*-L cross country course on Saturday will face a challenging track and set of fences designed by Ian Stark. The course begins with an apt salute to Team USA as they prepare to run the course at the Tokyo Olympics next week.
The riders have two big, solid gallop fences to start them off, but things become more challenging quite quickly at #3 and #4. #3 is massive solid table on frangible pins. Ian explained that he didn’t want the riders coming at it too fast, so he placed it to be at a related distance to #4 – a path that includes downhill terrain and a bending line to a narrow table. Ian’s intention was to get the riders thinking early in the course, although he says he decided to be nice by numbering them separately rather than presenting it as an A/B combination. If the horses fly over #3, the rider can choose to circle and rebalance before presenting to #4.
After going through the gulley, the riders will navigate the first combination on course at #5ab, and then take a long run all the way around the back corner of the property and over a brush table at #6. While the combination at #7ab might look straightforward, Ian demonstrated the best line to take for optimal striding. Ian provided a reminder that “the horses are so used to jumping skinny and narrow fences, it’s really no problem for them. But it is up to the rider to get the line right.”
Ian Stark has a reputation for designing cross country courses that are horse-friendly, but rider frightening. #11ab, which is a bounce drop into water, certainly fits that description! An impressive new brush fence in the center of the water follows immediately at #12. Ian has given the riders an alternate line, which includes a one-stride drop into water and an easier fence out; however, he said it would eat up quite a lot of time. The riders then make a left hand turn up and back down the hill to jump the hanging brush at #13, followed by a big log drop back into the water at #14. Spectators watching from the hill on Saturday will be in for a treat as they watch these skilled horses and riders navigate Ian’s questions at the main water complex!
The second half of the course takes riders out around the far corner of the property again, before galloping back to jump into water again at the bayou, #22abcd. Ian said the combination should ride easily, but the horses may be tired by this point in the course, so it is up to the riders to keep the energy rolling. The bayou is followed immediately by another challenging combination at #23abc, the log table followed by brush to brush skinnies.
Ian said he originally considered placing an A/B combination there, but then thought to himself and said “no I think I need to make this tougher” (for the 4*L). Because the log table is so big and downhill, “it tends to make them take a massive jump.” They should land balanced and continue straight “in four and then two committed strides” to the brush fences. “If I was being really nasty and this were a 5*, then this second brush would be on the same angle as the first one. Then they’d have no choice but to ride this on a four to a two [strides]. Then that would be a 5* question.” About the 4*-L line he set, Ian said “You need a really reliable horse” to ride the line exactly as it’s designed, but Ian also showed how to use bending lines to make more space between each element.
The final three fences on course provide a straightforward and simple finish, although Ian cautioned riders to never take the last fence for granted! His advice is to be prepared and to ride equally smart from start to finish. We look forward to seeing how the course rides on Saturday!
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