Galway Downs CIC3* Cross-Country Preview + Ian Stark Commentary

Ian Stark and Frankie Thieriot walk through the angled houses at 20AB on the CIC3* course. Ian Stark and Frankie Thieriot walk through the angled houses at 20AB on the CIC3* course.

Competition kicks off today in the Galway Downs CIC3* with dressage and show jumping in the FEI divisions. Six pairs will use this event as one of their final prep runs for Rolex: Hawley Bennett-Awad and Gin & Juice, Jen McFall and High Times, Kristi Nunnink and R-Star, Deborah Rosen and The Alchemyst, and Jolie Wentworth and Goodknight in the CIC3*, with James Alliston and Parker in the Advanced. Bunnie Sexton and Rise Against, who are also heading to Kentucky for their first appearance at Rolex, were originally scheduled to run the Advanced but scratched.

We’re lucky to have this wonderful course preview video produced by Ride On Video and hosted by Frankie Thieriot as she walks the CIC3* course with designer Ian Stark to break down where horses and riders will see the biggest challenges on course. Of course, Rolex prep is on everyone’s minds, and Ian kept that a priority with his design for this spring CIC3*, not making any major changes or adding new elements to the course. Instead, he changed the lines at familiar fences in what he hopes will be a good preparation for Kentucky.

Ian, affectionately known as “King of the Rider Frighteners,” said the courses are tough, but they’re bold and straightforward: “If riders set out from the start box in a positive frame of mind, they should shave a good ride. If they think they’re going to have a schooling round, then they’ll have trouble. As long as there’s nothing that tricks the horses, I’m happy. I think all the levels are set at the level they should be for this stage of the season.”

The first four fences on the CIC3* course are forward galloping fences, with the first key question coming at 5ABC, with a big table at 5A, then up a ramp to a trakehner at 5B, then back down the ramp to a skinny corner brush at 5C, which Ian called “a nasty little corner.” The trakehner at 5B is a familiar one on this course, and it’s caused trouble in the past. “The main thing is to attack (the table at 5A) so they’ve got all the impulsion to come up to the trakehner, and then they need controlled impulsion. If they’re on a wing and a prayer, they deserve to get the 20 at the C element.”

Fence 8, a big brush table, is built right under one of the new control towers, which could be spooky to some horses and cause shadows depending on the weather tomorrow, and it leads to the first water complex at 9AB, which are two skinny brushes set on a bending line in the water. In the past this has been a pretty set two strides, but Ian has it adjusted a bit differently so riders can take a pull and add an extra stride if needed, though he said they’ll have to be careful not to botch the line to the second brush at B.

The next interesting question comes at 14ABC, where riders have to jump a big hanging log into the next water complex, where horses always tend to jump a bit flat here, Ian said. He’s set a large stump to the right of 14B, which prevents riders from angling the drop at 14A to get a better approach to the next two elements. “It’s not the most difficult test I’ve ever had, but if they’re relaxed, they can an easy 20 at C,” Ian said. “It all depends on the way they jump in. If they jump in, land and their horse is traveling forward, this will ride well. If they land in a bit of a heap or the rider isn’t balanced, there’s very little time to recover, and then the horse is a bit left to its own devices.”

One of Ian’s signature “rider frighteners” comes at the third and final water complex at fence 17, where riders will jump down into the water at 17A before jumping up the bank and bouncing 17BC like in years past. Then they’ll jump off the bank and jump the Shamu at 17D, which has surprised horses quite a bit in previous competitions. The bank at this water complex always causes a variety of issues, with falls and refusals happening here numerous times, so it’s definitely going to act as a big questions again this year.

The video skips fences 18 and 19, which I imagine are fairly straightforward as they follow the tricky final water, and then the tour picks back up at two angled houses at fences 20ab. Riders who are pushing for time late in the course could be surprised by this challenge, Ian said, so horses really have to stay focused until the end. Fence 21 is also quite technical for late in the course, with the skinny bull head at A leading to a big skinny log at B. Then from there, riders can gallop for home at fence 22. Many thanks to Ian, Frankie and Ride On Video for this great preview.

We’ll be back later in the day with scores, photos and updates from the Galway Downs CIC3*. Go West Coast Eventing!

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