Mind the Moss! Red Hills CCI4*-S Cross Country Course Preview

Good morning from cross country Sunday at Red Hills International Horse Trials! For many horses this is their first big ask of the season, and as usual course designers Mike Etherington-Smith and David O’Connor have assembled a stout set of questions to be pondered and hopefully answered correctly. Here is the link to Cross Country App’s presentation of courses for all the levels, including a virtual guided course walk with Mike for the CCI4*-S and Advanced tracks. Many thanks to Shems Hamilton for the photos.

The 2021 edition marks Mike’s seventh year as designer of the CCI4* track, with credit to builders Tyson Rementer and Levi Ryckewaert for creating a course that melds seamlessly with the Florida landscape. The pandemic has necessitated a departure from the usual protocol, though, as Mike explains:

“It was somewhat surreal having a facetime call with David, Tyson, and Levi setting the fences for this year’s 4* and Advanced course whilst sitting back here in the UK. I admit to a twinge of sadness at not being able to get to the event this year but things should be very different in 12 months time as we head back to normality.

“Fortunately, I am very familiar with the venue and can come up with plans for the courses without having to make a pre-visit even though it is obviously not quite the same and I wouldn’t want to do it like this every year. Nevertheless, I have complete faith in the team to produce the courses that everyone wants at this time of year: to ensure that the distances are correct, the lines work, and the small but significant final adjustments, for example, the cutting and shaping of the brush and the angles, are what they should be.

“A few changes have been made but the course still runs right handed as last year. This way round has a good feel to it and seems to flow better than going left handed. Having no sponsor tent opens up other options towards the end of the course where the last combination will be and this may even remain an option going forward.

“The change to running the cross country last for all classes will hopefully prove popular, there is no question that competitors prefer this for short format classes.

“Much work continues to be done on the footing, which I am told looks the best it has ever has and is a great credit to all involved. Credit also needs to go to Jane and Marvin and their excellent team for managing to put the event together in tough circumstances. Running events is like walking a financial tightrope, something I know only too well having run events for 30+ years, and so hopefully their efforts will be justly rewarded – the sport needs a variety of good events.

“My thanks as always to Tyson and Levi for their course building skills, Corinne and her team for all the fence dressing, to the team from the City Parks Department who look after the venue throughout the year, and to David who, in my absence, has very kindly set the fences on my courses.

“As always, I hope that everyone has a good time, that the courses ride well, and that this provides the good early season run that athletes and horses want. I shall be watching from afar and look forward to the feedback.”

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