Ian Stark has a few new tricks up his sleeve for this year’s iteration of the Setter’s Run CCI4*-S at Carolina International, held annually as a popular spring three-day prep in Raeford, Nc.
Carolina would be an event many riders circle on the calendar as a spot to give their horses a proper test before their spring 5*, whether that be Kentucky or Badminton. Its late-March timeline also means we’re beginning to see higher levels of fitness (this usually manifests on dressage day, which seems to be perennially cool and wet here — real funny, eventing gods), and Ian’s track is the perfect place for a good lung-opening run.
With a bit of rain falling Thursday but no more forecasted through the weekend, the going should be good for riders to open up on Saturday. “I should think that the going will be perfect, so from that point of view I expect horses to be able to gallop on it rather well and stay open,” Ian commented on Thursday. “There’s a little but of turning back and forth at the beginning, but the rest of the course is more committed and more open…We’ve opened up more and more of the tracks so there’s less tight turns and more galloping.”
This year’s track is quite different than its previous versions, a key change being that the riders will start and finish in the derby field that serves as the show jumping arena. From the start, they’ll wind down toward the far side of the track where the course used to start and end before turning back and heading into the woods and over the hills that feature at the Carolina Horse Park.
You can view a fence-by-fence virtual tour of the course, which features 22 numbered questions and 34 total jumping efforts set on an optimum time of 6 minutes, 37 seconds, on Cross Country App here.
A few typically influential questions have been updated, reversed direction, or otherwise changed for 2022, including the Ride EquiSafe Hollow, pictured below. The always exciting Cloud 11 Montrose Pool will also feature a new look this year, and is immediately followed by another ABC combination at fence 19, the Lumbee River Viaduct.
“My feeling for this year’s course is that I’m really looking for a good competition at four-star,” Ian commented. “It’s a really good run and a preparation for Kentucky…what we really want is a first class event and get the horses ready for wherever they’re heading.”
Most of the rider sentiments seem to echo Ian’s thoughts. Ian wouldn’t be known for building an unassuming track, but while riders always widen their eyes when describing the size of the fences, they typically note the track’s fairness all the same. It’s a core value of Ian’s design philosophy: he doesn’t take issue with the riders losing a bit of sleep the night before, but he wants the horses to understand the questions he’s asked and be able to answer them safely.
Time will be an influential factor, as is historically the case here — in 2021, for example, eventual winners Will Coleman and Off the Record were the only pair out of 34 starters to come home inside the optimum time.
You can tune in live on Horse & Country all weekend here. The CCI4*-S will tackle the track beginning at 11:20 a.m. ET, with the top 10 following show jumping running in reverse order of standing at the end of the division.