Good morning from Red Hills! There’s much excitement in the air on this brisk morning, as the new 2015 FEI Three-Star Test A is being performed for the first time in the world right here on U.S. soil, and Hugh Lochore’s beautifully decorated cross country course is just 24 hours away from seeing action with the new format change this year.
With the course now totally contained within Eleanor Klapp Phipps Park, Hugh was able to open up the beginning of the track to provide a better flow, with the first seven fences easing horses and riders into a rhythm to tackle the questions that start coming up quickly after that.
You’ll notice that fences 5 and 6 cross the new dressage and show jumping arenas, which feature new stonedust footing. Show jumping has now been relocated to the top of the hill on this footing in front of the new gigantic sponsor’s tent, which you can see through the owl hole in the photo of fence 5.
The first question on course comes at fence 8, the Offsprey Offsets, two angled tables set on a forward three strides. Their placement next to two trees means riders will need to be very accurate on their line, as there isn’t much room for error here. This year’s corner complex, the Corner Conundrum, has been relocated to fence 9, with two corners set on a straight line in a flowing two strides that should ride well.
Riders will then wind their way through the trees, eventually making their way to The Shire at fence 12ab. Like last year, this is a test of trust and accuracy. A bold jump over the first hobbit house will likely land horses and riders at the bottom of the hill, requiring a strong one-stride blast up the next hill to the second hobbit house. A more conservative approach to the first house means this can ride in three strides.
The Stairway to Heaven at fence 14abc is a fun combination for spectators to watch and should ride smoothly, as it did last year. When asked if he’d added any “rider frighteners” to the course, Hugh said the new Weldon Wall at fence 15 might surprise a few horses and riders. Pairs that tackled the new ditch and wall at Pine Top Advanced earlier this month will be well prepared for this challenge.
Riders will go back into the trees for fence 17, the Hammock, which requires a hairpin lefthand turn upon landing, lest horse and rider want to get very up close and personal with the crowd.
The Sawgrass Water at fence 19abcd has a new look this year. Riders will jump in over a big brush, with three strides taking them to the new island, which they’ll jump on and off. Getting discombobulated on landing will likely make a drive-by at the the skinny d element, four strides away, all the more likely.
There’s a lot for horses to look at as they approach Goliath Gap at fence 22, and a tired horse might need a bit of encouragement here. Horses and riders will next exit the trees to the final water, Nature’s Circle at fence 24, which features a log jump in and a forward four strides to the same butterfly skinny used in this complex last year.
Then it’s time to kick on to the Hay Feeder at fence 25 and cross the finish flags. As you’ll see in the photos, the Advanced course follows nearly the exact same route, with just the out elements at the water complexes differing. Both courses are 3,900 meters with 34 jumping efforts in all, with an optimum time of 6 minutes, 51 seconds.
Many thanks to Shems Hamilton for providing her lovely photos of each fence on course, and thank you to Hugh, his team and organizers Jane Barron and Marvin Mayer for their hard work and dedication to the track. Much time has been put into improving the footing (not to mention putting in the new arenas!), and the investment — both from a time and financial standpoint — is very evident.