Tremaine Cooper’s courses at The Fork are always an impressive challenge, and the nature of this event is to use max height and max spread in a way that might makes you worry a bit on the first walk, but ultimately rides well with a confident and bold horse, and maybe some sticky spray.
This year, Tremaine has reversed the direction of the course, as most recently we have started heading up the big hill behind the water complex right off the bat. A lot of the combinations are similar as they were in 2015, but I feel like this year’s course flows a bit better and is better able to give a confident run to horses heading towards bigger things in just a few weeks.
The first fences are max height and spread, with number one in particular being a very decently sized obstacle. You have to come out of the box attacking on a big, forward stride, and I love this type of design personally, as it really gives you and your horse confidence. There is a combination at 4ab, but it’s still in the same theme of a good forward galloping ride, and it’s not until 6abc that we encounter something that might catch a few riders out.
The Uwharrie Bank Complex is a newer element to the course in the last few years and can ride either beautifully or shake up the leaderboard. The mound comes right up at you, and a good distance in is necessary, as some horses peek a bit on takeoff due to the keyhole and sloping landing side, but you’ve got to keep your eye up and onto the next two elements.
The angled brushes at B and C come just three strides after the keyhole on the mound, and are two strides apart from one another. This should look easier for the accomplished pairs, but I can certainly see the opportunity for trouble here as well.
After that we have two good galloping fences, one of which is fairly solid and leads right into the first water combination. Lucky Clay’s Duck Pond is an ABC combination with a decent rail into the water on a left bend to a right-handed brush corner, followed by a funny duck as you’re leaving the water.
It looks like there is plenty of room, but there are only five forward and attacking strides to the corner and two more to the angled duck. This will probably be more forgiving than it seems, as you can also change your tactics depending on how your horse jumps in. I imagine a few pairs will put six strides in there, and while a corner in the water does invite the odd runout or two, it attracts the horse’s eye and should be a good jump to ride up to in the end
Leaving the spectator area, we have the classic angled ditch and brush that always seems to ride best when you don’t walk right up to it on your course walk. The second water is directly after this and is almost the same obstacle as last year. The aqueduct-type fence had its debut last year and claimed a few unsuspecting victims, and might just do the same this year. It’s a type of fence we don’t see that often into water and requires a pretty aggressive ride. (My horse adores water, and even he peeked at it in midair last year.)
After another max height max spread table to give a little breather, we have the coffin combination, with a rail one stride to an angled ditch followed by two strides to quite a narrow and tall triple brush. This is a true test of accuracy and bold riding, especially on horses that might be a bit prone to peeking into the ditch and stalling over that element. There is a black flag option for the C element for the few that catch a run-out here.
Whereas the first part of the course is more big and open and galloping course, the next few fences come up quickly. After the frangible upright rail coming out of the woods, we have the new sunken road, which features a hanging rail on a bending four strides with a skinny stump that mimics the style from Rolex.
To give the horses a bit of a break mentally, we head up the hill to a few big galloping fences and a very bold effort combination at the top. Riders will want to make sure that they still have enough gas in the tank for the giant table on a bending three strides to a very skinny table that is five-and-a-half feet wide, so you can’t be holding back or chipping in if you want a good smooth ride.
This will be a test for the horses as they might be beginning to feel a bit tired, and the riders will really have to hold their line and get a good stride in over the A element and keep their legs on for the very wide table at B.
A good long gallop follows this, to a nice cabin before we enter the VIP tent area again near the first water. The big table going down the hill will surely provide some fun for spectators, and as riders we are immediately thinking of the Shotgun combination, which is directly in front of the tent. The striding is pretty open between A and B, but with horses at the end of the course and their strides a bit elongated, it should ride well. Scroll down for a full gallery.
Cross country for the FEI divisions and for Advanced is not until Sunday, and all other national divisions compete in this phase today, so stay tuned for all the updates from Jenni as the weekend wears on! If you haven’t already, check out the drone flyover video of the CIC3* course, which shows you all the jumps with a commentary from Tremaine himself.