‘The Skinniest Skinnies I’ve Seen!’: Riders React to Luhmühlen’s ‘Academic’ CCI5* Course

There’s a rail-fronted hedge to pop at 22 – a mainstay here at Luhmühlen.

It’s nearly time for our favorite kind of Saturday here at EN – 5* cross country day. The Longines Luhmühlen course has been walked, the riders have studied their maps – then studied them again… and again. They’ve put their thinking caps on – and secured them with super glue – and got their feet wet. Plans A, B and C have been discussed and decided, with plans D, E, and F written up their arms just in case. But what do they think of the Luhmuhlen 5* track?

The consensus is that there’s no real bogey fence and there could be problems everywhere – little blips and slip ups due to a momentary lack of concentration or a slightly dodgy line. Riders will need to have their sat navs at the ready if they’re to navigate the twists and turns without getting lost. Also, the skinnies are the skinniest of skinnies. It’s been described as a Championship-style track – oh, and the time is going to be tight, of course.

The course this year is designed by Mike Etherington-Smith. The 5* track is 6350 meters with an optimum time of 11 minutes and 8 seconds. There are 28 numbered fences with 46 jumping efforts. There are three serious water questions on course, each of them with A, B and C elements, and the double at the penultimate fence will make sure that riders keep working right up until the end.

On how he approaches course building, Mike says, “We’ve all got a responsibility to look after horses, and so what I try to do with any course I produce has always been the same: if a rider makes a mistake or an error, the horse has a way to get out of it. We work very closely with the riders and we have open dialogue all the time”.

And has that open dialogue meant concerns about the course being voiced by the riders? In a word, no. So they all seem pretty happy to take it on.

But they’re all unanimous on the time being difficult to get. That’s something that Mike’s got planned – “I try and keep horses slower over a longer distance, if possible. But the guys are so good now – they get into a rhythm and they’re quick away from a fence. You watch the good guys – it’s all very smooth and seamless – they’re in a groove and so they make the time”.

Who’ll get their groove on as they gallop their way round this twisty track? Just how skinny are the skinnies? Who’ll be the biggest movers and who will be right up there at the end of the day? It’s all to play for at Luhmuhlen!

Tilly’s walked the course for us – here’s what she has to say. You can also get a better visual of the track in our preview reel here, as well as the course preview video below:

How will today’s events fit with the form? Follow along with EN’s Form Guide here.

Keep up to date with the live scores here.

Tilly’s got boots on the Luhmuhlen ground and will be bringing you all the content you can handle. Make sure you’re following @goeventing and keep it locked onto EN for all the ins and outs of the show.

You can follow along with the live stream on H&C+ with a subscription or a one-time viewing pass. If you choose to purchase an annual H&C+ subscription, you can save 15% if you use the code EVENTINGNATION15.

Sally will be delivering a minute-by-minute account of all the happenings out on course on our Live Updates stream, so you don’t have to miss a thing.

Let’s go eventing!

Longines Luhmühlen: [Website] [Entries] [Times and Scoring] [How to Watch] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage]

Here’s what the riders have to say about the 5* cross country course…

Laura Collett heads out in the lead on 20.3 with London 52. Photo by Alex Jeffery.

Laura Collett and London 52 – 1st – 20.3 / Dacapo – 6th – 29.7 (GBR)

“First impressions: first of all, hope the sat nav works!

There’s lots of twists and turns and lots of different tracks that you need to choose about when to go down. There’s loads of opportunities to have a blip somewhere.

I wouldn’t say there’s any one fence in particular that particularly stands out. I think the first water comes out of nowhere. I’d say the first few fences, you think ‘this is nice, this is okay’, and then [the water] hits you. I think that will come up very, very quickly. There’s not really a margin for error when there’s only three strides. It’s a big old fence into the water so you’ve got to make sure you get in first and then try and steer to the corner and kick a bit to get out!

I think it’s a really well built track and they always do such a good job of building nice fences here, so hopefully the horses lock on and understand the questions.

The first part is pretty meaty and there’s just no margin for error. All the distances are on three strides which you’ve got to get right. There’s no kind of adding or changing your mind – once you’re in you’ve got to just make it happen.”

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats are currently in third place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Kitty King and Vendredi Biats – 3rd – 26.8 (GBR)

Kitty and Froggy contested the the European Championships over the 4*-L course in Luhmuhlen in 2019, finishing 7th and best of the Brits. Her thoughts on returning for the 5*…

“It really suited him I when I first brought him here. I didn’t really think twisty courses would be his thing. He’s quite tricky in his mouth, so I thought that maybe this wouldn’t be the best track for him. But he was really good here, and then he was really good at Avenches, where it’s really twisty, so I think perhaps, it’s all in my head!

[The 5* track is] obviously going a different route than the Europeans, and it’s a little bit longer, but at the end of the day, it’s got a very similar feel – lots of skinnies and angles, and you’ve got to stay on your game the whole way. The first part of it is very twisty – like a CIC [short format] – and they have a few more galloping stretches towards the end. You’re just going have to keep on it, and their brains working and our brains working.”

Current World Champion Yasmin Ingham is lying in 4th with Rehy DJ after the dressage. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Yasmin Ingham and Rehy DJ – 4th – 27.5 (GBR)

“I definitely think the big first kind of eye opener comes at 13A, the big drop into the water. That’s seriously substantial, and on a tight line on three strides to a corner, so that’s definitely one to watch. I think the step up as well at 15 – that’s definitely one I’d be making sure that I’m not cutting any corners – I need to ride it properly. But I’d say the whole way through there’s questions, so it’s going to be really interesting to ride, but it’ll be nice to get the first water out of the way.”

Emily King and Valmy Biats stepped up into 5th place in the first phase. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Emily King and Valmy Biats – 5th – 28.4 (GBR)

“It’s all very much there. Obviously completely different to Badminton and the whole feel of it. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes. He was really good at Pau, which would be more this feeling.

I think it’d be really annoying to have a silly something. Lots of the lines need real respect and real accuracy. And I think the time is going to be super tight because you’re zooming around the bushes, moving up on your time, but then giving them enough time on those fiddly questions to really know what’s happening. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds. I think the time will be tight and then we have to be really on it on those accuracy questions.

The first and the second water there’s enough to do. The second water to that last skinny – I mean, it’s tiny. Really, it all stems from how you jump in and how the whole thing goes. If you do everything smooth, you’ll be good to the last one. You might waste a bit of time there.

And then there’s a little corner – 19 – it just pops up, but I think someone like him, that’s so bold and brave, I need to really respect something like that because you could just zoom over it.”

Jerome Robiné and Black Ice delivered a smart test for =8th on 30.1. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Jerome Robine and Black Ice – =8th – 30.1 (GER)

“In the end, it’s long – it’s eleven minutes long. You always have to try to focus. I think that’s the hardest thing because you have these long galloping stretches with just single fences where you can start breathing, and then you have to come back – OK, so now we have to concentrate again. I think that it will be hard for me to really focus.”

And which fences did he walk an extra time, or two, or three?

“There are a few things. The first water, the coffin, the Meßmer water – they’re the biggest questions on the course. You should go there once to watch! But really, every fence maybe we will run out.”

Boyd Martin and Luke 140 float their way into =8th. Photo by Alex Jeffery.

Boyd Martin and Luke 140 – =8th – 30.1 / Tsetserleg TSF – 13th – 31.1 / Fedarman B – 17th – 32.4 (USA)

Boyd posted his thoughts on the track on his Facebook page – “My first impression of the course is that there is a heck of a lot of narrows and corners out there. It’s beautifully designed by Mike Etherington-Smith. I really think the biggest test he’s trying to give is the adjustability and rideability of the horses. I feel like he lets you into the course nicely with four or five nice big galloping fences before he sticks it right to you with a number of combinations that have narrow fences with related distances. There is not one combination or jump that is really really tough, but it’s a course of accumulation and I think the horses and riders are going to have to be really really focused in the second half of the course when time comes into play.”

And then he spoke to us too! A double dose of Boyd wisdom, what a treat!

“I’m still just trying to get a feel for the track – it’s very twisty, and with lots of accuracy questions – narrows and corners – so I’ve got to make sure I go as fast as I can, but really have them balanced and thinking when they need to slow down and turn at those corners and narrows. I think it’ll be an accumulation – there’s not one jump where I’m sick to my stomach, but it’s a bit relentless where it’s combination after combination after combination. I think the last three jumps look nice – if I get to there, I’ll just be holding them together and trying to finish the job well!”

Bill Levett and Huberthus AC are also =8th. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Bill Levett and Hubertus AC – =8th – 30.1 (AUS)

“It’s very technical, and it’s more like a Championship course. There are so many places you could have twenty.

But I come to these five stars, and have done over the years, and I never look at them and think they’re easy. I think, ‘Wow! You’ve got to ride well, and the horse has got to be well after it’. That’s the challenge and that’s why we love five-stars, or I do – for the challenge of trying to get your horse, produce it, and to be able to come here and put yourself up against the five-star track.

I love Mike Etherington-Smith’s courses. I think it’s a lovely track, but there’s a heap out there to do. You could easily have a 20. It’s quite twisty so the time will be difficult.

It’s a quality field, so it’s nice to put yourself up into a quality field and see how you’re getting along.”

Harry Meade and Tenareze are just a smidge behind the top ten on 30.7. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Harry Meade and Tenareze – 11th – 30.7 (GBR)

“I think the overall picture is it’s a continental, Championship style. The course is very different – it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from the other five-stars.

There’s plenty of places you could just have a little whoopsie, but there’s nothing which is particularly likely to be so problematic in terms of being completely on the same page. You could easily just have a very slight lack of concentration, or a horse doesn’t quite read the questions, or you could just nudge a flag or something.

Never say never because we’re at a five-star, and these are horses – we’re dealing with humans and horses and human and equine error and everything else.

There’s lots of fiddly fences. It’s obviously a twisty turny course – I think one of the questions is going to be being able to keep that galloping speed up around those fiddly questions.”

Tamie Smith and Solaguayre California go out onto the cross country course in 15th place. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Tamra Smith and Solaguayre California – 15th – 31.9 (USA)

“It looks good. The first water is huge – I think that’s very tough. And obviously, the time looks like it’s going to be very difficult to make. And the skinnies are the skinniest I’ve seen, so you have to be very accurate and precise, but quick. The water and the arena – it shows big scope and bravery. But I think it’s a really great course for her. This will be her first five-star – she has done Morven Park in the United States, which is a big gallopy track, and then she’s also done Boekelo, so she’s been around twisty, kind of similar tracks to this. You never know when you first bring them to their first five-star, but I think she’s ready.”

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire are currently on 37.8. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire – 31st – 37.8 (USA)

“I love it! It looks great.”

And how many times did she get lost while walking the course?

“Oh my gosh! I had a good friend with me – she had the map open and I think I only took like two wrong turns. So that’s pretty good!

I think the course looks great. I think it’ll be very testing on time, and so we just have to be strategic on where we can go fast and put in tight turns. I think it’ll be great, great fun. I will say for this horse, it’s always the water – always the first water – and that is quite a big ask to jump in that first one. So that’s always on my mind, no matter if it’s a three-star or five-star with this horse.”

And there you have it – straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak!

Go eventing!

Longines Luhmühlen: [Website] [Entries] [Timing & Scoring] [How to Watch] [Live Stream] [EN’s Coverage] [EN’s Form Guide]

EN’s coverage of Longines Luhmühlen is brought to you by Kentucky Performance Products and Ocala Horse Properties.

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