When the Circus Comes to Town: Boekelo CCIO3* Cross Country Course Preview

The Boekelo CCIO3* cross country course looks serene today, all rustling autumn leaves and sapphire skies and riders wandering about quietly pondering their gameplans. But make no mistake: tomorrow, the circus comes to town.

Boekelo is a party event and cross country day is the fever pitch of festivity, with crowds pressed up against the galloping lanes like they’re on the frontlines of a rock show. There are bounce houses and screaming children and enough pop-up bars to keep some 60,000 spectators well watered — the joke is that riders who don’t make it around can stop for a drink during their long walk back to the barn.

The soirée gets rowdier as the day wears on, and our two U.S. combinations go in the afternoon: Tamie Smith with Fleeceworks Royal at 1:46 p.m. local time (7:46 a.m. EST) and Doug Payne with Getaway at 2:50 p.m. local time (8:50 a.m. EST).  To turn lemons into spiked lemonade, however, Boekelo’s electric atmosphere offers invaluable mileage that will serve both horses well in future international competition. Plus, those of us following along stateside needn’t set our alarm clocks too early to watch live!

After 18 years, 2018 marks course designer Sue Benson’s last year at Boekelo. She gives us the grand tour in the course walk below, talking through the challenges of dry weather and building on farmland. She explains this year’s course plot twists, which include a new arena, a new direction and a completely different look for some old standards. The van Deinse Triple at 12AB is a serious three-star question and the water complex at 16ABCD has four possible routes, all with their own risks.

As usual, Boekelo features a twisty, at-times claustrophobic track with lots of dips in and out of the woods, which will make time a big factor. Last year there were nine double-clear rounds out of 88 starters, and only four out of 85 the year before that. Riders looking to beat the clock will need to keep their foot on the gas throughout. It helps that Saturday’s forecast looks uncharacteristically not-at-all-soggy: high of 80 with a 0% chance of rain.

There are also plenty of surprises along the way. Several jumps come up suddenly off turns, and the horses won’t have much time to get their eye on the fence before willing their feet to leave the ground. Mercifully there are a number of happy-go-lucky galloping fences tucked in there as well to give everybody a quick mental breather and confidence booster in between the more technical questions.

Cheers from tens of thousands of spectators partying it up on the sidelines isn’t a bad confidence booster, either! If you’re doing it right, they’ll just be a blur as you gallop past. And you’ll definitely be a blur to many of them.

Many thanks to Dutch amateur eventer Willy Leysen for this course recording, and to CrossCountry App for sharing!

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