Welcome to Gatcombe and the Festival of British Eventing 2013, this year blessed with sunny skies after becoming a casualty of the Great British summer last year and being forced to cancel; in fact in stark contrast several people have told me how dry, hard and yellow the ground was here just a couple of weeks ago but with some well-timed rain, and much spiking and rolling the footing on the xc course is now close to ideal.
The Gatcombe Start Box….
The first two fences are shared by all the divisions, as are the last two but in between them every track is championship calibre – testing scope, bravery, accuracy and most definitely fitness. Designed by Captain Mark Phillips of course, the CIC3* British Open Championship course, which you can see below, is a mix of big, solid wide fences, and combinations of questions to corners, narrow houses or skinny brushes. To me, it seems more substantial this year and reminds me of the Ian Stark/Derek Di Grazia courses I’ve seen lately – even the second and third elements of the combinations are big, and somewhat more inviting than a narrow airy rail for example. The terrain at Gatcombe is always a factor – it’s very hilly, with a couple of loops and switchbacks, plenty of opportunites for a horse and rider to make up time, or equally to waste precious seconds. By Sunday afternoon, especially if we get the wonderful 70 degree sunshine that is forecast, the crowds will be packed, especially around the feature water fence, and enjoying the view of a vast portion of the course around the natural park bowl.
At fence 3 things start to get serious….
….looking up at the drop on the other side of the third fence
The famous Cotswold stone walls that are ubiquitous all over the countryside here, at 4
The Hamptons International Round Top at 5 would be a straightforward let-up fence if not for the terrain
The first combination on course comes at Fence 6A,B, and C
and is immediately followed by the step up to a house at 7
(look for the Paul Tapner cameo in the background, walking the Intermediate line to the house)
What Fence 8 lacks in technical difficulty it makes up for in sheer size!
Another massive table at 9 jumping out of the Hamptons International House
Through a gap past the Intermediate fence, and down a short but steep hill to another Cotswold stone wall at 10A
Then a sharp right handed turn to the B & C elements
The enormous but inviting Bedmax Stick Pile at 11
The double brush at 12A
to the skinny brush at B
The British Eventing Turn at 13A and B is the curve in a loop at the far end of the course before horses and riders gallop back towards the main arena and into the Park Bowl
Yep, another stone wall at Fence 14
The famous Land Rover Folly at 16A, B and C
The mushrooms are making a re-appearance this year; at the top of a long pull, and perched at the summit of a particularly steep mound on top of that, they always cause problems for some people
Jumping off the top of the world and back down the hill over 19A
Before you can think about turning left and heading for the home stretch, these two plain fences at 20 & 21, the footbridge and the saddlehorse take you in another loop, right-handed and in the other direction, to the water feature.
It’s a decent log and drop into the water at 22A, and then the offset boat at 22B.
The final climb up the last hill, and ridiculously exciting on Sunday afternoons towards the end of the British Open Championship, run in reverse order and when you know that every second, and fraction thereof, counts.
Good luck to all the competitors in every division!