However shocked and excited we all might be at the leaderboard after Dressage, I’d bet the farm that it’s not going to look anything like that tomorrow evening, and that all is not lost for the real xc superstars.
I walked as much of the course as I could yesterday (roping and time constraints aside, since they were shutting the Park and trying to chuck us out as we tried to see more fences after watching all the dressage!) and from what I’ve seen it is going to be very influential.
There are, as I foresaw, plenty of very skinny skinnies, with alternatives, at least one at the bottom of a steep slope. These are the ideal way of testing the best of the best, without utterly annihilating the rest.
But the ‘let-up fences’, such as the beautifully constructed chess table (see photo below), the fruit and vegetable stall, and the big Royal Herb Garden hedge at fence 4 aren’t small either, and those sorts of fences have claimed major scalps at past Championships too. The influence of the undulations and twists and turns, and perhaps also the rain we’ve had today (and might still have, but I hope not!), can’t be underestimated. The going on Saturday was fantastic, and the course drains really well, but if it rains tomorrow it will definitely have an effect.
Some thoughts on the fences we were able to see (we didn’t walk them in order and the names we gave them, might not be the official ones):
Fence 5, with a choice of routes through logs, with carved squirrels everywhere in honour of the overfriendly squirrels that frequent the park.
There are two separate routes to jump the choice of a) and b) logs, which looked a stride apart, then curve to jump whichever c) element suited your initial route. It was hard to tell from outside the ropes but I thought it might just be possible to jump a) and b) of the most direct route in, then wiggle sharply left and right, to jump c), the intended final part of the other route, which would mean you could exit quicker, without having to turn again. So, a) and b) of 1 route, c) of the other. It would take a VERY handy and obedient horse and lightning-fast reactions on landing after b)… I’ll be fascinated to see if it’s on and anyone does it… but as I couldn’t walk it, it may not be.
Fence 6 – The Planet fence.
This is a beautiful fence, and most views of it so far have shown it in true Saturn form, looking like a perfectly round disc. My photo shows the true width, which is still very considerable. It would be easy to misjudge the distance (because there is no groundline, the fence ‘floats’, which can be problematical – a floating corner at Luhmuhlen recently caused lots of problems) and the width of it will not be forgiving. I hope we don’t see any less-than-confident horses try to bank it!
Fence 8 – The water – Wind in the Willows theme.
The house in the water shouldn’t be a problem for horses at this level, but the splashing water can distract/unsight a horse, or a trodden-on overreach boot in the water can cause a sudden disastrous halt – we’ve seen both at major Championships before. The hanging log out and then 1 stride on an angle to the gypsy-caravan shaped fence should be pretty easy for the best, but will test the rest.
The hollow (since we’re not allowed to call them coffins any more!) is a sloping narrowish spread, with ground falling away slightly on landing, what looked like 2 nice strides to a decent ditch, then I think 2 curving strides to meet the third sloping spread on a bit of an angle, as there isn’t room to wiggle right then left to meet it straight. The best will make it look a doddle, but any horse who isn’t having a whale of a time at that point might see that open door to the right and prefer it.
The East-West fence running downhill to another skinny might be one of those that rides perfectly, depending on the distance, but I’ll bet there will be at least one cheeky run-out. Again, there’s a nice but time-consuming alternative.
The water down near the main arena. Downhill approach to a sloping fence with drop in, curve right to jump the middle of a barge, then either circle, or curve right again to jump the separately numbered arrowhead out. Hard to see the striding from a distance but looked like about 5 or 6 strides, ish. If you get out of shape over any part the next will come up seriously fast!
Fence 20, very reminiscent of the Leaf Pit at Burghley.
Horses at this level really shouldn’t worry about coming off the big step, but once they’re off, your distance to the skinny is a matter of instant reaction and trust, not planning – it’s pretty impossible to tell how far down the slope you will land and how many strides you will have to the skinny. So, just try to keep balance and line as the horse accelerates down the steep slope to the very skinny fence at the bottom. There’s an alternative which would avoid the danger of a run-out but cost many vital seconds. Medal contenders will go straight, and hope their horse has the ‘hunt and kill skinnies’ attitude.
That’s about all we managed to see before the guards got impatient and chucked us all out, but it was enough to convince me that tomorrow will be an absolutely fantastic day of sport, and that the leaderboard’s going to be dramatically different!
Cross-Country begins at 12:30 pm (7:30 AM Eastern US time). Order of Go here