Richard Crowe and his team have built a fantastic cross-country course for the 2017 Mitavite Springston Trophy at Rakaia and the competitors are very keen to try it out!
The course was available for walking today, and many of those in the senior section (18-24) and their coaches had the opportunity to walk the 105cm track with Olympian Clarke Johnstone.
The first few fences are fairly straightforward, with the combination at number four being the first technical question.
Clarke was very impressed with Fence 5A, which he likened to one of the fences he jumped at the Badminton Horse Trials. “It looks big on the approach, and there is a downhill landing so it will feel big when you jump it. You then need to do a smooth curve to B. If you nail the corner to it by being balanced, it will be three strides on a small bend.”
Fence 6 is a jump into a shallow water. “Pick your horse up in front so it is taking you to the jump, ride your horse into the bridle. This fence is not overly big, but it is narrow.”
Coming into fence 7, Clarke suggested going easy and smooth. “Go straight and in the middle, then there is a small bend for two strides to the B element, five strides to C. You also have the option of sitting up and getting another stride in here, by going wider and a bit slower, which could be a good option if you need to get a bit of control.”
For Fence 8, Clarke suggested that riders should check their horses before the uneven ground on the approach. “Don’t lose your balance before the jump,” he warned.
Fence 9 offers an “O” option which is smaller than the main obstacle with less of a drop. Riders taking this option would gain 10 penalties but lose nothing on time. Clarke suggested that riders should get rid of their speed before the fence. As there is a good drop, he suggested eyes up and heels down to keep position. “Slow down around the turn and ride up to the jump.”
The combination at Fence 10A and B has four strides between the elements. “Come in on a slight angle over the first to get a good shot at the corner B. Take care of the right shoulder so there is no ducking out.”
Clarke also gave some suggestions to riders about approaches and departures from fences. “Between Fences 10 and 11 you could go wider, or inside to be faster. How brave are you going to be on the line leading up to it? The inside line is quite do-able but you would only save a couple of seconds.”
12A, B and C’s major feature is its undulating ground. “The first element is simple but the drop adds to its complexity. There are five strides to B, then four strong strides to the oxer on the way out. The main thing is to get balance going into this, and then it will be just like doing grid work.”
A stony ditch in front of fence 13 had a few riders worried. “Don’t over-complicate it. Pretend the ditch is not there. When you’re in the air, look right for the turn, and save some time. You’ll waste five seconds or more if you don’t make this turn,” said Clarke.
Fence 14 is another with a ditch. “Keep coming, look at the top of the jump and then look up beyond the jump. Again, there is time to be saved as you can look to the right as you jump, so you land and turn immediately.”
The revamped water jump looks amazing, and the level of detail in the decoration, especially for the fish, is very impressive. Seniors jump into the water twice; the first time for Fence 15A. “Reasonably tall rails in here, so use the corner to get the balance back in the horse, and slow. Ride up again into the water, if you give your horse a chance to look, then ride strongly in. You will land on dry land and then push on into the water and to the fish. The distance between A and B here is not important as everyone will do it differently. Some horses will jump into the water strongly, others won’t. Just slow down and ride strongly, keep your canter going in the water as the fish is fairly tall.”
Fence 16 Clarke described as simple. “There is a nice uphill rise to it which lightens the forehand. Don’t over-complicate it.”
There is then a sharp turn back to the Mitavite water, and another O option is available on the way out. Clarke suggested that as the horses would have already had their feet wet, they should be okay about jumping straight through and out over the skinny. “While there needs to be some slowing down, you still need to ride forward to the fence. Control the straightness all the way over the jump, have the horse between your legs and hand.”
The second to last fence was filled with locally grown potatoes and onions, providing a bit of a laugh for some of the riders.
At the last jump, a keyhole, Clarke urged riders not to get a rush of blood to their head. “It is quite spooky, but should ride OK. It’s a great photo opportunity, so remember not to pull any funny faces!”
Competitors really got a lot from the course walk. “It was cool!” was the phrase heard most often. “I learned lots, and it is great to get another perspective on the jumps,” one said. The Rakaia riders said they were really proud of what had been produced on their home grounds, and there will be little home advantage, if any, as there are so many new fences. They were looking forward to jumping it, but as for the dressage, they were united. “No we are not looking forward to that!”
Clarke said he ended up walking the course more than he did the Olympic course! His last walk was with sponsors and officials, before heading back to the North Island to compete at the Taupo horse trials this weekend. His visit was certainly appreciated by so many.