Walking the course with Nick Turner (previous Badminton competitor, now Brazilian Eventing Team Coach and Snr Selector for British Eventing) was a fantastic way to learn all about the challenges of this true four-star course.
The big message of the day from Nick was how critical it is that the rider has absolute understanding and control of the speed, power and straightness of the horse. If you misjudge or get to a fence at the wrong speed, on the wrong line or in the wrong balance the consequences can be serious.
Throughout the walk Nick talked about straightness and how crucial it is that riders can stay ‘on the correct line’ and keep control of the horse’s shoulders. Horses need to be trained to ‘lock on’ to fences and hold their line and they learn to jump between the flags, which can be a real bonus through a combination if the rider isn’t always in the right place. (This is also why the flags on the open corners of fences 15AB could really confuse the horses).
The Colt Pond and HS1 Farmyard (fences 14AB & 15AB) were flagged as some of the trickiest combinations. He explained the speed, power required and he walked the direct and alternative routes to show strides and lines. The direct route at the Colt Pond showed how finely balanced the set up needed to be – it needed to be approached positively and with power but it would be wrong to be too fast into it. It’s not about speed it’s about being at the ‘correct’ speed for the horse to be able to do a good job.
Further on into the course Nick explained how important it is for the rider to be making a constant assessment of the horse’s energy reserves. If alternative routes are being taken it’s vital they don’t sap the horse’s energy even more, the twists and turns can be disruptive to the rhythm and take more out of the horse. The rider’s fitness and core strength is also paramount – the rider needs to be a help not a hindrance, especially once over the finishing line – care and consideration of the horse’s balance and deceleration is vital.
The course walk revealed how impressive horse, rider and training have to be to be successful at this level. It takes years of training to achieve complete understanding of the speed, power, balance and line required – get it right and the horse grows in confidence and enjoys the experience – because, just as Nick said, ‘it’s all about keeping a smile on your horse’s face’.
Many thanks to Nick Turner for such an informative and interesting course walk and for generously giving his time in aid of Cancer Research.
By Jo Measures