A Small group attended a course walk at Blenheim CCI3* organised by the BHS F&I Association with course designer Eric Winters, who kindly gave his time free of charge. The money collected has been donated to the Kenneth Clawson Memorial Fund.
The aim was to walk the course and understand the philosophy behind designing a course of this level at this time in the eventing calendar coupled with the constraints of running in a parkland environment catering for a commercially run venture.
Eric explained that before he thinks about the course he considers at what time of year the competition is taking place as this would reflect on the complexity of the questions asked, offering a slightly softer course at the beginning of the season compared to one at the latter. Another is the issue of terrain and the ability to encompass the distance of the course explaining that although the site looks big the available land is quite restricted, citing to extend the course it would have to go through a wood and that has major cost implications.
Eric aims to keep the distances between the combinations ‘short’ in the early stages of the course and be mindful that as the course progresses horses will naturally be on a more open stride and compensates for this in the distances in combinations in the latter stages of the course.
Eric insist that he wants the horses to come away from his courses with confidence and having learnt from their experience, giving horses at the start of this level having the opportunity of completing without being competitive but giving horses wishing to move up to the next level a fair test and to consolidate training.
Progressing around the course Eric explained the changes in the Black Flag rule regarding crossing the track, which encourages riders to plan their routes and stay focused. It was evident that riders appeared to be a little confused with the change by the number of questions Eric had to answer from competitors walking the course!
One thing that was evident was the course was beautifully presented rewarding bold riding with horses trained to stay on their line.
Eric explained that plans for the followings year course starts the day after cross country. He walks with course builder David Evans and addresses where there were any problems and what major ground works need to take place before next year. The course is completely removed after the competition in line with estate policy. Due to the constraints of space the direction of the course is changed every year, to give the course a completely different feel.
Eric was open to any questions and all parties had an enjoyable and informative talk covering all aspects of course design and preparation and a lively debate around the correlation of modern coaching techniques and course design.
Report by Andrea Parsons