Riders competing at the Chatsworth SsangYong International Horse Trials (14-15 May) will have a new sculpture fence, inspired by an ancient Celtic horse goddess, to negotiate this year.

The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire have a passion for both eventing and modern sculpture, which they bring together each year by commissioning a new cross-country fence from a leading contemporary artist.

“My wife and I have a long-standing interest in contemporary sculpture and, with our involvement in horses and eventing, we thought it would be an interesting idea to combine these interests by commissioning works of art,” says the Duke.

This year, their choice fell on Scottish wood sculptor Nigel Ross, from Perthshire, whose work graces plenty of natural sites, from Loch Lomond and Udny Castle, to National Arboretum in Lichfield and the John Muir Countryside.

“When choosing an artist, we look for people who are intrigued by the particular requirements of the commission and who respond positively to the landscape of the park,” explains the Duke.

Ross, who used to be a forester, was immediately taken with the park at Chatsworth. “The first time I went to Chatsworth the old trees caught my eye; they contain a lot of spirals, a theme I have been working on over the last year. Spirals are a central theme of Pictish art and the oak tree is an important Celtic symbol,” he explains.

So Ross, who has long been interested in ancient British culture, thought of turning to Celtic mythology for inspiration. And as “it is a sculpture for horses to jump,” he named it Epona’s Leap, after the Celtic horse goddess Epona.

Ross worked alongside international course designer Mike Etherington-Smith to create the five-ton fence, which is one of the largest works he has ever produced.

“The exact position, materials and scale of the fence is agreed between the artist and the course-designer so that it becomes a safe, effective – and fascinating – addition to the cross-country course,” explains the Duke.

Epona’s Leap will join Chatsworth’s other four sculpture fences: Allison Crowther’s The Love Seat, Allen Jones’ Two Races, Tim Harrison’s Pegasus and David Nash’s Two Column Jump.

The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire have already laid plans for the 2006 sculpture fence, which the organisers promise to be “spectacular.”

For more information about Chatsworth International Horse Trials visit: www.chatsworth.org