The cross-country course-designer Pierre Michelet nailed it with this track, bringing the Olympics back in line with all other championships. Until now, some nations have dismissed Olympic courses as too easy and more like a three-star, but Pierre brought the standard back up to where it should be.
The course was technical, demanding and up to height, but also included the all-important safe and time-consuming alternatives.
Nobody should be surprised, as Pierre is renowned for his attacking courses with long, positive distances. He tested the trust and bravery in the combinations in Rio. There was little chance to regain any trust that was lost out on the course, as the questions came thick and fast.
If anyone started cautiously, they were going to be caught out and I feel that this is exactly what happened to a few pairs.
The ground was on the firm side but was level with a great covering of grass, which you could clearly see by the green strip that had been maintained through watering over the summer months. The grass alongside the course was much yellower, which showed how much work had gone into the track itself.
Testing from the outset
From the very first walk of the course, it was clear it was going to be a track to test riders from the start. The hills meant they were going to need petrol in the tank right to the very end, too. Judging pace was crucial.
The undulating terrain was challenging, testing the all-round skill of the horses. Fitness played a large part, especially as the fourth and final water complex was the most difficult, with a selection of alternatives. It forced riders to make quick decisions about how much energy their horses still had and how many risks they were prepared to take for their team result.
An early fence, the double of corners at six, was as technically difficult as you would find on any four-star track. Riders could not line up both corners and the fences were set on a downhill slope on a very open four-stride distance.
If you took the long option so early on, you were then always behind on the clock and possibly forcing errors later on when trying to catch up on time.
We saw cross-country riding back to its best. Any slip in concentration was penalised with run-outs. Mercifully, there were few falls, including Tim Price’s unfortunate slip on the flat. In the British camp, there were moments of brilliance, but just too many mistakes.
Quite an eye opener
Being travelling reserve is always a difficult position, but I did have the lucky opportunity to do the guinea pig test with my lovely young horse Billy The Red. He went really well so it was a great experience for him — onwards to Tokyo.
It was a fantastic trip to be a part of, with endless sand arenas to work in and an Olympic village second to none. Seeing 11,000 athletes there, with more body shapes than you can imagine — but more of the fit variety — was something of an eye opener!
Ref Horse & Hound; 11 August 2016