Course-designer Ian Stark on Bramham’s cross-country: ‘The sport is vulnerable and we need to ask questions about what direction we’re going in’

  • Course-designer Ian Stark has reflected on yesterday’s Bramham Horse Trials cross-country day, saying the sport is vulnerable and questions need to be asked about what direction it is heading in.

    “It’s always a nightmare when horses are injured – no one wants that. Three people fell at one fence so there was no choice but to take it out, though that was disappointing,” he said, referring to the fact that Ventura De La Chaule JRA had to be put down after an accident at fence 7b, which was later taken out of the course.

    “The riders were hugely supportive. At one point yesterday I was ready to walk away from the sport. You put your heart and soul into it and when something like that happens, it’s a punch in the guts and you wonder why you’re doing it, as a knee jerk reaction. But then the riders say don’t change, keep up the standard, so we live to tell the tale.

    “I think the sport has got a lot of thinking to do and I’m not the right person to say what way it should go. There’s a need to try to standardise and make sure horses and riders are ready for the level.

    “A lot were prepared for this – there was some great riding and fantastic horses, but there were also pairs who were not ready. As a course-designer I have to say, is it my job to dumb down or for them to get better to move up the levels? I will go away and think about things.

    “Maybe we need to get tougher on qualifications. We want to see people reacting and riding across country – we don’t want just to see riders who can ride on all-weather surfaces and the sport is in danger of going down that line.

    “It’s a tough sport and a risky sport. No one wants to see horses and riders injured.

    “I’m old-fashioned and I want people to enjoy what I enjoyed about the sport – I build courses like that because that’s what I enjoyed about the sport. It’s all got to be discussed because I don’t want to be out on a limb if everyone else is doing something else.”

    Ian added that the under-25s generally did brilliantly on the Bramham Horse Trials cross-country course and across all classes, the riding at the rail, ditch, rail questions was better than previously and it’s “fantastic” that riders are leaning to ride a coffin canter.

    “But they still have a lot to learn about riding lines and reacting. We can all sit on a brilliant horse and ride it round, but riders have to be ready to react and give the horse more leg or assistance.

    “People don’t hunt like they used to. Quite a few of the events people need to do to qualify are not necessarily getting them ready for the proper four- or five-star level. I’m not necessarily blaming the events. Riders need to think about what events they go to to prepare for the level.

    “I don’t know if we should ask designers to up what they doing or if I should back off and come down to their level. I don’t know what direction we should go in.”

    Ian added that he believes the levels should be progressive, from advanced to CCI4*-S to CCI4*-L, saying: “We should ask questions but we should give an education on the way up.

    He added: “I need to go away and think about things. If I need to make things easier, I need to decide in my own head whether I’m comfortable doing that and helping the sport be dumbed down.

    “That’s not arrogance, that’s how I am. I’ve always been a competitive person  and I want everyone to strive to be better. I need to know what the sport wants. But there were not complaints from the riders here.”

    Ian said this is his opinion looking at the sport as a whole, not just at the Bramham Horse Trials cross-country day.

    “I think yesterday made me ask some questions. We need to steer in a direction that’s right for the sport and for riders. I’ve always been of the opinion that old farts shouldn’t dictate what the younger riders should do.

    “Overall in the sport I see a gentle dumbing down. But things evolve. If it’s not right for an individual like me, it’s time for me to move on. But if people like what I’m doing, I love doing it.

    “I’m not as tough as I pretend to be and it’s quite a sensitive issue when you put your heart and soul into it and things go wrong.

    “I have to ask some serious questions of myself as well as of the sport. I want feedback, to know what direction we’re going in.

    “The last thing I want to do is come across as cocky or arrogant. I feel vulnerable and I think the sport is vulnerable.”

    • What do you think about Ian’s comments? Send your thoughts to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, and your letter will be considered for publication in a future issue of the magazine. 

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