‘It’s all about riding’: Luhmühlen cross-country course designer’s insight on the track – plus hints of ‘exciting’ future plans

  • Longines Luhmühlen Horse Trials cross-country course-designer Mike Etherington-Smith has big plans for the future of the German five-star.

    Mike, who took over as designer in 2016, spoke about his ethos behind the 2022 track – and hinted at major changes from 2023.

    “It was a big effort last year for the event to run. We’ve had a conservative year this year, but still made it enough of a test,” said Mike.

    “The course is largely similar to last year in many respects. I’ve changed some of the lines, made some of the things a little bit more difficult. The intention is that we are hopefully going to have some bigger, more significant changes next year.

    “You are sort of always looking at the long term with these things. We hopefully have some exciting plans for next year.

    “This year there was no need to go crazy. It worked well last year, there were several new fences that we needed to use again. So that’s why it’s not hugely dissimilar,” added Mike, who kept his cards close to his chest on details of what exactly is in the pipeline for 2023.

    Luhmühlen Horse Trials cross-country: ‘Riders have to use their heads’

    Luhmuhlen Horse Trials cross country course

    The 2022 course loops features 30 questions, including four water complexes, covering 6,270m through woodland and has an optimum time of 11 minutes.

    While Burghley and Badminton offer the big dimensional questions, this track has a feel of a thinking-man’s five-star.

    “It’s all about riding, really,” said Mike. “There isn’t masses of terrain, so you can’t go hugely big with fences. If you’ve got ups and downs you can. So the emphasis becomes on the riders ability to ride with a venue such as this.

    “Those that are on their game will make it look easy, those that aren’t will make it more difficult, but hopefully if the riders make a mistake, the horses don’t get punished for it.”

    The forecast for Saturday is a hot, dry 28 degrees. The five-star cross-country is scheduled in the morning, with all 36 combinations set to be done by lunchtime.

    “Competitors have to make sure they’ve got enough gas in the tank towards the end of the track,” said Mike. “They’ve got to think about how they use their horses and ride sensibly. And if it is hot, they’ll have to use their heads.

    “I always try to keep enough at the back end [of a course] to keep them interested without actually going over the top. It’s very easy to go over the top and do too much.”

    Mike added he hopes that “no one fence in particular” is going to be influential, adding that it “all depends on what horse you are riding”.

    “I think they need to pay attention to the hollow towards the end of the track,” he said, referring to Fence 27abc (pictured, above).

    “The first water [Fence 4/5abc: Longines Wasser (pictured, below)] is not supposed to be that difficult, but they have to ride it. It would be very easy to have a run out there and do something daft because they’re not paying attention.”

    Luhmuhlen cross-country course

    Mike added he will be watching the way the horses move, rather than any fence in particular on Saturday.

    “I just watch how horses work despite the riders, it’s all about how horses cover ground, how they work, how they cope with different types of terrain,” he said.

    “I’ve been doing this a long time. I just watch how horses travel. There’s always something that you could learn along the way. There’s nothing new out here that I haven’t done before, so in terms of combinations, I’m probably not going to learn a huge amount. But it’s just how horses work, how they travel and how they come home.”

    He added: “The last kilometre is always interesting, that final 800 metres or so. You want them to grow as they go around and benefit from the experience.

    “I see my job is to give the riders the opportunity to produce their horses. Whether it’s a World Championships or Olympic Games or Europeans, that doesn’t make any difference. That principle underpins everything I do.

    “There will be horses that are stepping up for the first time so [as a designer] you’ve got to get them into the track and then hopefully give them the opportunity to grow rather than destroy them mentally, which is very easy to do and there’s nothing clever in that.”

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