‘I’ve never seen that before’: riders react to the Bicton five-star cross-country track

  • “A proper five-star” is Oliver Townend’s first reaction to the Chedington Bicton Horse Trials cross-country course for this week’s competition, designed by Mark Phillips.

    “I’ve walked the course once and I can’t take my hat off enough to the team for the incredibly fantastic job in putting it together – I was slightly blown away by the presentation,” said the newly minted Olympic gold medallist.

    “I think the ground is A1 – I know that they’re planning to do more work in places, but for me it’s very safe ground and if I had to run around last night, then I’d have been happy to run any horse on it. It’s good to firm in places, but it’s very good ground with good grass cover.

    “The challenge is constant – it’s proper five-star, you’ve got narrow after narrow, corner after corner, and Mark’s encouraging you to go on long distances to accuracy questions. When horses get a little tired, seven or eight minutes in, that’s when the problems start occurring.”

    The terrain has been a talking point in the build-up to this event and Oliver agreed it will be a factor on Mark Phillips’ track.

    “There’s lots of sharp inclines, which probably wouldn’t be as see-able on the TV. It’s going to be a proper stamina test, and the wily old course-designer has used the camber in lots of special places to make fences look relatively straightforward, but the camber will throw you about a little bit.”

    Pippa Funnell commented that while Burghley Horse Trials – the event this one-off fixture has replaced – has a lot of terrain, riders are accustomed to that track.

    She explained: “A lot of us oldies have been to Burghley so many times we know how to ride the track – even though the jumps change, you know how to ride the terrain at Burghley. You know where if you’re a bit behind, you can make up time. You know at Burghley where you can push the horses and where you have to back off them.

    “At Burghley, if they’re fit enough, they run home and you’ve got a good run home from the Cottesmore Leap, whereas here my experience at the spring event was that it’s not only the terrain. I think an awful lot too is from horses’ mental point of view, you come back to home quite a lot [during the course] and then swing them away from home again. When they get a bit tired during that last three or four minutes, they’re like, ‘Oh we’re nearly home’ and then you turn them away again.”

    William Fox-Pitt said he doesn’t like the downhill first minute as his ride Oratorio is keen, so he’d prefer to start uphill.

    “Apart from the downhill first minute, the lie of the land is better this way round compared to at the four-star in June – there’s a bit less camber,” said William.

    Bicton Horse Trials cross-country course: influential fences

    Ireland’s Padraig McCarthy picked out a couple of fences that may be influential, starting with the Topspec Brush Corners at fence 9ab in the main arena (below).

    Bicton Horse Trials cross-country course: fence 9a on the five-star track

    “That question coming down into the main arena requires the horse to be really controlled and really balanced and really focused with you. And then there are plenty of places where they have to stretch and go on, on the forward distance,” said Padraig.

    The rider also said he had never seen a double bounce before, which appears on this course at the Ariat Challenge (fence 16abc).

    “It’s a very interesting question, especially with the V-hedge afterwards. We’ve also never seen that,” said Padraig, adding that the Christmas trees before the V-hedge will help channel horses. “I think they’ve made it fairly kind with the trees, so it looks like as you approach it’s fairly obvious for the horse to jump. But the question will be how they jump the bounce, whether they have the power to do it.”

    William agreed that the trees will help with the V-hedge (below).

    He said: “I hope, as they come in, the V-hedge will actually look like a parallel fence to the ditch. Optically horses don’t judge things in that last minute, they can’t quite see it. I think the trees will hold you in and the bounce is there.”

    Bicton Horse Trials cross-country course: fence 16c

    Referencing frangibles breaking at the Olympics, William said: “I’m a little bit worried maybe about the frangible pin on the rail going in [at the Ariat Challenge]. I think you can never trust the pins, so you’ve got to come in quietly enough. And yet you want to be riding forward to come out, so it’s quite a combination.”

    Gemma Tattersall also mentioned the corners in the main arena, as well as the Vardag Oxer to Corner at fence 20ab (below).

    Bicton Horse Trials cross-country course: five-star fence 20a

    “That’s a proper five-star question – a big old oxer on a really tricky line to that corner. It certainly invites a run-out,” she said.

    Gemma and William were among those to talk about the NFU Water at fence 22abcd (below).

    “Maybe it’ll ride softer than that complex did in the spring because we haven’t got the two angled hedges coming out, but the skinny in the water will come up quite quick – you can’t land tired because there’s no time to recover,” said William.

    All the riders are expressing huge gratitude to the Bicton team for laying on this five-star competition at short notice and for the effort put into the Bicton Horse Trials cross-country course.

    “The fences are beautifully presented and the ground feels amazing,” said Gemma.

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...