Anna Ross & Mike Etherington-Smith: The Blair review *H&H VIP*

  • Anna Ross — Blair Europeans dressage

    This test suits big, flashy movers. The early medium and extended trots, plus a half-pass zigzag towards the judges, show off the forward horses with an expressive front-leg action.

    But the horses must be closed down and obedient in the walk half-pirouettes. Riders have to balance the risk — overdoing it in the trot can result in boiling over in the walk.

    The difficult walk section is worth three marks. Laura Collett’s Grand Manoeuvre was among those who showed tension and went lateral in the walk — when both legs on one side move simultaneously. This can develop from being tight or it can be something a horse always does, in which case it is difficult to correct.

    The factor which set Holly Woodhead and Sandra Auffarth’s tests apart was that their horses were both expressive and relaxed — their expression came from being through and loose, rather than tension. It’s the same thing that makes Valegro brilliant.

    Three horses further down the leaderboard caught my eye. The first was Flandia 2, ridden by Poland’s Jacek Jeruzal and by the dressage stallion Fidertanz. Second, Sirocco Du Gers, the mount of France’s Thomas Carlile, is a smart mover who was a bit tight in his neck. And third, Finland’s Elmo Jankari could do a great test if Duchess Desiree can keep her tongue in her mouth.

    Mike Etherington-Smith — Blair Europeans cross-country

    This was a really clever cross-country track — not overly big, but it didn’t need to be. It’s easy to overcook it when you have this terrain. There were lots of places to make a mistake, while the balance and flow of the course was very good. It’s hard to pick a horse-friendly route through Blair’s hills, but Ian Stark (Scotty) was clever in this regard.

    You want as many teams to complete as possible and there was a way round for everyone — if the less experienced don’t take it, that’s not the designer’s fault! It was good that horses weren’t punished if riders made a mistake.

    Designers like to make competitors have to think their way round and a good example of that was fence four, which was jumped all sorts of ways. The last water was a real rider fence, a good question. This isn’t a criticism, but I might have added a bit of substance to the fence in the water simply to help the horses.

    As a course-designer, you like a bit of rain as it adds an extra dimension, though not as much as we had here! The goal is to produce a course that will work regardless of the weather.

    Most of all you just want everyone to come home safely, and they did. Scotty did a great job.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 17 September 2015