Mark McGowan: Striking the right balance *H&H VIP*


    Course-designing presents many challenges but none more so than the responsibility of a $1,000,000 (£711,000) grand prix.

    Add in the expectations of the competitors and trainers, as well as those of the show organiser and sponsor, and all of a sudden the demands become considerable.

    This was the task that faced me in California recently, and one that led to many sleepless nights in the lead-up to the show.

    A decision by the management of the show to reduce the height of the class from 1.60m to 1.50m may have surprised those who, over the past couple of years, had flown in a few days before from Wellington to contest the class.

    However, for many of the local riders who had supported the eight-week circuit here, they now had an opportunity to lay claim to the massive top prize.

    It was crucial that I embraced this decision and after discussions with the show
    management, TV and sponsors, I was informed that regardless of the number of starters in the class, the expectations were that I would achieve no more than six clear rounds.

    A technical challenge

    The balance in the design therefore was not to overface those who ordinarily competed at 1.50m, while at the same time ensuring the technicality challenged but didn’t give an advantage to those who regularly competed across the world at 1.60m.

    The solution was to set the course at 13 fences and include forward and short distances over carefully chosen fence material, much of which was unveiled only a few hours prior to the class.

    Fifty-five riders came forward for the course walk, the majority of whom complimented the design and variety of questions that were posed, but a few questioned whether or not the test set was sufficient to ensure clear rounds
    didn’t run into double figures.

    This additional pressure prior to the class commencing was immense, and was compounded by the fact that two of the first four horses jumped clear.

    In the end, though, only six horses progressed to the jumpoff, with the final rider taking the class.

    No compromise

    The learning outcomes from this occasion were huge, but most of all it reinforced the fact that my previous designs in the USA had secured this opportunity, and it was important that in no way did I compromise my principles and style due to the occasion.

    It wasn’t easy… but I think I got away with it!

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 April 2018