Mark Phillips: Luhmühlen was not a four-star competition *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    It was peculiar to return to Luhmühlen as a guest and spectator for the 60th-birthday celebrations, having been the course-designer there for the previous 11 years.

    While I enjoyed the great Luhmühlen hospitality, I was saddened by the technical level of Mike Etherington-Smith’s courses. While all the fences were up to height, there was a distinct lack of four-star angle or skinny. Arguably the angled brush on the island at the Meßmer water and the triple brush arrowhead at fence 24 were four-star questions, but the rest were three-star or even two-and-a-half-star.

    After Ben Winter’s fatal accident in 2014, I softened the intensity of the four-star track by adding another stride and sometimes two in the combinations. Mark Todd commented in H&H that made it more of a three-and-a-half-star track and he was correct. My course prompted a letter from the FEI telling me that four-star was four-star and I was not allowed to produce less. It will be interesting to see if Mike gets the same letter after this year’s courses!

    I know Bramham was wet, yet senior coaches described Ian Stark’s CCI3* track as three-and-a-half-star, championship three-star and even four-star. People were puzzled because the week before at Tattersalls, Ian produced the perfect move-up CCI3* track, with a good variety of questions.

    The fact that so many Brits travel to Tattersalls and Boekelo underlines that we don’t have a move-up CCI3* in this country, particularly when Bramham and Blenheim are “three-star-plus”. Maybe David Evans will tread more warily on his CCI3* designing debut at Blenheim.

    The problem for the FEI is the qualification consequences of these course levels. Anyone who had a good round at Bramham is well qualified for Burghley. You could not say the same for those who went well at Tattersalls. Similarly those that were successful at Luhmühlen CCI4* last week are not remotely ready for the three-star World Equestrian Games next September.

    Many Luhmühlen riders did have a confidence-boosting, fun week. The German organisers were happy as the doctors and vets never moved. But riders need to remain realistic about the levels they achieved.

    Changes afoot

    I am pleased that, subject to contract, David Evans and his team will be Derek di Grazia’s course-builders for the 2020 Olympics. David’s user-friendly style of building was evident at Bramham and at Luhmühlen, where Carl Fletcher did some outstanding construction.

    This augurs well for Tokyo, where the heat and the three-in-a-team format seems to dismiss any reasoned risk management.

    Andrew Nicholson was in evidence in Luhmühlen in his new role of walking the cross-country courses with the Germans, and Andrew Hoy was coaching the Spanish. When they sent him extra large kit, they must have been thinking of my size when I helped them at the Barcelona Games!

    Andrew’s ex-wife Bettina is now coaching the Dutch and I hear Graham Thom has been reinstated as team manager for New Zealand, having resigned soon after his appointment due to back problems, so many changes are afoot.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 22 June 2017