Mike Etherington-Smith: the Brits did us proud [H&H VIP]

  • Designing a World Equestrian Games (WEG) cross-country track is difficult. You have to cater to the best in the world and those stepping up a level. Also, the course needs to work in the best conditions and the worst.

    Pierre Michelet is an excellent course-designer and I’m sure with hindsight he might do some things differently now. As designers, we are our own biggest critics. I watch horses, how they are travelling, how they look and their expressions — even if they finish tired, are their ears pricked or are they grateful it’s over?

    Haras du Pin is a super venue, with terrain that invites imaginative design. The course was beautifully built. But footing is the single most important factor in a track and this event was a victim of the weather. The organisers spent time and money on the going, but even so it was not great.

    Walking the course, I felt it was unrelenting — big, with lots of questions, on the verge of being too much. There were 18 brush fences on the direct route and riders repeatedly tackled a large jump followed by an accuracy question. It was a big ask of the horses.

    I always felt the last water was a question too many and that was borne out — it wasn’t pretty. We saw good horses come to grief trying to do as they were asked.

    I left with mixed feelings. I didn’t really enjoy watching, although most competitors did a cracking job and rode responsibly. But I don’t care to see good horses trying their best, yet becoming disheartened or being bottomed out.

    The Brits did us proud, but of course everyone is devastated by the very sad loss of Wild Lone after such a terrific round.

    ➤ British Eventing chief executive Mike Etherington-Smith designed the track for the 2010 WEG in Kentucky.