Andrew Nicholson: ‘Everyone is upping their game ahead of the Olympics’


  • Andrew Nicholson on the course-designer and riders who’ve impressed him recently

    My eventing outings in England so far consist of Tweseldown, twice. The second fixture was put on with just a couple of days’ notice to replace Cirencester, which was lost to the weather. Rachael Faulkner and her team deserve a standing ovation for coming to the rescue again – full credit to British Eventing for saying, “Go for it” and to Tweseldown for being able to put it on.

    Last year I was impressed with course-designer Andrew Heffernan’s lower-level tracks, and he did a great job this year, largely changing the course from the first event two weeks earlier and producing another good track.

    Andrew has his own ideas, and has got the hang of more open distances now to encourage forward riding. I like what he does, and I was impressed that he was riding at the first event too. He enjoys what he is doing, which is important, and his experience as coach to the Dutch team and as a championship rider will help, for sure. I hope he gets more designing opportunities.

    Rising standards

    In between Tweseldowns, I went to Montelibretti in Italy in my role as cross-country coach to the Swiss team. The event was much improved from last year.

    I thought the CCI4*-L track was a proper one for the level; there were only eight competitors, and I’m guessing that most of the riders needed their Olympic qualification, but they made it look quite easy. None of them made the time but they were going fast enough to jump big fences easily.

    If you’d looked at the bare results on the paperwork afterwards, you might have thought the course was too easy, but the fences were up to size, the combinations were serious enough, and they jumped them well.

    To me, this shows how the standard of cross-country riding is rising. A few years ago it was the dressage that was getting better and now it is the cross-country. Those countries targeting the Olympics have upped their game.

    There were only five teams in the CCI4*-S Nations Cup, most of them not from nations we normally consider to be the premier-league eventing countries, but
    they, too, made the tracks look easy.

    Then, in the “normal” CCI4*-S class, it began to look more difficult, which proves my point about the squads with real Olympic aims definitely raising their games. To look like they do it very smoothly in March, with no prep competitions beforehand, is encouraging.

    I’m pleased that Bill Levett won the CCI4*-L – he’s still living the Olympic dream! And given that Shane Rose has had such a bad accident, places on the Australian squad for Paris may be more up for grabs, although Shane says he’s still targeting the Games.

    Ride the line

    Mark Phillips’ recent column about the proposed new Olympic format and changes to the flag rule was very well put.

    Making skinny fences less narrow is positive, and competitors will start to ride between the flags better. At present too many of them cut the corner to what they are jumping, knowing they can push the flag out. Once they are penalised for knocking the flag down, they will have to ride a line better and be more disciplined.

    The one thing officials will have to come up with is a way of fixing the flag consistently, but I’m sure they will.

    How will riders prepare?

    The loss of Gatcombe is a great shame. I always used to love going there with my Burghley horses in preparation, and I was a big fan of going there before a championship, not necessarily with your top horse, but to sharpen you up as a rider.

    The next generation aren’t going to get the education that the likes of Gatcombe, Blair Castle and Barbury gave you, and I think it will make a difference. How do you know how a horse feels when it is tired when you compete on the level all the time?

    ● Who do you think are the next great cross-country course-designers? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 4 April

    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...