Pippa Roome, who has been H&H’s eventing editor since 2005 and was out reporting from Kentucky, discusses judging consistency and course-design across levels
THE talk on Thursday at Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event was all about the dressage marking. “I’m pleased with my horse, but gutted with the mark,” said rider after rider as they fetched up in our mixed zone for post-test interviews.
Data analytics company EquiRatings produce a figure called a 6RA, which averages a horse’s past six dressage marks and so gives a ballpark of what score is expected for each combination.
Looking at the scores versus 6RAs, there is no doubt the marking was tough. Only four horses – the top three and one other – scored better than their 6RA. On average, horses were five penalties worse than their 6RA on Thursday and 3.2 penalties worse on Friday.
The crucial part of judging is consistency, even if everyone is some marks worse than they expect. Did the judges become freer with marks on Friday? Or was there genuinely a shift in how well riders performed compared to how they were expected to go?
I don’t think anyone would argue the order of the top competitors was wrong – Friday definitely had the stronger tests – but the 6RA analysis suggests Thursday’s riders could justifiably feel hard done by.
Eyes on the prize
KENTUCKY runs a CCI4*-S alongside the CCI5*, but H&H’s reporting focus is on the CCI5*, so I spent an enjoyable morning watching the CCI4*-S cross-country as a spectator.
The most influential fence was the Park Question at fence 6abc, where 45.4% of the field faulted. The question here was a set of rails, down a slope to a ditch, then up to a choice of obliquely angled shoulder brushes on the left or right, with a gap through the middle.
I circled the fence watching from various angles and concluded that those who cleared the direct route were lining up the whole question before they took off for the rails and had the horse’s eyes on their chosen exit element from the start. Riders who tried to show horses the brush for the first time after the ditch were rarely successful.
The five-star had a similar question, but it was less influential, though still caused problems and ugly jumps. The balance of a CCI4*-S course is different to a five-star, where there is more distance to build up to the toughest questions, while on a CCI4*-S, the meat of the course comes earlier. Plus, of course, the CCI4*-S horses are mostly less experienced.
Course pictures only ever tell half a story because the difficulty of a fence is largely about how it’s sited, rather than the actual obstacle. This was also brought home to me when I had the opportunity to walk the courses for the Voltaire Design Grassroots Championships at Badminton a few weeks ago. As someone riding at BE90, it was a fascinating exercise.
Course-designer James Willis has been clever about using Badminton’s terrain to make even 90cm fences look very big and they probably looked more imposing without their dressing than they will in mint condition for the competition.
It was also interesting to walk the BE90 grassroots cross-country course and the BE100 grassroots cross-country course simultaneously. The tracks run exactly together and have equivalent questions throughout, but the level of difficulty was subtly tweaked to make the BE100 a step up, with one fewer stride in combinations or a tighter inside line.
Next stop: Badminton
THE Sunday night flight out of Kentucky is like the event party bus, with officials, riders, families and team personnel all crowding out of town, many hurrying to get back ahead of Badminton Horse Trials. I sat next to James Alliston’s brother Michael. James is a US-based five-star rider who has recently changed nationality from British to ride for the USA, and he finished third in the CCI4*-S.
The event’s provisional timetable looked very tight to make check-in, but happily the event pulled things forward 45 minutes once the number of showjumping starters was known… it would have been an empty flight if we’d all missed it!
• What have you learnt watching cross-country? Which riders impressed you at Kentucky? Write to email@example.com to let us know
- This exclusive column is also available in read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 5 May
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