The Tattersalls International Horse Trials, set to take place May 26-29 in Ireland, has set the standard to which others aspire in many ways. The permanent facility opposite Fairyhouse Racecourse is outstanding, and this year they’ve also invested heavily in a new cross-country track that is destined to mark a new direction for modern courses.
Designed by the flying Scot Ian Stark, it is the sort of course Ian himself would have loved to tackle on his great gray galloping partner, Murphy Himself. The majority of fences share one feature—they are big and wide and often sit over a typical County Meath ditch. Tables, oxers and banks are the order of the day, and they demand a horse and rider that are in gear and fully committed from the start.
As riders walk the distances in the combinations, they will also find something new. Instead of the typical show jumping distances, which have become the norm in recent years, the distances are long and require a more forward positive stride and less hook and pull.
Yes, there are two skinnies on a curve over ditches, a corner after the Tattersalls spectacular raised bank, and two corners in the last water, but no one should doubt that Ian Stark is the heir to Frank Weldon, the legendary Badminton Horse Trials (England) course designer from 1966 to 1988, who was famous for frightening the riders but not the horses.
“My feelings about cross-country courses of recent times is that we have gone very technical and twisty,” said Stark. “Pulling horses off lines and out of rhythm. Also horse-friendly profiles have allowed horses and riders to climb the grades in a slightly carefree way and perhaps compete at a level they are not well enough prepared for! I want to go back to ‘riding across the country’ and have competitors riding forward and holding a line in a positive, not backwards, way.
“More upright and square profiles and up-to-height fences should, I hope, mean that riders, and horses, will have more respect and therefore create better preparation and cleaner jumping! A mixture of the rider frighteners and some of the technical stuff with a positive attitude is what I'm aiming for.
“The area at Tattersalls lacks undulating terrain, but with the Meath ditches and some man-made mounds, I hope I've been able to create a CCI event that will be challenging, rewarding and of good content as a qualifier for four-star.”
Ian’s three-star course at Galway Downs in California last fall was his first child with this more forward philosophy, but at Tattersalls we have his fully fledged adult version. It is a course that will leave finishers exhilarated and horses better prepared for the next cross-country challenge as a result of being ridden more forwards.
The sport is hugely strengthened by Ian Stark’s arrival on the course building scene, and Ireland and Tattersalls can be one of the first to reap the benefits. To see William Fox-Pitt, Andrew Nicholson and Oliver Townend in full gallop around this course will be a special delight, and the new female elite led by Ruth Edge, Lucy Wiegersma and Polly Stockton will probably be even better! Ireland can be very proud of Tattersalls and Ian Stark is delighted to be involved.
“Tattersalls as a venue has probably the best facilities of any eventing venue, and it’s a pleasure to be part of the event,” he said.
Tattersalls Sales very popular CEO, George Mernagh, who has been the major driving force behind the international horse trials, remains totally committed to developing the event still further.
“As a company, Tattersalls has always been interested in the non-Thoroughbred sector in Ireland and whilst always recognizing the now well proven statistic of the Thoroughbred mix in producing this most complete all-round equine athlete, the venue was always seen as much more than just a facility to sell both Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbred horses,” said Mernagh.
“Personally, I am looking forward to watching the new courses in all classes being ridden by many of the leading riders worldwide, and I feel very humbled that in such a short period of time we are receiving support from not only the riders but also the owners who have chosen to compete at Tattersalls Ireland,” he continued.
“It has been our dream to progress the on-site facility to the highest level, and I believe by delivering four new courses and classes we are a long way down the road towards achieving this. We have almost 300 runners in the various classes and this alone is a triumph for all those in the sport.”
William is an international coach and educational and motivational speaker. He is a Fellow of the British Horse Society and author of The Complete Horse Riding Manual, the world's top-selling training manual. He found Karen and David O'Connor's three Olympic medalists Biko, Giltedge and Custom Made and breeds event horses, including Karen O'Connor's Olympic horse Mandiba and Zara Phillip's High Kingdom. He is also the inventor of the Micklem Bridle, which is now approved for use in dressage by the FEI. www.WilliamMicklem.com