The extraordinary William Fox-Pitt made headlines with his triple triumph at Tattersalls International Horse Trials in Ireland in the one-, two- and three star competitions held the weekend of May 26-29. With Ollie Townend second to him in both the three- and two-star competitions and also winning the CIC three-star class, the other elite riders were left with slim pickings.
But Fox-Pitt will be very aware that Oslo’s win in the three-star was only by 2.4, and Bay My Hero’s in the two-star by just 0.7 of a point, while it was down to just 0.1 in the one-star with his mare Lady Voltaire. Events today are won or lost by such small margins, and Fox-Pitt will know that his standards are going to have to creep up even higher if he is to stay at the leading edge of his sport and challenge Germany’s reigning World Champion Michael Jung, who has raised the bar for all competitors and is currently the favorite for the European Championships in Luhmuhlen, Germany, this summer.
Ian Stark, the cross-country course designer at Tattersalls, is also intent on raising the bar for course design, and his courses caught out combinations who lacked boldness. Fox-Pitt was in no doubt about the suitability of Stark’s courses. “They were fantastic courses to ride that rewarded brave horses and forward riding. They required the right balance of courage and technical ability, and as all my horses gave me great rides, I was a happy man!” he said.
Even Andrew Nicholson, who came to grief on the highly rated Quimbo at fence 7, the big corner over a massive water ditch, gave the courses high praise, “They rode well, you can’t argue with that,” he said.
Stark was very happy with how the horses finished. “Overall I’m delighted, but we never stop learning!”
The two waters were the most influential fences on the course, with the first water having a long two strides in the water followed by a brush skinny on a long two strides after jumping out.
“The first water was on a forward distance, and I ramped the landing for that very reason. I thought some would add the extra stride in both distances if they dropped in, and this proved to be the case, but the friendly profile of the brush helped,” explained Stark. “The good thing, from my point of view, was that the slightly longer distance at the combinations means that it is possible for horses to add if needed. Forward riding usually means the engine is engaged therefore horses can help themselves!”
The second water, two fences from home, had two corners on a bending line just four or five strides apart. “The double of corners were there to slow riders down at the end of the course, also dictating that the riders reserved some energy to negotiate this question,” said Stark. “I feel the question worked—the good ones made it look like child’s play, and some were caught out, but by numbering them separately it allowed a circle to save the day for many.”
Fox-Pitt has plans to take the French-bred Oslo back to France to contest his first four-star at Pau this fall, and he feels that with his consistently good dressage he will be a good team horse, possibly even for this year. His record is extraordinary having been first at Lion D’Angers (France) in the FEI 6-year-old World Championships in 2008 and second in the 7-year-old championships the following year. However, he initially turned the horse down on two occasions before he ended up in his yard, so he feels he and his loyal owners have been especially lucky.
Tattersalls was also the venue for an FEI training course for 30 international course designers from round the world. They will have come away with renewed confidence that the future of course design does not just revolve round skinny fences and technical merry-go-rounds. “The sport needs Ian Stark, he is extending the boundaries of course design in a good way,” said international judge Eric Smiley.
Meanwhile the group of coaches that attended the event on a training course can also go away with renewed confidence in classical training, as they could not fine a better role model than Fox-Pitt. Capt. Mark Phillips will be only too well aware of his high standards and the standard to which the U.S. team must aspire in 2012.
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