Report from Bramham Horse Trials – F&I Course Walk with course designer Ian Stark, June 2019

A small but high quality group of F&I members and guests gathered at Bramham. We headed up to fence 1 to meet Bramham course designer Ian Stark FBHS. 2019 marks Ian’s tenth year as course designer – when asked whether he was on a fixed term Ian revealed that when the compulsory retirement age for course designers was recently raised to 72, Bramham’s reply was ‘that’s great, we have you for another 7 years!’. 
Ian’s course featured a number of his trademark whopping great ditches, with riders making it only to fence 6 before being faced with a combination of trakehner, corner, corner and then a skinny brush with an open ditch in front. We were reassured that the corners were not 90 degrees; ‘more like 80’ – we remained unconvinced how much difference this would make!

The course remains very familiar from previous years but with fresh elements challenging riders in a number of ways. Ian talked us through his new rail, ditch, rail fence (very definitely still a coffin in Ian’s world), which came up following a long galloping stretch. Ian spoke of how riders would need to understand the canter required for this sort of fence and be able to produce it to make this work. A time-consuming alternative was available – which Andrew Nicholson had told Ian he was very definitely planning to take. It was remembered that Andrew had jokingly used this tactic at Badminton telling many riders he planned to use the long routes in the hope they would choose it themselves! Ian spoke about how he uses this type of fence across the levels with varying difficulty and how the experienced riders plead him to continue to include them at the lower levels to help educate their horses. 

Around the course we discussed various current eventing topics. The use of safety devices was discussed – they have obvious advantages, but Ian is keen to ensure that the penalty for activating them remains (with the obvious ground jury review). Some national federations do not impose a penalty and it sometimes appears that some riders take bigger risks when they know this is the case. The controversial flag rule was discussed – alongside the fact that rules cannot be changed mid-year! Ian also talked about the challenges of hosting a course on a site also used for the iconic Leeds Festival. Each year all fences have to be completely removed to avoid damage (or the risk of ‘happy’ festival-goers injuring themselves) and a £1million contract is in place for clean up after the festival in August before work can start on the ground for the following June. We also made a well-timed pitstop at the BHS ‘On The Move’ lorry for a hot drink just after the half way mark!
A light lunch gave time for a pleasant debate on qualifications and discussion on the forthcoming members meeting – alongside a lot of crisps! 

Lisa Morris very kindly provided notes in the form of her report from last year to support the discussion group for the Young Horse Classes as Nicola Baguley was sadly unable to join us due to commitments at home. As the BHS stand was rather busy (17 new members signed up on the Friday alone) I remained there to help so cannot further report. I understand the afternoon was interesting, but rather wet! 

A very enjoyable and educational day! I just wish I had been able to see some of the xc competition on the Saturday. Can anyone enlighten me about whether AN took the long route at the coffin?

Report by Ruth Baxter