Riders in the 2 and 3* eventing classes at New Zealand’s Horse of the Year show may get a small taste of what the equestrian events at the London 2012 Olympics were like: the cross-country course goes right through the main arena and the crowd is expected to be huge.
The show is perhaps not of Olympic proportions, but the excitement is expected to be right up there, and most horses won’t have experienced such an atmosphere. One of the questions will be jumping a fence in the main arena after negotiating through the Land Rover marquee.
The concept of running a three-star event in the middle of such a large show – the biggest sporting event in New Zealand this year - is a logistical nightmare and a significant challenge. There are some nervous officials around who are working hard to make it work.
Riders won’t have the chance to walk the cross-country course in its entirety until the other classes using the main ring finish for the day.
The new John Nicholson course has created much speculation among riders and spectators. It runs through the main arena and features an exciting atmosphere that many of the horses won’t have seen the likes of before.
As one watcher commented: “At this point the riders can look only at the individual obstacles and get the lie of the land. Jumps have been used throughout the show so far as vantage points, places to hang tack and leaning posts.
“The course in its entirety won’t be ready for the riders to walk until tonight. Until then it will be hard for them to decide on their lines, and get an idea of what pace they will need to take. Most of them take their measuring wheels when they do their final walk but until the other arenas finish, and the course is set proper, this will prove a challenge.”
The show will come to a standstill for the cross country from 2pm. This will mean the crowds will be focused on the cross-country only, and there will be many there just to see Mark Todd.
The ground was expected to be hard for the cross-country, but Kevin Hansen said: “I have told course builder John Nicholson to do what he has to do to make it right. This includes bringing in sand, water and ground aeration. I have every confidence in John. We are doing whatever we can to make the ground right.”
Todd was off to walk the course straight after he finished his dressage test, a rare break from his many media engagements.
Joe Waldron was another who hadn’t yet walked the course but said with his “cheeky 2-star horses, it could be fun. I’ve never jumped through a marquee before!”
Some comments from the riders:
Samantha Felton: “I’m not taking anything for granted. I am planning for the unexpected as there are so many variables, the environment is so different to what we are used to. The water will impress them, there will be lots of people there. For the water, I am not sure yet whether to attack it in four, or wait for 5 but I’m going to walk the course twice more before I decide.”
Donna Smith: “I really like the course. John Nicholson has done an amazing job. It’s an amazing opportunity for us to ride through this atmosphere. It will be hard, its so dynamic, so many variables. The crowd will be the challenge. Anything could happen. Every horse will react different. The 2* horses will have never seen that many people when they get to the water.”
Matthew Grayling: “The course is good, not too tricky. It is a nice looking track and John has done a nice job. The ground conditions have got a lot to be desired. There is a lot of work going on now by the organisers to improve the ground conditions. I will make a decision tomorrow morning as to whether I will start my horses. I am a dairy farmer who has trouble deciding which paddock to put my cows in, though!”