Helen getting the balancing act right with cross-country course designs
Earlier this year, readers of the country’s longest-standing equestrian magazine Horse and Hound chose Bicton Arena as their favourite competition venue and Helen and her team received a further boost when British Dressage, the body which oversees affiliated dressage competitions and training, voted the arena as the best venue of 2017.
Helen is supported by a committed team including site manager and accredited course builder Matt Lynch who is responsible for bringing Helen’s vision to life. “He’s the one who makes the course look beautiful and makes my drawings reality,” says Helen. “Matt is brilliant, I hand him my designs and then he goes out on his tractor, roughly puts the fences in place, and then I come along and stand there waving my arms about to show him exactly where I want them and he always knows which way I want him to turn the wheel!”
Helen, who competed at her first international showjumping competition last year with her “demanding but characterful” ten-year-old Irish sports horse Eebay, said the biggest thing she has learned when it comes to designing is to trust her gut instinct, even if it does mean upsetting the apple cart.
“Sometimes I’ll come along and get Matt to dig up a post he’s spent half-aday banging in because it’s slightly thicker than it should be and it’s changed the distance between posts,” she continues. “But whereas normally I’m someone who likes to keep the peace, with course design you have to be a bit of a diva! There have been times I’ve wanted to move a post a stride but have convinced myself it’s OK and then watched hundreds of horses go through, and wished I’d spoken up and just said, ‘sorry guys, but I need you move it a few inches that way’. I’ve learnt to go with my gut instinct and make changes.”
Capt Mark Phillips, who was part of the British eventing team that won gold at the 1972 Summer Olympics and is the father of the Queen’s granddaughter and Team GB rider, Zara Tindall, said that there is a “massive shortage” of young course design talent worldwide.
“Helen has the perfect platform at Bicton to step into the world of three / four-star course design to display her talents,” he said. “I hope she can grasp her opportunities with both hands and finish up designing at the pinnacle of the sport.”
Riding professionally has stood Helen West, above, in good stead to become a course designerPICTURES: MATT AUSTIN AND MALCOLM SNELGROVE