He­len get­ting the bal­anc­ing act right with cross-coun­try course de­signs

Western Morning News - - Horses -

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

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