Win­ner Oliver Townend and Coo­ley Master Class

Practical Horseman - - Cross Country With Jim Wofford -

1. Derek di Grazia de­signs cross-coun­try cour­ses that re­quire brave, ac­cu­rate rid­ing. My def­i­ni­tion of “brave” is to gal­lop into a 6-foot-6 drop into wa­ter with a very big cor­ner three long strides af­ter the land­ing on a horse who has never been to a four-star event. Even­tual Ken­tucky win­ners Oliver Townend and Coo­ley Master Class (Coo­lio) are shown here at Fence 18AB, the Land Rover Head of the Lake, the sig­na­ture cross-coun­try jump at the Ken­tucky Horse Park. Ol­lie knows the dis­tance in the wa­ter is long and he has se­lected the brave op­tion by ap­proach­ing the ques­tion at an open gal­lop rather than a slower and more con­trolled can­ter. In the air, Ol­lie is al­ready plan­ning his line to the cor­ner and Coo­lio looks like, “That all you got?”

2. Ol­lie’s lower leg is in the right place and Coo­lio is go­ing to land in bal­ance. How­ever, you are about to see why I dis­ap­prove of cross-coun­try rid­ers with longer stir­rups. All of Ol­lie’s an­gles are cor­rect and his touch on the reins is just right, but he has al­lowed his weight to set­tle onto the sad­dle. In a split sec­ond, Coo­lio’s hind end will de­liver Ol­lie a mon­u­men­tal kick in the seat of the pants.

3. This is why rid­ers need shorter stir­rups when land­ing over a big drop. Cer­tainly four-star speed is a fac­tor in rid­ing shorter, but the es­sen­tial rea­son for shorter stir­rups is that big drops cause horses to lift their hind end to clear the ob­sta­cle on the way down. Look back at the pre­vi­ous im­age and imag­ine that Ol­lie had kept the same ex­act an­gles, but shorter stir­rup leathers had raised the points of his knees an inch or so higher in the sad­dle. His seat bones would then be a com­men­su­rate amount above the sad­dle and Coo­lio would have room

to use his back without dis­turb­ing Ol­lie’s bal­ance. This is not Ol­lie’s first rodeo and he is catch­ing his bal­ance with his knuck­les against Coo­lio’s neck while keep­ing his eyes on the next jump.

4. There is not enough room between the ob­sta­cles for Ol­lie to get his reins back. In­stead, he has opened his arms to lift his hands, bring his el­bows back and main­tain con­tact and con­trol. (I want my one- and two-star rid­ers to get their reins back be­fore five strides while three- and four-star rid­ers have four strides to get their reins back.) Coo­lio is al­ready mea­sur­ing the next ob­sta­cle by lift­ing his head and Ol­lie has a straight line between his el­bow and the bit. The sta­bil­ity of his up­per body here is based on his lower-leg po­si­tion. Ol­lie is a clever rider—he knows Coo­lio sprawled a bit on land­ing, but the strid­ing is long and he has used that to cover the dis­tance. One stride later, he has Coo­lio on a bal­anced, open gal­lop with his horse’s hocks well un­der him and ready for the next fence. 5. “When in doubt, wait it out,” is the ex­pe­ri­enced cross-coun­try rider’s maxim. Ol­lie makes sure Coo­lio ac­tu­ally jumps be­fore he bends over. He is soft with his reins but slightly be­hind the mo­tion. It is bet­ter to be a sec­ond be­hind the mo­tion than a split­sec­ond in front of it. Most glance-offs at up­per cross-coun­try lev­els are caused by rid­ers as­sum­ing that be­cause they see their stride, their horse will jump. I call this mis­take “rid­ing off your eye, not your leg.”

6. Coo­lio is land­ing well be­yond the max­i­mum cor­ner and Ol­lie is al­ready plan­ning his turn to an­other ob­sta­cle. Rid­ers fin­ish Derek di Grazia’s cour­ses and re­mark on the re­lent­less na­ture of his de­signs, which are both phys­i­cally and men­tally chal­leng­ing. At the four-star level, you can’t af­ford to take a break. Ol­lie is still tak­ing care of busi­ness. This pair will gal­lop on to come home in­side the time, set­ting them­selves up to win the 2018 Land Rover Ken­tucky Three-Day Event.

If ever there were a sport de­signed for live tele­vi­sion, it would be event­ing. Af­ter the dres­sage and cross-coun­try phases, rid­ers en­ter the show-jumping arena in re­verse or­der of stand­ing. This means that those who do best in the first two phases must wait the long­est to jump. If rid­ers have any ten­dency to­ward nerves, a long, sus­pense­ful wait does lit­tle to as­suage them.

The tight scores were guar­an­teed to pro­duce a nail-bit­ing fin­ish, and the last few rounds were jumped in an eerie si­lence in front of more than 10,000 spec­ta­tors. Jumping last, Ger­many’s Michael Jung and fis­cherRo­cana FST (Roxie) were in first place—un­til Michael made a slight mis­cal­cu­la­tion at the big triple bar. The four faults dropped him to sec­ond place. Min­utes ear­lier, Great Bri­tain’s Oliver Townend and Coo­ley Master Class

had jumped a clear round. With Michael’s rail, Ol­lie had won this year’s prize.

As if this weren’t ex­cit­ing enough, it also meant that Ol­lie now had two legs on the Rolex Grand Slam, awarded to the rider who can win Ken­tucky, the Mit­subishi Mo­tors Bad­minton Horse Tri­als and the Land Rover Burgh­ley Horse Tri­als in se­quence, but in any or­der. Ol­lie won Burgh­ley last fall and was the win­ner here in the U.S., which gave him two legs on the tro­phy. Af­ter Ken­tucky he was off to Bad­minton the fol­low­ing week to see if his luck would hold for one more week­end. It didn’t. Win­ning the Rolex Grand Slam is one of the most dif­fi­cult feats in the horse world, and Ol­lie came as close as pos­si­ble to win­ning it, fin­ish­ing sec­ond at Bad­minton.

The crowds at the Ken­tucky Horse Park are spe­cial. More than 70,000 peo­ple at­tended this year, and this is an event where every­one is in a good mood, every­one is hav­ing a good time and that just makes the at­mos­phere all the more spe­cial. One new thing in 2018 made a real im­pres­sion on me. The open­ing cer­e­monies in the main arena fea­tured a dy­na­mite singer, Dr. Everett McCor­vey from the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky, who sang our na­tional an­them.

Next thing you know, the en­tire au­di­ence—sky boxes, main stands, cheap seats and the SRO (stand­ing room only) folks out­side the arena watch­ing it on the Jum­botron—joined in and sang along with him at full vol­ume. I can’t re­mem­ber the last time that has hap­pened at any sport­ing event, and it re­ally gave me a lift. I hope it is a new tra­di­tion for the Best Week­end All Year.

Based at Fox Covert Farm, in Up­perville, Vir­ginia, Jim Wof­ford com­peted in three Olympics and two World Cham­pi­onships and won the U.S. Na­tional Cham­pi­onship five times. He is also a highly re­spected coach. For more on Jim, go to www. jim­wof­ford. blogspot.com.

7 The brushes at 21C and 21D are 4-foot-7 while the solid rails are “only” 3-foot-9. Rid­ers learn from ex­pe­ri­ence and horses learn as well. This is not Roxie’s first ex­pe­ri­ence with brush and she is step­ping through it without ex­pend­ing much ef­fort. Ob­vi­ously, if there is a prob­lem here it will be that horses will tend to duck out to the right. While some­thing might be an ob­vi­ous prob­lem, it is still a prob­lem. Michael knows this and has opened his left rein to re­mind Roxie to stay straight.Peo­ple think that brush fences are easy, and in many cases they are, but when Derek builds two in a row, it gets com­pli­cated in a hurry, as you’ll see in the next photo. When horses brush through a fence, they tend to land a lit­tle short. This makes a long dis­tance re­ally long.

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