Michael Etherington-Smith has been the cross-country course designer at the Kentucky Horse Park for nearly two decades. During this time he has established himself as the premier course designer in the world. His course might have been a bit smaller than usual this year, but what it lacked in scope it gained in technicality.
Mike has a way of putting the pressure on the riders' minds rather than their horses' bodies. This explains why horses jump his courses so well, and why riders find them so difficult. Each of his obstacles presents a subtle problem. If you take care of business, you will make it look easy. Go to sleep for an instant, however, and Mike will make you look as if you just rode into town on a load of turnips.
The trend in modern cross-country design is toward extreme accuracy, and this course is about as modern as you can get. More than half of the obstacles required some form of accuracy, whether corners, narrows or jumping at 60-degree angles. I have long maintained that it is more difficult to be accurate when jumping uphill than downhill, and I am glad to see that Mike now agrees with me. Going down, you can just slip the reins and sit against the motion. Going uphill, however, you need a strong lower-leg position, short reins and lightning-fast reflexes.
Join me for highlights from my 2009 Rolex Course Walk, sponsored by Practical Horseman, to get the inside scoop on riding several of the obstacles. I'll be covering the HSBC Duck Marsh (6ABC); Walnut Table (7); Rails, Ditch & Squirrels (8, 9AB); Infield Water (11AB); Oxer (12); Sunken Road (13ABCD); Head of the Lake (15ABC, 16, 17); Log Cabins (18/19); and the HSBC Normandy Bank (25ABCD).
Video and editing by www.akdragoophoto.com
To read Jim's critique of five riders' efforts during this year's Rolex, see "Cross-Country With Jim Wofford" in the July 2009 issue of Practical Horseman.