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Listen to the latest episode of the Equestrian Hub Podcast

Wayne Copping: FEI 5* Cross Country Course Designer

Drawing on his wealth of experience, Wayne Copping answers two questions and gives valuable insight into how to approach a cross country course.

What’s your pet grievance with riders on the day?

The biggest one is not paying attention when they’re walking the course or not understanding what they’re looking at. You see the lower level riders either walking on their own or a couple together and they won’t stride the fences and have no understanding of the combinations. They’ll get preoccupied with the cross country app and messaging people. It worries me a bit because they don’t seem to understand that the first time they walk around the course is how the horse will see it – the horse doesn’t get a chance to go around two or three times.

If they have a coach or a more experienced rider to walk with, that will give them a better appreciation. People can stand and watch horses jump cross country fences all day and they’ll all have a different opinion, but you need to be able to understand what you’re watching and interpret what’s happening and what effect the fence is having. Young riders have not had life’s experiences to be able to cope with that.

What should eventers of any level be considering prior to riding a course?

I think it’s important to understand if there’s any balance or flow in the first few fences. Quite often it can be difficult to get away from the start because you’ve got all the horses in the warm-up area and then young horses don’t want to leave. It’s important riders understand the implications of that, and that the first fence is generally set up to get them on course and give them a good experience jumping.

In particular, pay attention to variations in light. We designers use trees and natural surroundings and place fences where the light will have a bit of an effect. With the times all published in advance it’s quite possible to walk the course at the same time of day that you’ll ride it, if your timetable allows. Some of the technical delegates will be quite cognisant of the light and they will revisit any fences they’re worried about at the time of day that course will be ridden.

You must ride to conditions. You can’t remember all the holes and dips in the ground so it’s important you ride with control. If you slip over it’s elimination but it can so easily be avoided. So often riders aren’t necessarily going too fast but they’re too loose – the reins are flapping, the ground is sloping away from them and bam, they’re down. The way you lose time is by accelerating between fences and then having to pull up for fences or to make a turn. The good riders make it look easy because the horses just do it within their rhythm.