"It's definitely a World Championship track" – insights into the Pratoni cross-country course

Friday, 16 September 2022

With the dressage phase completed, all eyes will now turn to Giuseppe Della Chiesa’s cross-country track. In addition to his role as Show Director in Pratoni, Giuseppe is no stranger to designing big, tough tracks – his resume includes a number of years as the resident course designer for Badminton Horse Trials.

The course comprises of 42 jumping efforts, with a speed of 570m per minute and an optimum time of nine minutes and 50 seconds. With plenty of alternative routes on offer, competitors will have to think fast and remember their alphabet to ensure that they don’t cross their tracks.

We caught up with our five athletes to hear their initial thoughts, then asked Performance Coach Chris Bartle for a more in-depth analysis. Click here to view the course map, which includes photos of each fence.

Yasmin Ingham

My initial thoughts were that it’s very hilly! We walked it yesterday [Wednesday] for the first time. It was more just a glance to get our bearings – the Slide at fence seven comes up pretty quick, so you’re kind of shocked with that, but it all looks jumpable. It’s over really undulating terrain, there is plenty to look at, the waters are difficult and there is a couple of tricky ones up in the top of the hills.

It’s quite difficult to remember, to start with, because you’re looping back on yourself and you’re also up and down the hills – you have to not only remember the numbered fences, but also the way you turning if you’re going up or down, so the terrain is definitely an added factor to jumping the fences. I’m going to do plenty more walks and get more familiar with it and I want to know it like the back of my hand by Saturday.

It’s very clever and there are plenty of strong combinations to think about throughout – all the way through to home, really – so you’re never off the hook. My horse can get quite strong, so I’m hoping that by the time we get to the maybe the second hill, he won’t be trying to pull my arms out of their sockets! I’m looking forward to riding it and I’m very pleased to be sat on my horse.

Ros Canter

It’s definitely a championship course. We had a quick glance round yesterday [Wednesday] and I’m going to go and walk it again properly to get my head around some of the distances, but there are definitely plenty of questions out there – lots of challenges, lots of places where you can have a silly whoopsie. I think it’ll be all to play for.

Obviously, I think it’ll be a relief for everyone to get that Slide [at fence seven] out the way – it comes early on, so even though we have that lovely uphill haul at the beginning, I think we could have some fresh horses coming back down the hill. And there’s a question at the end as well, where the warmup is positioned on the right-hand side, and it’s about trying to get their focus on the job and not let them think it was a little cross-country school and they’re going back to the stables again – so, lots to think about.’

Walter’s a lovely horse to ride cross-country, he’s got lovely balance and if there was ever a horse I was to go out first on, I’m pleased it’s Walter. He’s good on the hills – we live in the Lincolnshire Wolds, so he’s spends his time going up hills like that, so I hope he’ll go the distance. Equally, he’s quite a nice horse to ride downhill. Obviously, he’s still green – four-star long was new to him last year – so to come to his first World Championships here at top level is a big deal, so hopefully we’ll take each jump as it comes, and I can give him a good ride.

Laura Collett

My first thought was that they’d built a proper championship track – we’re at the World Championships, so that’s really what we should have! I was here in 2005 for the Pony Europeans, so I kind of knew that I’d have some mountains to climb.

From start to finish, it’s full on – there’s so many options, so that takes a lot of thought to figure it out. Giuseppe’s been very clever and we’ll need to know our alphabet. There was a lot of head-scratching when we first walked the course as to what we actually had to do, what the direct route was, what the longer route was – and what the longer, longer route was! It’s going to take a lot of planning in our heads – with horses, it doesn’t normally go Plan A, so you have to know all the routes.

We’ll find out on Saturday how it suits London 52. He’s done a lot of different types of tracks – we’re very lucky in the UK to have so many different venues to go to. It sort of reminds me of Chatsworth with the hills, and he’s done that before, so hopefully, it will suit him. He’s been on amazing form for the last two years, so I have no reason to think it won’t suit him.

Tom McEwen

There’s plenty to do – and plenty of errors to be made, possibly, if you’re not on it. You’ve just got to go out with your plan and actually really stick to it and get on. The thinking rider will come out on top tomorrow, I think – whether it’s regarding horses, how they’re feeling underneath you, or how the course could change. It’s one of the first shows for a long time where there’s been 80+ horses in a class, so by three-quarters of the way through the day, it’s definitely going to look different, I’d have thought.

Oliver Townend

Yeah, there’s plenty to do. The terrain is very tough – the time will ride tight because every time you’re going down a hill, you need to set up for a combination. Every time you’re going up a hill, its blooming steep and, if not, you’re on a camber – it’s going to be a tough place to ride around. I’ve not ridden round here for a lot of years, but at the same time I’m looking forward to doing it with Ballaghmor Class.

Chris Bartle – Performance Coach

Initial impressions

There’s no doubt about it, it’s a World Championship track – in terms of the questions themselves around the track, but also the terrain, the approach and landings, and so on. I think we have to be attentive to the camber, which is not in the horses’ favour in a lot of places. That’s going to mean that you’ll have to go a little bit steady in those places and make up the time elsewhere but, I have to say, there are two what I call ‘long-format’ parts where you can really open up. The rest is more short-format flavour, though, and I think time will be relatively difficult to get. Overall, one word to sum it up – respect.

Some fences to watch

Early on, we come to fence seven, the Kep Italia Slide, down that very steep descent. You have the drop jump at the top, where you really want to just pop off it and stay in balance and on the hind leg all the way down to the two skinnies. There’s only a relatively short distance of three strides between those skinnies, so you don’t want to be flying. There’s a definite requirement for balance and engagement, keeping the eye up and keeping the horse on the hindleg.

After that, the next question that I think is significant is the Fischer Corners up at 11. Again, the camber sucks you down the hill a little bit and you just have to make sure you stay in balance on the turn to the corner at B and C fences, then the three strides turning to the D element depend how you’ve come over C. You have to think quickly if something happens but, to be honest, once you’ve decided to go the direct way, you pretty much have to make it happen.

The first time through the Longines Hydroconquest Combination (21) in the water is a major question – there, I would say the direct way is clear over the narrow fence onto the island, down into the water, up the other side to the angled brush, then two strides up to the other angled brush. This will require momentum and positivity coming up out of the water, so that the horses get a good jump over the brush at the top, then take that momentum to the turn to the C element.

Then we’ve got the two old-fashioned fences – a big, open ditch, then coming back over the Trakehner (23). I think one has to have a pretty decent respect for that – get square to it and just make sure that the horses have a tempo before you see the stride is my advice for riders. Get square to it increase the speed before you see a stride then, if you do a good jump over the first ditch, the Trakehner should happen fine.

You’re heading in the direction of home at this point in time. You’ve got the relatively straight forward questions towards the end – it’s more about what you’ve got in the tank. After all those ups and downs, you don’t know what you’ve got, but you have a real accuracy question at the end with those angled brushes at the Pratoni Horses (29). There is an option there – which is a reasonable option, I would say, if you’re well on the time – to avoid jumping the angles. What’s was interesting about these angled brushes is the shoulder – unlike so many events back home in the UK, the shoulder is a solid. It’s got a little bit of brush on it, but it’s solid underneath, so you can’t aim at the shoulder and jump through the brush, which so often happens back home at the moment. Again, respect the fence and make it happen, so then you’ll be good in the landing position.

All in all, it will require a lot of respect. However, it’s doable and I’m confident all of our horses are absolutely capable of going well here – but we have to do the job well!