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Independent.ie

Tuesday 12 December 2017

A Stark challenge awaits eventing's best at Tattersalls

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

The Flying Scotsman's course for the 2012 international horse trials promises to be a test of skill and nerve for horse and rider

Known as 'The Flying Scotsman', due to his cross-country galloping style, Ian Stark is one of eventing's favourite riders.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the civil servant-turned event rider racked up dozens of top prizes, including individual and team gold medals at the European Championships in Punchestown in 1991 on Glenburnie, followed by team golds in 1997 and 1999 aboard Arakai and Jaybee.

However, Stark's memorable partnership with the Irish-bred grey thoroughbred Murphy Himself endeared him to spectators the world over.

This big, galloping horse travelled at breakneck speed cross-country, despite an armoury of metal in his mouth.

While horse and rider had an almost out of control cross-country style, the pair had enormous success together, completing Badminton several times, taking a silver medal for Britain at the 1990 World Equestrian Games in Stockholm and competing in the Barcelona Olympics.

Now, in a case of poacher-turned-gamekeeper, Stark has turned his hand to course designing and his own forward riding style is very much in evidence in his courses.

"My aim is to get away from courses that are tight and twisty, in favour of a course that requires horses and riders to ride boldly," he says. "Some of my distances are quite long."

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However, he insists that his fences are more "rider-frighteners", designed to intimidate the riders but at the same time keep the horses safe.

"Yes, I want bold riding but I also want to see adjustable horses so there will be a mix of big old-fashioned fences and then some more trendy technical questions."

Stark's 2011 Tattersalls design caught out plenty of riders who found, to their cost, that his course required very forward riding.

"When I started out course designing, some of the younger riders came up to me and said they loved my courses but they just didn't know how to ride them," he laughs.

The Scotsman's design for the 2012 Tattersalls Inter-national Horse Trials later this week (Thursday, May 31 to Sunday, June 3) includes a number of changes from his inaugural course last year.

COFFIN

"The first water fence this year is almost three times as big as it was in 2011," he explains.

"It used to have two levels of water but we've opened it up into one much bigger area with a Normandy bank in the middle."

Another water fence has this year been added close to the main arena.

"There used to be a big hedge with a natural dip behind it so we flooded the dip and added a big silver birch rail in and out."

The appearance of two coffin fences in the one-star and two-star courses at Tatts last year caused consternation among riders when they walked the course but, despite their misgivings, the fences rode very well.

"This year, I've added a coffin to the three-star course," explains Stark.

"It's quite a meaty fence off a tight turn so riders will have to ride a good old-fashioned coffin canter because I've made the long route quite time-consuming."

The former Olympian is acutely aware of how important Tattersalls is in the run up to London 2012.

"With the cancellation of Badminton and Chatsworth, Tattersalls has become very important for Olympic selection," he adds.

"All of the Irish riders will be out in force and the British riders too will be focusing on both Tatts and Bramham this year."

Among the top riders aiming for Olympic selection for Ireland are husband-and-wife Michael and Patricia Ryan, Jim Newsam, Joseph Murphy, Sam Watson, Captain Geoff Curran, Mark Kyle, Sarah Wardell, Aoife Clark, Camilla Speirs, Elizabeth Power and Louise Lyons.

Carlow's Sam Watson goes into the event in superb form, having taken eighth at the three-star event at Saumur in France recently. The 26-year-old Olympic hopeful rode the Puissance gelding Horseware Bushman, bred by his father John.

The pair finished on a clear round in the final showjumping phase to add to his exceptional cross-country performance in driving rain.

Watson started the event with a disappointing dressage score, but his excellent performances in the cross-country and showjumping phases catapulted him 29 places over the last 48 hours.

Ireland's other two riders at Saumur, Jayne Doherty and Joseph Murphy, each incurred 20 jumping penalties and consequent time penalties on the difficult cross-country course.

The entry from overseas includes some of the world's top riders, including three-time world number one William Fox-Pitt, the queen of England's granddaughter Zara Phillips and the 'Event Rider of the Century', Mark Todd.

These international riders will go head-to-head with Irish riders in the hope of gaining Olympic selection for their respective nations ahead of London 2012.

standing

Horse Sport Ireland (HSI) chairman Joe Walsh said entries for the Co Meath event once again demonstrated the standing of the event internationally.

"It is great to see so many top foreign riders coming over. The two three-star events will be genuine trials.

"Everybody is really looking forward to the event," he added.

But it's not all about horses. Tatts will also include dozens of attractions for foodies, with former Harrods, Chapter One and Luttrellstown Castle chef Neil Shirt, Good Food Ireland and local artisan producers serving up culinary delights.

The popular hound parade, taking place on Sunday afternoon, will include local hunts parading their packs in the main arena.

Kids are just as well catered for, with a dedicated Kids Zone including carnival stalls, bucking broncos, a falconry display, archery, bouncy castles, face painting, pony rides and a novelty dog show.

Best of all, kids aged under 12 will receive free entry for the entire event.

Tickets range from €5 for one-day adult admission to €50 for a picnic pass that includes entry for two adults and two children.

To find more information and to book tickets, go to www.tattshorsetrials.ie

Indo Farming