Show Jumping

Deconstructing the Genius of Alan Wade

The mark of a good course, it’s said, is when fences fall over the course.

Course designer Alan Wade of Ireland delivered that and more at the Palm Beach Masters in Wellington, Florida on Friday. Of the 98 horses to contest the marathon that was the $35,000 World Cup Qualifier, only 12 managed to leave all the fences up.

Here class co-winners Ian Millar (CAN) and Beezie Madden (USA) break down the course.

The time was tight but not too tight

“I didn’t think the time allowed was crazy, it was certainly demanding,” said Millar, who captured victory in Section A of the class aboard his veteran partner Dixson. “There are other course designers in the world that might’ve dialed it even a little harder. But you look at the result, nearly 100 horses through the gate and we had nine jump off, so he certainly got his number.” [Three of the riders to jump clear in the first round elected not to jump off.]

It was challenge from the first fence

Ten or so horses were caught by the first fence, a Longines oxer at the top end of the Grand Prix field.

“It had kind of a long approach to it and they didn’t focus on it too well, I felt,” said Madden, winner of Section B on Breitling LS. “And then when they did focus on it, their eye is drawn to the panel underneath in front of the oxer.”

“[It was] a little white panel,” continued Millar. “Sometimes they’ll look down, the minute they drop their eye level it affects their balance and then boom! [They have the] first rail in front.”

It was “subtly difficult” test

“I think it was an overall good test,” continued Madden. “He had some bending lines, he had a little scope. He had some technicalities. You had the bending line in the beginning with the tight time allowed and then you had the short four. You had kind of an imposing-looking jump into the combination to a very short two. Then you had an open six to a short five to the double. There was a lot of adjusting. I think the smoother you could do that the less distracted the horse is. It was subtly difficult.”

It ended with a difficult question

Next to the first jump, the last fence, an airy Boston Bruins vertical away from the in-gate, caught the most riders.

“When you walk that course as a rider would normally expect it to end at the oxer prior to the vertical. The horse would think the same. He’d jump that oxer and figure that was the end of the course,” explained Millar.

“One of the big tricks in the old days was you’d think it’d be the end of the course and then there’d be a big, wide jump away from the gate. Sure enough, these horses would think they were done and land on the back of the oxer. This is a different spin on that same story.”

The top 40 horse and rider combinations will return on Sunday to try their luck in the $216,000 Longines FEI World Cup test designed by Wade.

Said Millar: “This is one brilliant course designer, I might add.”