Your Sneak Peek at the 2017 Maclay Final, Courtesy of the Course Designer

Hope you did your homework, kids.

This year, the 2017 ASPCA Maclay Final at the CP National Horse Show pays homage to equitation courses past and the illustrious career of Bernie Traurig, the celebrity rider who is co-judging tomorrow’s class with R-rated judge Ralph Caristo.

We caught up with the course designer who has collaborated on the past five Maclay Finals—Bobby Murphy—to get the dirt on this year’s course. And be “caught up” I mean we exploited his extreme sleep deprivation to coax him into divulging a few details about the first round. (Murphy was setting the Maclay warm up course at two this morning in the Alltech Arena at Kentucky Horse Park.)

Here’s what we managed to squeeze out of him.

1. It’s a concise course

“With 175 rounds, you don’t need a long loopy course,” says Murphy.

“This year, everything is straight to the point. In the first round, once you jump that first fence, you’re into it. It should be pretty quick rounds. It’s a very technical, traditional style course.”

2. Expect to do some math

“From the get-go, that first line, you’ll be able to tell if this person’s in it or not,” he says.

“From the moment that they start down this first line, everything is calculated, even in the turns. There’s not much breathing room. We’ve put the math in, math we’ve used over the past five or six years, fine-tuned it and now we’ve got what we think works nice.”

3. The 2013 vertical–oxer–vertical line is back with an updated twist

“In 2013, Robert Ridland and Susie Humes were judging. We set a vertical–oxer–vertical line about 64 and a half feet off the turn and then we went on a bend of 92 feet. We thought that we would see a very forward four and then they’d package them up for a tight seven,” recalls Murphy.

“But that’s not what happened. It turned into this forward four to this super forward, rocket six! And you’re like, ‘Well, that should have been longer.’

“Now we’ve taken a version of that line and fine-tuned it. We were able to mathematically get to the adjustability we were looking for that year.”

4. A half seat alone won’t cut it

“When you’re dealing with [judges] Bernie and Ralph, you’re going to see perfection in the details. They’re going to be looking at the angles in the rider’s body and really judging the seat. It’s a course where you can’t just ride around in the half seat the whole time,” he continues.

“Expect to work. You’re going to have to get deep into the seat and sometimes you’re going to have to be light in the seat.”

5. There won’t be any false ground lines

“In 2016, we used a lot of false ground lines. The trainers and riders wanted a break from them,” Murphy reveals.

6. There’s a line from the 2015 Maclay Final too

“In the second round, we’re working with a line from the 2015 Final with Chris Kappler and Ralph Caristo and what they were doing at the end of the ring,” hints Murphy.

7. The ASPCA wall is not in the course this year

“We have a new ASPCA jump this year. It’s a hurdle. It was in the ring for the warm up. It’ll be a 3’6” hurdle that will be used in various ways,” he says.

“We’ll watch the first round and see how we use it the second round. That’s our jump that we’ll play with a bit. It’s a test, there’s not a lot of room to jump it. If you don’t have a rail over it, it’s a pinpoint jump. To me that’s the only fence that the horses could spook at.”

8. The long approach single will be late in the game

“We do have a long approach to a single, that’s under the equitation specifications. But to me, that’s a finish jump. It serves as a way to show off, not necessarily as an initial test in the course.”

9. Think hunter track/jumper course

“It’s a mix between a gymnastic and a hunter course with the technicalities of a jumper course,” he says.

“I think with Bernie, his emphasis is going to be on riding style. Bernie has done multiple disciplines, so he’s molded into all those riding styles. Doing cross country is certainly not like dressage, certainly not like equitation or show jumping. I think he has a great understanding of riders adapting to different disciplines. Adaptability—that is what Bernie is.” 

10. You’ll grow as a rider tomorrow

“The main thing is we hope the riders gain horsemanship skills out of the class. That’s the goal,” says Murphy.

“Good luck to everyone! Can’t wait to see you conquer.”