Cross Country Fences Longines CCI5*-L

Going cross country with the course designer

There’s nothing like a bit of added pressure/incentive for all the athletes hoping to be selected for this year’s European Championships here at Luhmuhlen from 28th August to September 1st and so this year promises to be exciting. Some will go away from this week feeling elated, others may go away feeling somewhat disappointed, such is the nature of sport.


With so many of the world’s leading riders based in Europe the sport at the Championships will be world class. As host nation Germany can take twelve combinations forward to the Championships whereas other nations are limited to a maximum of six. Some nations have strength in depth and it will be very hard to make the team, others will be pleased to have six in the first place.


So, with all this in mind, what do this year’s courses bring? The CCI4*-S as it is now known is more difficult than last year and riders, as always, have to be focused from start to finish.


The top class, the CCI5*-L, is the highest level in the sport and as such the course is more intense and the questions asked are more sophisticated than at the lower levels. The course is a mix of big, bold, stand-alone fences, angled fences, corners, drops, and skinnies and will hopefully provide a suitable all round test, physically and mentally, of horse and athlete.


The route is left handed like last year and the early fences, the Auftakt der Sparkasse Harburg-Buxtehude (1), Rathaus (2) and Fledermaushotel (3) are there to settle the nerves, give the athletes the chance to get their horses in the air and in a good shape as well as settled in to a good rhythm. They are all at maximum dimensions and are intended to be straightforward.


The Trakehner (4) always looks impressive but rides well before they then head towards the first of the feature areas of the course.


The Charles Owen Royal Works (5) is the first question here where the two narrow cottages should not really cause any problems at this level but riders do need to be awake by now because it would be very easy to have a silly run out here.


Now they will know that they are at a 5* competition as they come to the first of the water fences, the Luhmühlens Wasserspiele (6). This is a test of confidence, athleticism, quick thinking, and good riding. I expect the second of the two boathouses to jump quite big and then there is a quick right turn to go up the slope to the narrow flower box which looks, and is, pretty big sitting on top of the mound. For those who may not be feeling quite switched on at this stage there is a much slower long option to the flower box although I don’t expect many to opt for it.


A loop around this field brings them back to the water fence again. The Luhmühlens Wasserspiele (7/8) is a maximum spread fence which will also act as a set up fence for the brush where the horses won’t actually see whether they are landing in the water or not until the last moment. It is a fence which will show how confident the horses are feeling and so if they have jumped the first water well I will be surprised if they don’t pop over this even though it is a big fence. The second element here is the brush corner on top of the mound and this requires positive and committed riding as well as accuracy and honesty. Again, there is a long route here jumping another corner for anyone who doesn’t fancy the quick line.


A let up fence, the Holzstoß (9) then follows as they make their way to the woods where they come across the Hof Sudermühlens Jagdszene (10) which shouldn’t present any problems even though it sits at the top of a slope.


Heiner’s Wellenbahn (11) is a rider question. It is about correct presentation and correct pace, get the pace right at the big shelter and the two left hand corners on a curving 3 strides should unfold well. Too fast at the first element will make the second corner more difficult and a greater possibility of as run out.


The Horseware Jump (12/13) looks very big but jumps well and this year I have brought the second element a bit closer to so that athletes have to think of them together. The corner is not only big it is pretty narrow also and a run out here would be very annoying.


The classic question being posed by the LVM Am Waldrand (14) always requires horses and athletes to pay attention. Again, it is all about pace, correct presentation, athleticism, honesty, and holding the line. I have set it one 1 stride to the ditch followed by 2 strides to the angled brush. Quite often a horse will drift slightly one way or the other over a ditch which can then require very quick corrective actions from the rider in order to successfully negotiate the final element. The first element is the first of the fences this year fitted with MIM clips, one of the frangible mechanisms that we use in the sport to help reduce the risk of falls.


The Hof Sudermühlens Jagdszene (15) in the middle of the woods is another let up fence although it is big and has a drop on it, as they then make their way to another of Luhmuhlen’s series of feature fences.


They come in to view for the Meßmer Teich (16/17/18ab) and jump the massive oxer and then the narrow brush will come up on them very quickly. This for me is the most difficult fence on the course made so by the fact that the oxer before is big, then there is the need for controlled yet positive riding to the narrow fence where horses cannot see if they are landing in the water or not until late. Combine this with the fact that there is a lot of atmosphere here with many spectators and a buzz of anticipation and there is a lot for the horses to take on board in a short space of time. Recognising that this is a difficult fence I have given a time consuming alternative of a triple brush which will take them all the way around the water before coming back to the next fence.

The Boat in the water on its own is straightforward for the level but I have made the question more difficult by having a triple brush at the top of the ramp out. So, honesty, accuracy, confidence, and good riding will be required through this series of fences.


After the intensity of the Meßmer Teich it is time for a let up fence which is exactly what I hope the Tisch (19) will be. It looks big but it is a straightforward fence.


New this year I have introduced the Manzke Kombination (20). Two gates on 3 strides just before heading in to the main arena. These gates are all frangible using MIM clips. It is worth mentioning that MIM clips and reverse pins can only be used on certain types of fences, not all fences can incorporate them. The systems are designed in such a way that they will deform if they ‘loaded’ at a certain force and the aim is to reduce the possibility of horses falling which is what we all want. The technical specifications for these frangible mechanisms as they are called are laid down by the International Equestrian Federation.


On then in to the main arena where there is the Longines Kombination (21) where they have to jump a big table (another fence with a frangible mechanism) and then decide whether to jump the two viaduct walls at an angle and save time or play it safe and jump them straight but waste time having to go around the plants. The angles are quite acute if they choose this line and the risk of a run out is greater but time is a key part of the competition.


Gärtnerei Wredes Rennbahnsprung (22) is straightforward and should give everyone a lovely jump as should Luhmühlens EM Brücke (23), both being easier fences as they head towards the last few questions.


Auf dem Traingsplatz (24) the Two Tables are big, albeit straightforward, and need respecting and it is the rider’s choice as to how tight they turn here – again, time is important. Saving a second at each fence soon adds up by the time they get to the end and can make such a big difference on the scoreboard.


The Longines Wasser (25/26/27) comes next and this is where we’ll see how well prepared the horses are in terms of fitness. It is important to keep horses jumping and paying attention and also to try to make riders have to make decisions as to how they will tackle the fences based on how their horses are going on the particular day. Riders also need to keep enough ‘fuel in the tank’ for the latter stages of the course. The shelter should help to set them up for the two angled brushes in the water which are set on 1 stride. The line is tight and the fences remain big and not easy but once over these two fences the last effort, the curved brush should come up sweetly but it still needs respecting. For those who may not fancy the quick route here they can always jump the first angled brush and circle left handed to come back to jump the second one and then the last element.


A bit of a gallop then brings them to the last question on the course as they turn for home. The Voltaire Vogelnest (28) is big and inviting but riders still have to pay attention because quickly after it come a pair of offset Cottages (29). On its own the question is not that difficult but put it at the end of a 5* cross country course on a turn after a decent spread fence it is very easy to underestimate it and have a silly run out.


Finally, it is the Longines Final Jump (30), a very nice inviting fence to finish with which will see them home.


As always I hope that horses and riders have a positive and beneficial experience and that they all come home well. A huge amount of work has been done to the ground which suffered badly as a result of last year’s very dry summer and each year the footing continues to get a significant amount of attention.


Julia Otto and her team deserve great credit for dealing with the challenges of the venue as do David Evans and Carl Fletcher along with the rest of the course building and venue presentation team for the fantastic way they build and present the courses.


Good luck to all

Mike Etherington-Smith