Bonus Episode: Ian Stark on Cross-Country Course Design
In partnership with EquiRatings Eventing Podcast and Nicole Brown Media, the USEA is bringing you a bonus podcast episode! Originally published in late April on the EquiRatings Eventing Podcast, Nicole Brown and Sam Watson sit down for a chat with none other than international cross-country course designer Ian Stark. Stark is the course designer for cross-country courses all over the United States and Europe, including the new Maryland Five-Star at Fair Hill, now slated to debut in October of 2021.
Stark began designing courses in 2005 and he explains some of the trial and error he went through in those early years as he developed his course designing style and technique. Within 10 years, he was designing his first European Championship course.
Next, Stark discusses the process he goes through when designing a course, which typically begins more than a year before the event takes place. If he is taking over an existing event, he will go and watch an event to get a feel for what the cross-country course is currently like and begin compiling ideas for when he takes over. When working on a green site, he will walk the property and pick out spots for the "feature fences" and then create the flow to connect them.
Watson poses the question to Stark about balancing the need for creating manageable courses with the need to challenge horses' and riders' skills. Stark asserts that today's horses and riders are so brave and so bold that it's important to create appropriate challenges for the level. Horses and riders have to be able to make mistakes safely and be able to learn from them.
Stark speaks about the importance of balancing between distance, terrain, and technicality of the jumps. He is not a fan of "arena eventing." Stark also talks a bit about the different safety technologies that are available in modern eventing, how he selects which ones to use and when to use them, and his views on how the technologies have changed the sport.
Would Stark design at Burghley, Badminton, or the Olympics if he had the chance? You'll just have to listen to find out!