Stadium set for equestrian contest

Katie McVean, one of the big name competitors at Ride The Rhythm.
Katie McVean, one of the big name competitors at Ride The Rhythm.

International showjumping course designer Gerrit Beker has a rare opportunity with Ride The Rhythm: the chance to design an indoor course in his home country.

Tauranga-based Beker has designed courses in several countries and is in demand here and Australia. Almost always he is setting obstacles for an outdoor event, but Forsyth Barr Stadium poses a different challenge.

"Being indoors and with a lot of public watching, both those things are not normal here," Beker said. "Except for the Horse of the Year show we don't jump with a lot of public, and indoors will be a new environment for all the horses so those are things we have to keep in mind. You don't have to adjust a lot for it, but you do err on the side of caution concerning what you ask of horses and riders."

Hence, sight lines into fences are designed with reference to where the grandstands are to avoid confusing the horse, and entry and exit points from the course

are also carefully chosen. "The first couple of fences should be in the direction from where the horse came from, because horses always like to go back where they came from. We keep those in mind in all courses, but it's very important here."

There are standard techniques used in showjump course design, such as easy fences early to give the horses confidence and decent spacing to allow horses to develop an easy rhythm.

However, one size does not fit all, and each event gives Beker plenty of scope to exercise his creativity - especially an event such as Ride The Rhythm, which is as much an exhibition event as a serious competition.

"About half the field will be Australian riders and they will be from the top end of Australian riders, so with good capable riders we don't have to build a soft course, it can be challenging... the fences have all been newly painted, and I believe it will be a very nice-looking course once we have it set up," Beker said.

"There will be a wall in there, and the course has been designed on grand prix principles: That there be a fair amount of questions for riders and horses. The height is pretty much set, and the questions I can ask are distance-related and combinations. There is a triple and a double, one of each."

"The ring is not that much smaller than an outdoor ring, it's an excellent venue. We have had some indoor events in New Zealand but they have generally been in smaller venues and never on grass. Jumping indoors on grass, it's just magnificent."

■ Ride The Rhythm. An equestrian extravaganza, followed by The Hollies in concert. February 1, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.

D Scene