Course Discourse: $213,300 Palm Beach Masters Grand Prix CSIO5*

It seems that for the whole season so far, I have been commenting on the unsettled weather, and last week was no different. Rain almost every day, not for long but heavy, and caused concern about the grass at Deeridge. The grass gods ruled in our favor, however, and even with the rain, the grass has remained perfect. Today we will be analyzing the $213,300 Palm Beach Masters Grand Prix CSIO 5*. This class had 46 starters but had one scratch, so only 45 crossed the start line. Our in-house course designer is Alan Wade (IRE), and I always look forward to his extremely consistent great course design.

The grand prix featured 13 numbered obstacles with 16 efforts. Within the course, we saw a double combination, a triple combination, a triple bar, two liverpools (one closed vertical and one oxer) and one short pole vertical. There will not be a wall or plank fence. The water will not be used, which I felt was a little disappointing, but it was used in the qualifier. The decision was made to save the ground (this water is a permanent structure) for the Nations Cup on Sunday. The weather was unsettled, to say the least, so this was the correct call. Now, let’s walk

#1 was an oxer 1.45/1.50m or 4.10/5ft which would start the riders off on the right rein and dashed the hopes for the day for two riders. As a course designer, I was always hard-pressed to start with a vertical in a big class, but today a high percentage of course designers will use the vertical to start. The best way to describe a good course is to notice that every fence on the course was a test for at least one competitor. Lower level classes should use courses that lead to the harder tests, but for the big boys and girls the challenge begins at #1.     

#2 Vertical 1.57m or 5.2ft which comes on the right rein with no given distance. This beautiful fence was struck down two times with both rails coming at the end of the order.     

#3 Oxer 1.49/1.70m or 5/5.6ft comes on the continuing right turn with no given distance and touched down two times.

#4 was a vertical 1.60m or 5.3ft which came on a full change of lead left and a long gallop. The top pole crashed down to the wall seven times. This has been a jump that has caused some problems since the beginning of the Palm Beach Masters because the presence of this arched wall gives some horses something to look at. Courses today do not provide any spook factor and they should provide some (please).


#5 Liverpool oxer 1.52/1.65 or 5/5.6ft comes from #4 in a straight line with a distance of 23.20m or 76ft and slightly down grade. This Oxer only found the water tray once.


#6 Short pole vertical 1.60m or 5.3ft comes from #5 on the right bending rein with no given distance and goes past the face of the in-gate. The black poles fell to the turf six times.

#7a Oxer 1.49/1.70m or 5/5.6ft comes from #6 on the continuing right rein with no given distance. We saw had three failures to execute at this jump.

#7b Vertical 1.58m or 5.3ft comes from #7a with a distance of 7.80m or 25.6ft. Like its predecessor, the b element was also terminated three times. 

#8 Triple bar 1.54/2.00m or 5.1/6.6ft comes from #7b on the bending right rein with a distance of 30m or 98.4ft. We saw a rail come down from this Bruins tribute four times. 

#9 Vertical 1.61m or 5.3ft comes from #8 in a straight line with a distance of 18.50m or 60.6ft, and kissed Mother Earth four times.  

#10 Oxer 1.55/1.50m or 5.1/5ft comes from #9 on a full turn on the left rein and only felt the pain once.

    #11a Vertical 1.55m or 5.1ft comes from #10 in a straight line with a distance of 25.90m or 84.9ft. The top pole of fence 11 fell from grace two times.

#11b Vertical 1.55m or 5.1ft comes from #11a with a distance of 11.30m or 37ft and became dislocated from the top cups just once. 

#11c Oxer 1.49/1.60m or 5/5.3ft comes from #11b with a distance of 8m or 26.3ft and came toppling down twice.


#12 Oxer 1.52/1.65m or 5/5.4ft comes from #11c on the bending right rein and no given distance by the in-gate. Like #4, this fence caused quite a few issues resulting in the poles hitting the ground seven times. 

Finishing out the course was the #13 vertical which was 1.62m or 5.54ft. #13 comes from #12 in a straight line with a distance of 21.80m or 71.6ft. Here we had our first and only refusal, while the law of gravity took hold and shortened the day for four of our competitors.

The final tally of the first round will show that we had eight clear rounds that will advance to the jump off. There were four rounds that were clear but had 1 time fault. There were 10 with 4 faults, 7 with 5 faults and 4 with 8 faults. The rest will jump another day. There were no falls, no eliminations and just one voluntary withdrawal.

When a course designer creates courses back to back on the same grounds, there is personal pressure to be different in their approach to each course and not repeat the same tests and to use the ring differently and create a different overall view of the ring. There are some who can do this and many who cannot. A course designer is like a paint artist who has developed a style, and each canvass is similar. In show jumping, when you use a course designer exclusively, you run the risk of being repetitive in their tests, but the great ones can make that adjustment. Alan Wade used the ring in a different way this week and reversed the tests from forward to short on the distances, and the flow and the verticals were slightly smaller. There was a little less width on the oxers than the course of the World Cup qualifier two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, the course demanded a more forward gallop, and this week the test was to have more control of the stride and to pick up the speed up where the course allowed the rider to make up lost time.

It was nice to see that the triple combination was not the central focus of faults and that the course from beginning to end was a test for someone. Every fence in the first round was a problem for someone, and that is a major plus for the course designer. Many thanks to Alan Wade (IRE) and his crew for a great grand prix.

I have a postscript from two weeks ago when I wanted to give a heads up to a friend and world-famous course decorator Evie Frisque (CAN), who has done a great job for the Palm Beach Masters. I checked Evie, and I did spell your name wrong, and I do apologize. You had a great two weeks at Deeridge. The world of show jumping is fortunate to have the Palm Beach Masters as a destination on the world circuit and congratulations on another great season. The season continues on, and until then, I am Dave Ballard.

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