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Course Designer Ian Stark Q&A

Five-time Olympian Ian Stark who designs the cross-country course at the Longines FEI European Eventing Championship at Blair Castle, is put on the spot


How did you get into course-designing?

It was at Chatsworth where the Duchess of Devonshire and my predecessor Mike Etherington-Smith asked me if I’d like to have a go at the novice track. Until then, I hadn’t thought about it as a career, but I really enjoyed it and it took off from there.


Where do you get your inspiration?

I loved riding [former Badminton director] Frank Weldon’s rider-frightener courses because he managed to build fences that looked impossible to us but which horses understood.

My aim is to incorporate the modern, accuracy side of cross-country riding, but still to have horses going forward and attacking the fences, rather than going round in ever-decreasing circles.


Where do you get your adrenalin rush from these days?

Physically, it’s skiing – I love to frighten myself on a couloir! – but watching my courses being ridden gets the heart rate going in a different way.

When I was riding, I could calm down and focus, but with designing it’s not over until the last horse has been round. I love to set riders challenges, but my dread is that the horses won’t understand the questions. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night and change a fence.


What is the most memorable course you’ve ridden?

Badminton was always a favorite, but probably my most exciting ride was when I won the European title on Glenburnie at Punchestown in 1991. The late Tommy Brennan produced an extraordinary course based on Irish history. It was probably the first one to have themed fences in the shapes of actual objects, such as the Book of Kells.

It was difficult and demanding, hot weather, and the direct routes were challenging. Glenburnie pulled like a train and was still in top gear at the finish; I, on the other hand, was exhausted and practically fell off at the end.


Which of your wins means most to you?

Finishing first and second at Badminton in 1988 on Sir Wattie and Glenburnie was very special and is still a record. And winning the first re-run of Chatsworth as it is today, in 1999, on the Duchess of Devonshire’s Stanwick Ghost was a major highlight.


If you were still competing, which horse would you most like to ride?

Pippa Funnell’s Redesigned, because he’s like a big Glenburnie and he’s got a bit of attitude, which suits me!


Which current riders do you most admire?

Andrew Nicholson and William Fox-Pitt – two brilliant horsemen who are still at the height of their powers after decades in the sport. I love it when they come to ride my courses. They add to the draw and they will both give me feedback afterwards, which is really beneficial.


My favourite things

Food: Steak and chips

Film: Shawshank Redemption

Music: anything from opera to modern, as long as it’s not rap, which somehow eludes me

Books: Elephant Song (Wilbur Smith), I Am Pilgrim (Terry Hayes) and Bear Grylls’ new book, which is inspirational


As told to Kate Green

Ian Stark was a member of the British eventing team from 1984-2000, winning numerous team medals, plus individual Olympic and world silvers, Badminton three times and the European title in 1991. He is also course-designer at Bramham, Chatsworth, Floors Castle, Tattersalls in Ireland and several events in the USA.

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