Horse & Hound: Ian Stark ‘thrilled’ to design his first five-star cross-country course

By Becky Murray | Link to Story

Triple Badminton winner Ian Stark says he is “absolutely thrilled” to be designing his first five-star cross-country course.

The four-time silver Olympic medallist has been hired to design the course at Fair Hill International in Maryland, United States ahead of its first CCI5*-L (formerly CCI4*) in October 2020.

Ian, who visited the venue this week, told H&H it is a “great place”, which has run events at CCI3* (now CCI4*) for 30 years.

“This is a big step up moving to the five-star [level] and I’m thrilled to be able to design there,” he said.

“It’s always a challenge when it’s a new venture and I think what’s particularly exciting about Fair Hill is they are moving the venue. They have huge parklands over there – they’ve had the event at one part of the estate and they are moving the cross-country over to beside the racecourse and bringing everything together.”

Ian, who has previously designed courses including the 2015 European Championships track at Blair Castle in Perthshire, said 80% of the course will be on ground that has not been competed on before.

“From a designer point of view, it’s really exciting. It’s a greenfield site so you’re just starting out – you don’t get any better than that, or any more challenging for that matter,” he said.

“When you take on an event that already has an established route, you’re changing what’s already there whereas when you’ve got a new site you wander around and you think, ‘well these are the exciting areas and I want to do certain types of fences in certain places’, then you try and string the course together and get a good flow to it. You can let your imagination run riot from the off really.”

Ian plans to make “lots of visits” to the site and is ready to “crack on”.

“I’ve already got a course in mind and the route and jumps thought out. I think Fair Hill are now going ahead and selecting a builder, which will happen in the next few weeks, then I’ll go back over and work with the builder and we’ll discuss everything I want to do with the landscaping and the types of fences I want to build,” said Ian.

“It’s really about getting the ground established and the best footing possible for the horses.

The two-time Barbury CIC3* winner has been critically ill with a serious virus

Ian said there is added pressure designing his first five-star course.

“Every course I design, there is pressure, you want to get it right and do the best possible,” he said. “It’s the first five-star I’m having a go at and being a greenfields site there’s a lot of added pressure. When I was competing I loved pressure, but I’ll tell you in a few years’ time if I like the pressure of this or not!

“Fair Hill is an established event and the team are great people to work with. They’ve got state funding and private funding, there’s a lot of money going into it and this is what they want to do in the state of Maryland. It’s great for them and it’s thrilling for me.”