Once our horses are past the ‘spook at anything’ babyish stage, we don’t usually give the XC fence dressings a second glance, but many are a masterpiece of the Course Designer’s imagination and the Course Builder’s skills.
Tying in sponsor-specific logos, colours and shapes is an added challenge that can reap spectacular rewards – does anyone else remember the Remy Martin fence at Burghley, a stunning cut-out upright brandy glass shape that the horses had to jump through? Or the very tricky Mitsubishi logo done in rails, with two corners as the direct route, or straight through the middle over 4 rails?
Just when I think there can’t possibly be any more clever variations on a fence for horses to jump, I see something that makes me go “Wow”. Or, in some cases, “Ermmm…”
As you can see, fence dressings vary from the extremely tasteful to the totally tasteless!
Dressings on the fences themselves can be used to help the horse to stay on a safe line, for instance when carefully positioned on top of a solid corner.
My worst ever nightmare was encountering a full-size scarecrow used for this purpose on a Novice corner, my spooky WB took a LOT of riding to get him to take the corner on first time within 2′ of that looming monstrosity!
At Little Downham last weekend I was very pleased to see this small piece of artfully-placed plastic ivy filling in the big central gap on the final fence. This one has jumped VERY oddly in the past (I’ve seen it cause refusals and falls) and just that little bit of greenery made a huge difference to the way it rode, preventing green horses from boggling at the gap, and allowing everyone (as far as I know) to finish the lower-level courses with a smile on their faces.
A huge amount of thought goes into the fence dressings, and many riders are probably blithely unaware of it… for instance the careful placement of flowers along the foot of a fence will back horses off and, if it’s the second part of a combination, slightly change the way a distance rides. Positioning of spruce trees can make a skinny far easier (by providing ‘wings’) or make a line much more difficult (by preventing a straight approach, for example.)
I think my favourite fence dressings (i.e. the ones I’d really like to steal, take home, and dot around my yard!) are the beautifully carved acorns, snails and squirrels. The hideous pink thing in the picture above is very safe, I’m not tempted to kleptomania by that one! 😉 😉 😉