Eventing enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting tomorrow's cross-country phase of the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games competition. Yesterday afternoon, a group of journalists and photographers perched on tractor-pulled hay wagons for an abbreviated tour of the course.

WEG eventing course designer Mike Etherington-SmithOne of the challenges in creating the course, said course designer Michael Etherington-Smith, was working with the lines of travel created by the additional buildings and facilities erected for the WEG. And, of course, doing something different from the Kentucky Horse Park's flagship Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, held here each April.

WEG eventing assistant course designer Derek di Grazia"It certainly is a big course," said Etherington-Smith of his handiwork, which has an allotted time of eleven minutes and fourteen seconds. "They're going to have to make decisions. If things aren't going well, they're going to have to go to plan B," meaning the somewhat less challenging but more time-consuming alternate routes.

"It is a slightly longish track. Riders will need to be careful not to use their horses up early on," he said.

For safety's sake 

Etherington-Smith and his crew, including assistant course designer Derek di Grazia, have done "a lot of work on the footing," Etherington-Smith said. That includes irrigation -- sprinklers were hard at work at the time of our course tour -- making for an easy way to mark the course track: It's the lanes of green grass, in contrast to the brownish, dried stuff everywhere else, testament to the hot, dry Kentucky summer and early fall.

The course designer has also made use of reverse pinning, in which rails are attached on the backs of uprights instead of in front, thereby making them more breakaway in the event of a crash. 

Reverse pinning "has saved a couple of really nasty falls" at other competitions, including Burleigh in England, Etherington-Smith said.

Highlighted fences

A competitor paces out the Land Between the Lakes water jumpEveryone loves to watch the water jump at an event. The famed Rolex obstacle, the Head of the Lake, has been redubbed the Land Between the Lakes for WEG, to keep both events' sponsors happy. The water has had tint added to aid in visibility to the horses, Etherington-Smith said.

Fence 7ABC, the Walnut Hall CornerEtherington-Smith called fence 7ABC, the Walnut Hall Corner, "a tricky fence." The bank-tiger trap-drop combo didn't look overly scary (as four-star eventing obtacles go), but "good riders will make it look easier than it is," he said. I'll be watching this one carefully tomorrow to find out what he meant.

Carved kingfisher, part of fence 5ABCD, the Salato Wildlife CenterFence 5ABCD, the Salato Wildlife Center, is sure to be much-photographed because it incorporates an elaborately carved and painted frog, trout, and kingfisher made by a local Kentucky carver, the designer said.

Fence 27AB, the third obstacle from home, is the Scalloped Brush, whose long route includes a quick trip around a fence-enclosed Land Rover. 

Fence 26AB, the Scalloped Brush"It's a challenge to create fences near the end of the course," said Etherington-Smith. "You need to have enough gas in the tank."

He commented that "Thoroughbred horses, horses with sufficient fitness," should be able to handle the demands of the course with no problems. Those that are not supremely fit may find their fuel reserves wanting.

Cross-country kicks off tomorrow, October 2, at 9:00 a.m. EDT.