The Naracoorte Horse Trials are entering its 44th year, and it still attracts hundreds of riders from across the state and Victoria.
The Trials will be held this weekend at the Hynam Polocrosse Grounds on Saturday May 19, and Strathyre (664 Cadgee Road) on Sunday May 20.
At the Hynam Polocrosse Grounds there will be dressage, and lower grade show jumping. At Strathyre, there will be cross-country riding, and higher grade show jumping.
Whilst the Trials usually provide hours of entertainment as riders and horses show off their agility, skill, and endurance, this year stands out. Because this year, the Trials will also include the South Australian State Championships, with riders being able to not only win their respective categories, but Best Overall.
According to Jacki Baker, the Cross Country Coordinator, the State Championships are set up similar to pre-Olympic trials. The Naracoorte Horse Trials have even seen Olympic equestrians get their start here, hosting athletes such as Scott Keach, Megan Jones, Sam Griffiths, and Wendy Schaeffer.
The cross-country course at Strathyre has been designed to cater to riders of many levels. Entry level riders go over 65cm jumps (such as a single log), while more experienced riders go over 80cm jumps, 90cm jumps, 105cm jumps, and then ‘starred’ jumps. There are one star jumps, two star jumps, and three star jumps, three being the hardest.
Whilst the Horse Trials used to be only for riders aged under 21, since the late 1980s they have catered for riders of all ages.
Wayne Copping, who is this year’s cross country course designer, was at Strathyre, even earlier than then building hurdles and jumps.
He began in 1975, being apprenticed by the inaugural course designer, a man nicknamed ‘Kanga’. After that Wayne has enjoyed a long and varied career as a course designer.
Wayne has built courses for the 1986 World Championships in Gawler, the 2004 World Cup in Sydney, the 2007 South East Asian Games, the 2015 Pan American Games, and spent almost a decade (2005-2014) building courses in Adelaide.
He has also been a mentor to budding course designers in Belarus and Moscow, and has been invited by international educators to conduct seminars in how to design safe courses.
As Wayne and his daughter Ashley Copping explained, there is a set of specifications and parameters for each course. The first five jumps are approachable and are designed to ease the horse and rider into the course.
The middle third of the course is the difficult section, where the horse and rider have to navigate various hurdles and jumps. These jumps are designed to test a horse’s agility and obedience.
The last section of the course is the ‘cool down’, where both horse and rider are rewarded with less technical jumps.
On the day, there are many volunteers who work as ‘jump judges’, who stand by hurdles and observe whether the horse refuses the jump, which leads to a penalty. The horse and rider with the least amount of penalties wins.
The history of the cross country dates back to military exercises in the 1900s. Cross country trials were used to test the speed, training and fitness of the horses. Riders also got valuable practice in evading the enemy over rough terrain.
Most of the horses that compete in cross country are thoroughbreds or ex-race horses, however there have also been warm bloods, and pony crosses entered in the lower grade jumping. Australian stock horses used to be a popular cross country breed.
Entry is free to the Naracoorte Horse Trials, and it is all ages. Gates will open at 8am on Saturday and 8.30am on Sunday. The event is catered on both days, and no dogs are allowed.
Major sponsors of the Naracoorte Horse Trials include MiniJumbuk, Naracoorte Tyre Power, the Naracoorte Lucindale Council, International Racehorse Transport, Miles Hay, Elders Naracoorte, and Kate Dennis.