Preparing for Red Hills takes years ahead of competition

 Briggs Surratt competed aboard Hat Trick during the CIC 2-star at Red Hills in 2015. Photo by Shannon Brinkman

Briggs Surratt competed aboard Hat Trick during the CIC 2-star at Red Hills in 2015.
Photo by Shannon Brinkman


By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

With a few minor exceptions like color, size and classification of competition, spectators won’t notice a lot of difference between the entries in the Red Hills Horse Trials at Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park this weekend.

Perhaps one of the biggest similarities that won’t even get noticed for the average on-looker is the preparation that goes into getting ready for Red Hills or any other eventing competition. So that leaves every horse coming into the three-day event with the same commonality in terms of how they prepare for the competition.

Getting a horse ready for an eventing competition could take as many as three years, said veteran rider Rick Wallace. Preparation begins with the basics of getting horse and rider in synch early in their partnership.

That is especially essential for the opening day event, dressage on Friday. The field also will go through a torrid cross-country course Saturday before wrapping up with stadium jumping on Sunday.
It’s a grueling test that Wallace’s protégé Briggs Surratt has been preparing his horse, Ultimate SeaCrest, in the past three years. Fortunately for him, he hasn’t had any setbacks that could have slowed the preparation for Ultimate SeaCrest, a situation that riders sometimes find themselves faced with.

“At this point I feel pretty good,” said Surratt, who will be making his third start at Red Hills. “Same with my horse.”

Another key part of being prepared for three days of competition is having the right gear, especially saddle and shoes. Surrett is one of the fortunate riders to have a saddle for each event; an asset that he said could be beneficial to him and his horse.

He was outfitted by Custom Saddle, one of his sponsors. The biggest difference in the type of saddle he uses will be the one for stadium jumping, which allows him to sit closer to the horse as it maneuvers each jump.

“I’m lucky that I have multiple saddles for each discipline,” he said. “It helps me perform to my potential as best as possible.”

As part of their Red Hills prep, most of the riders use the first few events, starting in January, to get a feel of where their horses stand. Red Hills, which has a category for international-level riders, is the first major event on the circuit.

Just as the events earlier in the season helps riders prep their horses for Red Hills, this weekend event will be a gauge for some horses. Many will use it to find out how much of a future their horses have in the sport.

Owners could find out if their horses have tapped out in terms of their ability to endure top-notch competition, Wallace said.

“There are different levels to that,” Wallace said. “Sometimes horses can’t take the competition of dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping. Sometimes they can’t really contain themselves in one of the three phases.”