Home Australia Naracoorte Horse Trials notch up 50th anniversary in Olympic year

Naracoorte Horse Trials notch up 50th anniversary in Olympic year

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A man stands in the water in front of a high cross-country equestrian water jump

Piloting half a ton of galloping horses at speeds of up to 60 kilometers per hour, while soaring over fences as high and wide as a family car, is not a pastime for the faint of heart.

But that’s the game if you want to wear the green and gold at the Paris Olympics in July.

With just three months to go until the world’s biggest sporting event, Australia and New Zealand’s top equestrian athletes will head to the small rural community of Naracoorte in south-eastern South Australia this weekend for one last chance to spend the court.

Coinciding with the 50th celebration of the “Golden Jubilee” of the Naracoorte Horse Trials, the Olympic qualifier puts competitors to the ultimate test in three disciplines: dressage, jumping and the spectator favorite; cross country.

Naracoorte Horse Trials cross country course designer Wayne Copping says safety is paramount for horse and rider.((supplied: Wayne Copping))

At the heart of the event is international cross-country track designer and technical delegate Wayne Copping, who has seen the excitement and spills of the event since its inception.

“The Naracoorte Horse Trials is a very special event, not only because of its history giving young riders the opportunity to compete at such a high level, but also because of its location on a unique family property with world-class features,” he explains.

“Strathyre is a magnificent environment with undulations and natural features that allow for balanced and fluid cross-country riding, unrestricted space and the opportunity for horse and rider to gallop from start to finish without twisting or turning, as is the case. This is the case in many events around the world.”

Mr Copping is regarded by his peers as Australia’s leading cross-country ski trail designer; a trade that only a handful of professionals around the world possess.

Coming from a well-known show jumping family from nearby Lucindale, he says his own competition led to the design of the courses on which the riders compete.

“I guess I had an idea of ​​what to do and what not to do from the beginning, and it’s something I’ve pursued ever since.”

A black and white image of a rider jumping double oxer

Wayne Copping went from competing to designing courses, becoming a world leader in this field. (Supplied: Wayne Copping)

“I designed the course for the World Championships at Gawler in 1986, and then moved to the United States to continue learning the trade at the highest level before returning to Australia and designing the three-day bicentenary event at Hawkesbury in New South Wales , and I developed a series of events throughout the country.”

“I’ve been to New Zealand, Moscow, Ireland, Belarus, Japan, and in 2015, I landed the position of course designer for the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada,” he said.

A start for young cyclists

Working with a small committee, Wayne Copping and Graham “Kanga” Parham, from Mount Pleasant in the Adelaide Hills, helped develop the Naracoorte Horse Trials in the 1970s.

“At that time, there weren’t enough youth competitions; there were only Gawler and Melbourne 3DE (Melbourne International 3 Day Event).”

Black and white newspaper image of a rider and horse descending a steep embankment.

Helen Carr aboard Triple White at the Naracoorte Horse Trials in the 1980s.(Supplied: Equestrian Memorabilia Australia)

“I became the official course designer and event director in 1985, and by that time we had progressed to the FEI (International Federation of Equestrian Sports) young riders international category for riders aged 16 to 21. We then became at the South Australian Young Riders. 3DE.”

Mr Copping now works alongside his daughter, Ashleigh, who continues the Copping family legacy.

Naracoorte Horse Trials Newspaper

Clair Lewin aboard Helmsman jumps a hurdled log at Naracoorte in the 1980s.(Supplied: Equestrian Memorabilia Australia)

Safety a priority

He says he has seen many changes in what is considered one of the most challenging and risky disciplines in the equestrian world.

“Since I started there has been a radical change in the safety aspect of cross-country competition,” he said.

“The jumps are better built, better finished and safer.”

“Over the years we have had some tragic deaths in cross country and a lot of work has been done to improve the safety of riders and horses.”

One of the deaths that shocked South Australia’s equestrian community was that of Mount Pleasant teenager Tasha Khouzam in 1998.

In 1997, Khouzam was the youngest rider to compete at the Adelaide International Horse Trials, and was awarded Barossa Young Citizen of the Year and Young Rider of the Year.

But during a walk near Adelaide, he suffered a rotational fall during a cross-country jump and died instantly.

Copping says that in his industry, “if someone falls and dies, it’s too many.”

“The international body strives to ensure that cross country is safe, but also rewarding.”

Olympic rider jumps a brown horse over an ornate background jump

Andrew Hoy at the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games.(Supplied: Australian Equestrian Team/Photography by Libby Law)

Equestrian royalty in the field

The equestrian community is close-knit and the sport is one of the few in which seasoned and novice Olympians compete side by side.

In its five-decade history, spectators at the Naracoorte Horse Trials have watched as one of the world’s most decorated Olympians, Andrew Hoy, who this year is vying for an unprecedented ninth Olympic appearance, competed in the 1980s aboard his mount Davey.

The event’s roll call also included equestrian royalty such as Scott Keach, the late Gillian Rolton AM, Wendy Schaeffer, Megan Jones and Sam and Mark Griffiths.

“The runners know that this is one of the last events to record a score that puts them in contention for Paris, so it’s exciting for them and the spectators,” says Mr Copping.

The event’s Golden Jubilee will see the action begin on Friday afternoon with Margie Stuart Day, with dressage and show jumping at Hynam, followed by cross country on Sunday at Strathyre.

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