21 February 2017

The highlight of this month’s Land Rover Wellington Eventing Showcase in Florida, was the challenging, 23-jump cross-country course. Course designer and Land Rover enthusiast Captain Mark Phillips explains how it was a true test for horse and rider.

How did you set about designing this year’s cross-country course?

Since the Showcase first started in 2015, I’ve tried to make the course a little more challenging each year. As the prize money has gone up, from $50,000 to $75,000 and then, with the help of Land Rover, to this year’s $100,000, I felt the riders and horses should earn their keep. We put in some big fences, a more-challenging water section and a few difficult angled jumps. It worked, because in the end only two riders completed the course in under the optimum time of 3 minutes 59 seconds.

Can you tell us what was special about the last fence?

This year we decided to make things just a little more difficult by placing the final jump right inside the VIP pavilion tent. It was a lot of fun. For some of the taller riders - Britain’s William Fox-Pitt is 6ft 5in - it meant first having to duck to ride into the tent, then immediately jump. I think the crowd loved it.

Most equestrian enthusiasts know you first as a rider, then as the Chef d’Equipe for the US Equestrian Team for 20 years. When did you start designing cross-country courses?

It seems like it’s been forever. I’ve been doing the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trails course for 25 years and did the course design for the 4-star event at Luhmühlen in Germany for 12 years. It’s always something I’ve done. What is really exciting me right now is that I’ve been asked to design the cross-country course for the 2018 World Equestrian Games at Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina in September next year. That’ll be a tremendous challenge.

How far back does your relationship with Land Rover go?

I first remember driving Land Rover vehicles when I was in the army at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England. I suppose the relationship proper started back in 1980 when Land Rover sponsored six horses for me, creating The Range Rover Team. Then in the ‘90s we put together training sessions for young riders to create the Land Rover-sponsored British Young Rider Team. The relationship has been pretty much continuous since then; Land Rover has supported my event at Gatcombe Park in England - first as the British Open Championship and now as the Festival of British Eventing - for close to 35 years. Of course the relationship continues with my daughter Zara who has been a Land Rover ambassador for over a decade. It’s a great relationship helped by the fact that I’ve always loved driving their vehicles.

What are you driving these days?

Here in Florida where I spend the winter, I’ve been driving a Range Rover Sport TD6. Back in the UK I drive a new Range Rover Sport Autobiography. That’s the one with the supercharged V8 producing 520 horsepower. It’s just the most wonderful, wonderful vehicle. I thought at my age, life’s too short not to have fun, so I got the Sport. It is so fast, and so powerful.