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“I design courses that I wouldn’t be brave enough to ride myself” Eric Winter admitted as he prepares to take over the role of Mitsubishi Motors Badminton course designer from Giuseppe Della Chiesa. ELEANORE KELLY caught up with him at Blenheim to find out more.

“I design for riders who have really good core balance and a good horse that goes on a forward stride” Eric, a former four-star eventer revealed. “I want to create something that my average horses couldn’t jump but my good horses could. I want the best horses and riders to make it look easy.”
After 10 years designing cross-country courses at Blenheim International, Eric Winter bid farewell to the prestigious venue. But he leaves with his head held high. Blenheim is now arguably one of the most popular three-star tracks in the world attracting elite riders from Europe and across the pond.
This year was no exception. 180 riders tackled three courses- the CCI, the CIC 8/9 Year olds and the finale of the Event Rider Masters Series. Despite a deluge of heavy rainfall, two days of cross-country ensued relatively drama free.
52 percent of the CCI three-star riders jumped clear but there were no competitors achieved the time. In addition, whilst there were a handful of moderate rider falls, there were no horse falls. Eric states that this is every course designer’s dream result. “When building a three-star cross-country course, I’m aiming for 50 to 60 percent clear” explains Eric. “Every designer aims for no horses falls and this year is the first year I have achieved that.”
There is no doubt that Blenheim has evolved dramatically in the last decade and Event Director Mandy Hervieu and Eric Winter have been a formidable team. The shopping village has grown without losing its quality “Countryside” feel and the extent of “non-eventing” attractions develops each year. It was Eric who introduced the 8/9 year old CIC three-star which has never failed to highlight the equine stars of the future.
“It’s always sad when you move on and the Blenheim has changed shape massively in 10 years and I’ve enjoyed it.” laments Eric. “I am looking forward to taking on Badminton but it won’t be easy.”
He reveals his plans for next year; “I want Badminton to be that traditional old Badminton with some real rider frighteners. You won’t see too many portables or any big yellow submarines to jump and we are going to go back to the tradition of swapping direction as it keeps riders on their toes.”
Eric was informed by Badminton Event Director and former course designer Hugh Thomas on the Thursday of this year’s event. “You could have knocked me over with a feather” he exclaims “and over the next three days I walked it again and again.”
“I can change anything I want on the course but Hugh told me not to mess with the traffic plans as they work, so there won’t be any new loops but so far we’ve reshaped the ground around the water” he says.
Reflecting on the course at this year’s Olympics, Eric was full of praise for Pierre Michelet’s challenging track. “The Rio course was great. It asked loads of different questions and riders had to be on it all the time. The heart of cross-country riding is unpredictability and it really highlighted that.”

Ellie Kelly