15 facts about the Hickstead Derby course

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From poles that 'twang', resident newts and motorway fences turned into showjumps, Victoria Spicer investigates 15 things that you might not know about the most famous course in British showjumping...


1. The Equestrian.com Derby course is 1,195m long and riders have 180sec to complete the course. In total there are 16 fences and 23 jumping efforts.


2. The All England Jumping Course was first opened in 1960, with the famous Derby bank added a year later. However, a number of Derby fences were built at this time, including the double of water ditches, the Road Jump and the Devil's Dyke. These permanent fences were included to give British showjumpers the chance to jump the sort of fences that they were encountering on the Continent.


3. The course is virtually unchanged since it was first held in 1961, and there's only been 56 clear rounds since then.


4. Fence one is known as The Cornishman and consists of a 4ft 8in stone wall with a single pole on top of it, positioned right in the middle of the ring. It is designed to be easy but it's had its share of refusals and knock downs over the years.


5. The highest fences on the course are the black gate (fence 4), the wall (fence 5), the rails at the bottom of the bank (fence 9), the Derby rails (fence 12) and the Balustrade (fence 14), which all stand at 5ft 3in.


6. The widest fences are the oxer (fence 2), the privet hedge (fence 6) and the final rustic spread (fence 16) - all are 6ft 6in, which takes some reach! The privet hedge can often catch horses out as it is just past the entrance to the ring, going away from 'home'. In 2012 the hedge was trimmed back to be lower than the poles, to try to deter horses from banking it.


7. Although it is not the tallest fence on the course, the Devil's Dyke is widely regarded as the trickiest. The first fence (4ft 9in) has a drop, the middle rails (standing 4ft 9in) are over a water ditch, and the final rails stand at 4ft 8in and are jumped uphill.


8. The water jump was originally 16ft wide and was the first permanent Olympic-sized water jump to be built in Britain. It now measures 15ft wide and has been made shallower - the water used to be knee level. Bizarrely, some great crested newts like to set up home in the water jump and the local amphibian society has to come every year to take them away.


9. The story of the building of the Hickstead Derby bank is legendary. Douglas Bunn, the founder of Hickstead, had seen film footage of the Hamburg Derby and decided to visit the German showground to measure the bank and replicate it back home in West Sussex. He arrived on New Year's Eve when it was snowing, and went round the showground measuring fences - much to the bemusement of the show's officials. The layer of snow on top of the Hamburg bank must have affected Douglas's measurements, as Hickstead's bank stands 6in taller than its German counterpart. The rails at the bottom of the Hickstead Derby bank are two strides away from the bottom of the bank, but the Hamburg Derby bank's equivalent upright stands just one stride away.


10. The Devil's Dyke is based on a local tourist attraction, a valley in the South Downs which looks a bit like a canyon. The poles used to be made of silver birch and would 'twang' when hit - these days they are standard poles without any give in them.


11. The Derby rails (fence 12) are based along some rails Douglas saw when driving along the Bagshot Bypass. He decided they'd make a good showjump - so he stopped his car to measure the railings and then made a replica at Hickstead.


12. The Road Jump used to be called the Table, and includes a jump up on to a raised platform and then a drop down on the other side. Both fences used to have ditches underneath, but these were filled in for safety reasons.


13. While the fences still look like the same solid, daunting jumps they always have, the top rails have all been switched to lightweight versions (which fall more easily!), while safety cups are used as well.


14. There are several gates in the Derby course, including the black gate at fence four and the penultimate double of white gates. The latter are set on a very long stride and catch many horses out, especially because they're on an uphill gradient and the horses are tiring towards the end of the course. Douglas Bunn wanted to include fences that people could identify with - they'd know how big a five bar gate is and could appreciate its size, compared to just endless coloured poles.


15. In the event of a jump-off, riders miss out the double of water ditches (3), the road jump, bank and rails (7, 8 and 9), the open ditch and the balustrade (13 and 14).