Designer Stark still relishing Bramham challenge

Ian Stark pictured on the Course at Bramham Park. (Picture: Simon Hulme)
Ian Stark pictured on the Course at Bramham Park. (Picture: Simon Hulme)
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SOME 144 combinations will tackle Bramham’s cross country course this weekend.

Course designer Ian Stark says he will carry nerves for every one, 32 years after he enjoyed his own maiden victory here.

Ian Stark riding Arakai makes his way across the lake at the Badminton Horse Trials, in his days as a successful rider.

Ian Stark riding Arakai makes his way across the lake at the Badminton Horse Trials, in his days as a successful rider.

The Scot has enjoyed a top class career as both an eventer and course designer with his enthusiasm showing no signs of waning at the age of 61.

Under international equestrian rules, Stark knows he will be “pensioned off” by the time he’s 70 but hopes to be enjoying his retirement long before.

But don’t bet on it with Stark eyeing Badminton, Burghley and even the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as a course designer and admitting: “I’m enjoying it so I don’t want to ease off!”

Stark enjoyed a glittering career as an eventer, highlighted by representing Great Britain at five different Olympics where he won four silver medals.

And this week’s jaunt to the 2015 Equi-Trek Bramham International Horse Trials takes Stark back to where his magnificent career really started with victory in the 1983 Yorkshire event proving the launch pad to international glory.

One year later the Scotsman was competing at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where the rider savoured a team eventing silver.

Stark bagged another team eventing silver in addition to an individual silver at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and returned to Games glory 12 years later when again he finished second in Sydney 2000.

It could be that 20 years later Stark graces his sixth Olympics – at Tokyo 2020 – where he is under consideration for becoming course designer.

On horseback, and off it, the Selkirk-based ace has enjoyed two glittering careers with his course design adventure actually still in its infancy.

It’s no wonder then that Stark is showing no intention of calling it a day – with his role at Bramham naturally particularly close to the heart.

Stark told The Yorkshire Post: “I can do the designing until I’m 70 when under international rules you are pensioned off.

“I’m 61 now so technically I have got nine years left but I would doubt that I would still be doing it then and I would hope that in the next five years I might start to ease off.

“But I’m enjoying it, I don’t want to ease off at the moment and also I do a lot for the British Horseracing – I steward 40 days a year and I am on the disciplinary panel so I am in London every three or four weeks for hearings and that sort of thing.

“That’s a lot of fun because I did a lot of point-to-pointing and I trained point-to-pointers.

“I don’t do anything now but I still love the racing.

“I’m quite lucky in that I have a lot of different jobs within the horsey world and that I’ve been incredibly lucky, that I’ve had a great career and I’m still enjoying it! I’ve got the European Championships in September and that’s my first team competition that I’ve designed.

“And I think my name’s in the hat with a few others for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“That would be very nice but it’s not the be all and end all.

“I’d very much like to think one day I might get a chance at either Badminton or Burghley, that would be the ultimate aim for me.

“If an Olympics happens then that’s fine but the four star is what I would really like to do.”

Stark also designs at both Chatsworth and Allerton Park whilst also fulfilling the same role at five different horse trials in the USA.

Home, with wife Jenny, is in Selkirk, yet Stark – who has been known to clock up 55,000 miles on the roads each year – is hardly ever there.

So the train ride to Bramham is one the Scot particularly looks forward to, not just because of the fulfilment of today’s role but also an affinity that dates back to 1983 and the proud record of being a four-time winner.

Stark recalled: “I won it first of all in 1983. I think I won it 84 and 85 as well and then a few years later again.

“It was the same idea as it is now and still the same thing – it was still CCI – but it was called standard three-day event then.

“But it was still the same level.

“I was first and third in 1983 – the victory was on Sir Wattie who was one of my very special horses and Oxford Blue was third.

“I remember a lot of that as that was a huge part of my life.

“My children were tiny – I think they were three and four at the time and we lived in a caravan with them. It was very different.

“But it was very exciting because both my horses were only seven-year-olds.

“They were very, very young at that level and they came out and were superstars.

“And then the next year was my first Olympics, of those two horses I went to the Los Angeles Olympics.

“They were only eight-year-olds and it was my first team competition. “That all happened rather quickly at that point and Bramham was big in helping me get on the map, without a doubt.

“Since I first won there it’s changed a lot.

“The essence of it is still the same, it’s still Bramham Park, the main arena is in the same place and there’s a lot similar but the quality of the event and the infrastructure is massive now. It’s a huge international event and it ranks right up there as one of the best in the world.

“Of the CCI three-star events, it’s got to be the best or at least matching the best – I wouldn’t have a clue where is better.

“It’s certainly right up there, in the top notch bracket.”

It is a bracket in which Stark quite definitely belongs as a course designer.

It is no surprise that Badminton, Burghley and Tokyo 2020 are on his hit list.

Bramham, though, will always hold a particular pride of place, both as a rider and now designer.

“It feels like yesterday but I think this is my sixth year designing at Bramham,” said Stark, who has two children in Tim, 33, and Stephanie 35, plus two grand-children – Freddie, aged five, and Alfie, aged four.

“It was the late George Lane Fox that got in touch with me and asked if I’d be interested in taking over from Sue Benson.

“It was my first CCI three-star event to design and Bramham has always had a very special place in my heart because of the wins I had there.

“Not only was it one of my first places to design but the first time I ever won a three-day event anywhere was at Bramham. There’s a lot of very special memories there.

“As a rider you have the nerves and then you get on your horse and you get on with the job.

“As a designer you do all the planning and you get it all ready but actually the nerves on the day are probably 80-fold to that of the riders’ because you have got the nerves of every rider and it doesn’t finish until the day is over.”

Assessing how many more years he could design at Bramham for – even until he is 70 perhaps – Stark pondered: “We didn’t put a time on it but I don’t know, another two or three years and it will probably be time for somebody new to take over.

“I love it and don’t get me wrong, I’d stay there for ever but I think you have to be careful and I think it’s important for the event that every seven to 10 years that they change and that it brings in new blood and a new lifeline and new ideas.

“I’m not in a hurry to give it up but if it happens, then I understand why.”