Conversations With Course Designers: Anthony D’Ambrosio

By Tammy Chipko

FACT: Show jumping is an Olympic sport where men and women (both horse and rider) compete on an equal basis.

FACT: Grand Prix courses reach heights of 5’3”, with spreads of up to six feet. The course may also include a water jump, which may be 10 to 16 feet in width.

COURSE DESIGN: The height, width, location of fences, and time allowed for the round allows only the best rider/horse teams to move on to the jump off. That’s where Anthony D’Ambrosio and other top course designers come in. Known for building fair, technical courses to test every level of rider, Anthony D’Ambrosio is a well-respected course designer both nationally and internationally.

Tammy Chipko: How did you get started in designing courses?

Anthony D’Ambrosio: I have been designing courses since 1995. Being a Grand Prix rider myself, I found I had an interest in what type of questions were being asked of riders and horses in the ring. I spent a lot of time speaking with course designers from all over. Eventually, as my interest in course designing advanced and my professional riding slowed, I made the full transition to course design.

TC: How much advance preparation is needed to design your courses?
AD: If I know a place well I am able to work a bit in advance because I know the layout of the ring and the materials available to me. If it is a new place for me I usually do not plan too much in advance but work day to day.

TC: Do you use a computer program to design courses?
AD: Not too much. I prefer freehand. It allows me to use my imagination to draw without relying on a computer. I can usually be seen with a clipboard in hand drawing basic ideas depending on the track, types of jumps, combinations, flower/tree fill etc. I will then copy the results to my computer. That works best for me.

TC: Do you use the class sheet to help determine what type of course you will build?
AD: I can certainly get an overall impression of the level and strength of the group from the class sheet. I have worked with most groups more than once so I have fairly good knowledge of rider/horse ability. If it is a group of green riders and/or horses, I might change the combinations to require more agility and less power. I never want to over-face anyone but at the same time I do want the riders to be challenged. Riders appreciate a challenge so that they can feel as though they have accomplished something that not every horse and rider team is able to do. Keep people learning and growing and everyone is happy.

TC: You design courses for the Children’s Jumpers through World Cup Qualifiers. Is one more fulfilling than another?
AD: No, a good class is a good class. It is all rewarding. Every course, no matter which ring I am building for, is a serious effort that requires a meticulous physical layout. Each day of jumping is the same in terms of importance. There have been times when a Children’s Jumper Classic is so exciting, the crowd so involved that I’ve thought, “WOW! I wish my jump off in the Grand Prix would have unfolded like this one!”

TC: I would imagine building a World Cup Qualifier course is more difficult than a Friday Grand Prix?
AD: A World Cup class is pre-determined since it has to be built within International Standards. West Coast riders have insisted that the courses be tough and demanding. They want to prepare for the finals by jumping extremely competitive courses. They have raised the bar for themselves and want the course designer to show them what they need to know ahead of time. They do not want to be coddled. The Friday Grand Prix are not as big or demanding. If there are a lot of competitors, my course might be a bit trickier in order to manage the total number of clean rounds for the jump-off.

TC: Do you have a favorite moment in your history as a course designer?
AD: I can’t choose a favorite because I’ve had so many good moments. The Sunday Grand Prix at HITS II in Thermal was exciting. We were hit by a wind storm during the Grand Prix that blew everything down and we had to stop the class temporarily. When we were able to resume hours later, we had the entire course rebuilt in 15 minutes. The resilience of both the competitors and the spectators was amazing.

TC: What are your future plans and goals?
AD: As far as designing courses, I hope to build in Europe. I have recently also become more involved in management and enjoy that immensely. From my extensive base of experience with infrastructure, I feel I can offer some management input to horse shows. I am also enjoying a new consulting business with my wife Michael, D’Ambrosio & D’Ambrosio. One of the services we offer is advice to clients interested in building a farm, planning a ring or designing a Grand Prix field.

TC: Good luck with all your future endeavors. Thank you for your time and great design!

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