Watching the horses and riders at the top of our sport master big technical courses is certainly impressive. The course designer plays an integral role in how those classes unfold. Guilherme Jorge masterminded five very different and difficult courses that determined the group of riders heading to Europe on three separate tours. This elite group of fifteen riders is one step closer to representing the US at the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games.
EqSol: How did you become a course designer? What is your horse history?
GJ: I started riding when I was 10 in my hometown Campinas (Brazil). I competed up to the 1.40m level, but stopped to focus on vet school. I was always interested in course design. By age 17 I started designing at local shows in Brazil. In 1992 I was first invited to design at a small two-day show in my hometown and then in San Paulo. I realized that course designing was a good way to be a part of the sport, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with every course designer that came to Brazil, which at the time was Leopoldo Palacios and Linda Allen.
I finished vet school and practiced from 1992-1998, and designed courses whenever I had the chance. My invitations to course design as well as my interest grew so I decided to focus on it full-time.
EqSol: Your course design mentors?
GJ: I was lucky to start quite young and work with a lot of my mentors – Olaf Petersen Sr., Dr. Arno Gego (Aachen School of Course Design), Frank Rothenberger (Aachen), Aki Ylänne (Finland), Leopoldo Palacios (Venezuela) and Linda Allen (US) – on multiple occasions – up to four times with top ones. I was able to take a little bit from each and create my own style.
I worked as an assistant for a lot of great designers – in 1995 I assisted Leopoldo in Argentina at the Pan American Games and then with Linda in Monterrey (Mexico) that same year. I had the honor of assisting Linda again at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. That really opened a lot of doors for me. I met a lot of experienced course designers, which helped me get more opportunities as an assistant, and furthered my career.
Eqsol: Challenges we don’t think about, like your first course design experience in North America…
GJ: In 1998 I designed my first CSI-W in North America in Bromont, Quebec. When the plane landed in Montreal I thought to myself, ‘What I’m doing here?’ I knew the metric system. I had no idea about inches. I looked at prize list and saw a class called ‘Modified Jumpers’ and again I was perplexed – Modified from what?
Due to the measuring system differences, setting the jumps was also challenging. The jump holes were set three inches apart and there were pins for the jump cups. These days the European, Latin American and North American systems are much more universal. They follow the FEI rules, use metrics for setting heights and the jump holes are .05m or 5cm (1.96 inches) apart. Makes the playing field at lot more level for all involved.
EqSol: How do you determine difficulty for the field?
GJ: To me there are two types of competition – ones that follow a technical standard like a World Cup Qualifier or a WEG trial. In these classes it is not about how many clean, or how exciting your jump off can be. My specific goal as the course designer is to prepare riders for their goal – making it to and being prepared for the finals. The other type of class is one where you can really adapt by height or difficulty according to your field. Then I try to watch the riders through the week and adapt accordingly. The conditions also play a big part, the footing, the jumps – especially the footing.
EqSol: Setting a variety of courses – from a World Cup Qualifier in Los Angeles last fall to WEG trials in Wellington this year…
On setting the WCQ:
GJ:Leopoldo had built most of the World Cup Qualifiers early in the season. He sent me the course from the qualifier in Sacramento, so I knew the riders and that it needed to be tough. The indoor arena at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center is large, but the arena in Geneva where the finals are in April 2010 is also a good size, so that helps. I went on the strong side of the specs and expected three or four to go clean. It is clear that the quality is improving on the west coast, I was pleasantly surprised to have six clean.
Analyzing the WCQ track…
GJ: My first goal is safety and to ask exactly what needs to be asked of the horses. They have a busy calendar, so I don’t want to build a course that is too demanding, which means a course that is nice enough to get around but not easy to jump clear. I like to connect one jump to another – even if it isn’t a straight line – in an indoor that makes all distances related. Riders at this level ride a track, not jump to jump. For me it is a good result when the faults are spread around the course, not just at one or two jumps.
Time allowed as a factor…
GJ: I don’t always go with super tight time allowed. I think the horses jump better when they have the time. I try to make other elements create a challenge. This is always a debate with Leopoldo, who has been my technical delegate in the past. I try to be open also to the riders’ opinions, they are the ones being tested.
On designing all five of the WEG trials:
GJ: I was very honored to design for the US WEG trials. For me I compare it to being invited for something very important for my own country – like being invited to be part of the soccer team for Brazil. It was a big responsibility to set five courses to test essentially the same group of riders over a two-week period.
Analyzing the tracks…
We could go into a lot of detail here, as Jorge set some fabulous courses that tested scope, rideability, distance, adaptability and connection over five very different yet challenging tracks. Each trial asked solid questions, with the toughest and biggest questions coming at the end.
Canadian course designer Dave Ballard analyzed each and every track on PhelpsSports.com. If you are a member, search for “Course Discourse – Sunday’s $150,000 CN US Open and USEF WEG Selection Trial #5.” All five trials are discoursed, from the bottom up, including fabulous jump photos and course descriptions. If you are not a member, these among other pieces are well worth the investment.
George Morris sat with Guilherme at his ‘office’ inside the International Club several times throughout the two weeks. And what did George have to say? ‘A+ job’ followed by a big thumbs up motion. Now that is a seal of approval!
EqSol: And your future?
GJ: This year I will be at Spruce Meadows for the North American CSI 5* and a few other shows. More shows here in the US, including Blenheim in the spring and fall, Saugerties and Horse Shows by the Bay in the summer and the Hampton Classic. Also I have the honor of being Conrad Homfeld’s assistant at the WEG. Then London for the CSI 5* at the Olympia Horse Show in December 2010.
In the big picture I am starting to manage horse shows close to home. There is a beautiful international-class facility called Helvetia Riding Center under construction in the city of Indaiatuba, which is about 30 minutes from home and 50 minutes from São Paulo. The idea is to make horse show management a part of my business, so I reduce my travel to maybe 17 weeks per year as opposed to my current 30 weeks. Then I will be able to spend time more time at home with my daughter Marina, who is six-years-old now. I love my job and love the shows but the travel is really hard.
Of course one of my biggest career goals now is to be chosen to design for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
I have to say I love the horses and the riders, and I am addicted to the sport. When I was invited to be the Course Designer for the World Cup Finals in 2005, I told Robert Ridland that this opportunity was beyond my wildest dreams, I was so honored. To be at the top of a sport that I love is fascinating. It never ceases to amaze me to be a part of these top quality events.
As always we find it fascinating to talk with the people behind the course designs. Thank you so much Guilherme, we look forward to seeing you down the road, and hope to interview you from Rio in 2016!