Conversations With Equestrians: Linda Allen

By Jackie McFarland

An Afternoon Chat with Linda Allen
Yet another world-renowned course designer, Linda Allen, sat and spoke about designing and beyond. Her talents were well utilized at Blenheim June Classic I, where she not only built for many jumper divisions, the $30,000 Grand Prix but also the tracks for the final Young Rider trials. We sat with Linda and her canine companion Willow. This endearing Papillion pup is making her debut in Aachen this summer. Lucky dog!

EqSol: How did you become a course designer? What is your horse history?
LA: I rode for a number of years mostly on horses I trained myself – thoroughbreds off the track. I competed up to the international level. Due to back injuries and a number of surgeries, I had to quit riding. But I wanted to stay in the sport. Course designing was the way I chose to do so.

As I rider I realized what an important role the course designer played in whether you advanced as a rider. So I learned the mechanics by setting for small shows. I’ve been designing as a career steadily since ’82.

EqSol: Your course design mentors?
LA: When I competed I became friends with Pamela Carruthers and often picked her brain. Also Bert de Nemethy and Dr. Arno Gego. How do you determine difficulty for these important Young Rider trials?

LA: It’s a two-fold situation – the Zone wants to send the strongest riders it can. But the trials shouldn’t be the end game; instead they lead up to the event. I try to provide the building blocks for riders for future events without discouraging them. The right team for this given year should be clear based on the results.

It’s great for the riders to have the trials over three days. The format follows the championships – the difficulty builds up height wise and can go to 1.50M. If a rider doesn’t do fairly well here they aren’t likely to make the team.

The courses ask a lot of different kinds of technical questions. Using the water a lot – because usually at that event the open water is a big factor.

EqSol: How the course like the one today evolves for you…
LA: It’s difficult because you have three important classes in one week. I want variety from one class to the next – to not repeat the same questions. So first I develop the key elements – combinations and technical lines and then build from there. Sometimes it happens in ten minutes, other times it takes much longer. Either time you fool with it a lot until you are happy. Focus on protecting…

LA: Today I designed the Young Rider tracks first and then tracks for the other classes. When designing for grass you have to move jumps a lot, thinking about not only where the jumps are but also where they will be – because of the ground. First you protect the horses, try to keep their work as pleasant as possible. Protecting the horse in turn takes care of the rider. A close second here is protecting the grass – keeping the ground not only good for Sunday but for the upcoming weeks. And last, but not least, you take care of the ring crew – they work hard.

Along with course designing across the world for many years, Linda has a long list of accomplishments including developing an organization, publishing a book, 101 Jumping Exercises for Horses, and giving clinics.

EqSol: Can you tell us about your involvement in the development of young jumpers?
LA: I helped to start this organization in the US that has evolved into two programs – the International Jumper Futurity for breeders and purchasers of young horses which consists of three different opportunities for four-year old showcases – East, Midwest and West Coast. And the Young Jumper Championships developed from the IJF for nominated 5, 6, 7 and 8 year olds.

We’ve grown this year, which I am impressed with since this is a trying time in the industry. Although things are slow to change, we are building the foundation for developing young horses in a systematic way. It is still challenging, there is no culture or system for young horses here. Some in the sport have more interest than others.

About fifteen years ago Germany developed a completely different approach. You cannot build for Young Horse classes without a special license – it’s a minimum of 10 years to get to the highest ‘S’ level. Young jumper classes are scored, not timed. Each round receives a 1-10 score for quality of jump, carefulness, rideablilty – a horse you want to take home. The horses are beautifully broke with a lofty jump. The concept was very unpopular at first. All the jumper judges had to get a new education. Some fabulous riders came from this division like Marcus Ehning, Marco Kucher, and Christian Ahlmann. It’s taken very seriously. Germany is the only country that does it this way.

Side note: In a country so devoted to the ‘hunter’ and its scoring system, is this German system worth considering in the US?

EqSol: And your future plans?
LA: Heading to Aachen later this month, I’m going to present a paper there. I’ll stay on to spectate throughout the show, the only way to stay current in our game. Frank Rottenberger is the resident designer. He took over some years ago and does a good job – he was one of my assistants in Atlanta.

Probably over the last five years I’ve accepted more clinic dates. So I’m booked with more riding clinics than designing now. I truly enjoy teaching. I’ve become more particular about where and when I build. I’m designing in Oregon next and for the Fidelity Classic on the East Coast. I’m also on the Ground Jury for the 2010 WEG in Kentucky.

EqSol: Are you planning another book?
LA: I did complete a DVD on course building, mostly for course designers at smaller shows to help them with technique. So they can get better results with less work and more tips to stay out of trouble.

I’ve been planning another book for awhile, I just don’t seem to have that chunk of time needed to get it written. I have a publisher that wants a more general topic – course designing doesn’t draw a wide audience. I’ve got a few different ideas. Someday…

Wishing we were joining you in Aachen. Someday… Thank you Linda and Willow!