Rolex Grand Slam at the Dutch Masters: Walk the Course with Course Designer Louis Konickx

How did you land the role of the Rolex Grand Prix course designer at The Dutch Masters?

I think that everything must start with passion. I was passionate for horses and the sport; I was an amateur rider, but I could not afford to ride and have the proper training. Course designing allowed me to stay in the sport that I loved so much. When I was around 14-years-old, I helped a course designer at a small national show, and that is where I first started my journey to become a course designer.

I have been lucky to have some amazing teachers in Holland, and I have had the opportunity to assist some of the best course designers in the world, including Linda Allen, Bob Ellis, Arno Gego and many other amazing designers.

Do you have assistants or people that you currently mentor and train?

Yes. I am also in the process of retiring, so it is nice to be able to pass my knowledge onto the up-and-coming designers. In the Netherlands, I have two incredibly talented people I mentor, Henk Linders and Quintin Maertens. Henk has just started working as a lead course designer and now is working on 3* courses in Europe. Quintin is very similar to me and is always searching for a solution. He has some genius ideas and I really like working with him. We work very well as a team; I will come up with a course plan and he makes it better. He will be lead course designer for the Nations Cup™ in Rotterdam.

I am passing the reins over to him at the moment. I think that it is the best way to stop; knowing that you have someone there ready to take over. Over the years, I have nurtured his career, and now we have a relationship filled with trust and respect, so I feel confident to pass the reins to him. There are a lot of great course designer assistants in the world, but to take the next step, you must feel the pressure of designing a course by yourself. That is the last step, and this is where I feel I can help pass my knowledge.

Can you give any hints to what Sunday’s course will be like?

Last year I was so sad because we had such a beautiful course, which produced an amazing jump-off but there were no spectators there to see it in person. I almost wanted to do the same course again so the fans could see it!

We started planning this year’s course in January, and it has taken me a long time to come up with the perfect course. This week, I have finally created a course that I am happy with, so I shared it with Quintin, and we worked together to improve that course. The arena at The Dutch Masters is quite small so you have to be careful how you plan the lines of the course and makes sure it flows with balance. The course also needs to be able to produce a good and exciting jump-off. Ideally, as a course designer you want around eight horse and rider combinations in the jump-off; but you cannot manage the drama and the excitement it follows its own fate.

Do you get nervous when riders are jumping a course you have designed?

Yes, I do. Most people say that I do not seem nervous, but I do I get nervous. Designing a course takes a lot of time and effort, and we are totally committed to making sure we create the best and most fair track for the horses and riders. It can be very stressful, but it is my passion. I think that you need nerves to make sure that you keep improving.

How do you decide the time limit of the courses you design?

Setting the correct time is very important, especially since the rule change in January. Now, one second over the time is one penalty; so, you need to create a time that is tight but also achievable, as now the riders can collect so many time penalties and they can be very costly. We measure the course two or three times using a measuring wheel, and we will aim to get an idea of the time by Friday night.

What type of horse and rider combination will do well with the course you designed?

In an indoor arena you need fast and agile horses, as the space is so tight unlike the big grass arenas such as CHIO Aachen. The horses and riders will have to have lot of control and will need to be able to communicate well with each other. Marcus Ehning always rides in such a smooth and harmonious way – there is a total understanding between the horse and rider, and I think that this course will suit that.

If you could compare your role in another way, how would you do that?

As a course designer you almost create your own language and then the riders have to try and understand that language in order to ride the course how you imagined. Some riders will understand it and others will struggle and it is very interesting to watch. It can be a tough challenge, but we do it because we love it and it is so fun to innovate constantly and almost create a puzzle that the riders have to solve.

Source: Press Release from Rolex Grand Slam

Photo: ©Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder