Walking the Course with Louis Konickx at the Dutch Masters CSI 5*

‘s-Hertogenbosch – The Netherlands – March 11, 2023 – Louis Konickx (NED) is one of the most important course designers in the world. As the course designer for the €1,000,000 Rolex Grand Prix of ‘s-Hertogenbosch CSI 5* on Sunday, Rolex Grand Slam had a Q&A with him ahead of the of the first Major of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

For you, why is The Dutch Masters such a special show?

The Dutch Masters is such a special show as it draws the best show jumpers in the world to compete here in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and this is incredible to witness. In 1994, when we hosted the first World Cup™ Final, it was a very extraordinary day and one that will go into the history books. The fans that come to this show are so vibrant, passionate and knowledgeable, and this really adds to how unique it is. As a course designer, the lead up to a show can be challenging as you are questioning whether the courses will be a correct fit, but you just have to trust in yourself.

Can you tell us a little bit about the course that you have designed for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix?

I have designed this year’s Rolex Grand Prix course with my assistant Quintin Maertens – who is a very talented individual. We are extremely happy with the size of this year’s arena as it allows us to build lots of challenges and different distances. We have some tough lines that require the riders to be totally precise in their rhythm, speed and power.

How many clears are you expecting?

Sometimes the number of clears can be viewed as a dilemma for course designers. In Holland, and in many other countries, fans like it when there are lots of clears in the first round as it results in an interesting jump-off, especially if someone from their own country makes it through. I think I will be happy if there are around 10 people in Sunday’s jump-off.  

Which rider do you predict will win Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix?

The first round of the Rolex Grand Prix can play to the strength of certain riders, such as Harrie Smolders who is incredibly consistent. However, the pressure instantly increases in a jump-off, and it is a different atmosphere, so it is certain riders like France’s Julien Epaillard, who are so fast, that can came out on top and win here. I hope that the winner will be a Dutch or Belgian rider, or even a legend of the sport such as Marcus Ehning.

How did you become a course designer?

In the area that I grew up in, there was a course designer whose courses the riders did not like– he tried hard but unfortunately he was not that talented. To succeed in course designing, you need to understand the space and how best to utilise it in each arena. Whilst I was still studying, so when I was 25-years-old, I remember approaching him with a suggestion of what could be changed in that particular arena. He then suggested that I pursue my interest in course designing.

I continued to ride alongside studying to become a course designer so this lengthened the process but it allowed me to create an understanding from the riders perspective as well. As I progressed, people started to trust me, which resulted in me working on better and more renowned shows. I remember Arno Gego from CHIO Aachen contacting me saying that they had a show in my local area and he asked whether I would be interested to work as an assistant to him. This was a great steppingstone as it allowed me to become an assistant to the main course designer for some of the most renowned shows in the world, which was an invaluable learning experience.

When and where was the first course that you designed, as head course designer?

The first big international course that I designed as head course designer was at CHIO Rotterdam. Emile Hendrix, the show director, and Frank Kemperman gave me the opportunity to design the course and emphasised that they would trust me and support my suggestions. This was an important moment in my career, and it is incredible to think that it was for Rolex. Frank Rothenberger also helped design the course for that show.

What are your passions away from course designing?

I am still riding, it is still important for me to follow this passion of mine.When my daughters were small, I took up playing guitar again – in fact, I have joined a new group now, and we were actually rehearsing yesterday evening, I am definitely the oldest but it is a very fun hobby.

Finally, I used to sail a huge amount with my brother when we were teenagers.,I I have started sailing again. Once I was in Lausanne, Switzerland looking out onto Lake Geneva and in that moment called my brother to tell him of my urge to get a sail boat. So, I currently have a decent sized sail boat, which myself and my daughters have great fun on!

Which course designer has inspired you the most throughout your career?

The course designer who has inspired me the most is Arno Gego. He has contributed so much and influenced a significant amount to our profession. He has worked hard to create a base that all course designers can work up from and he has inspired so many people to push their standards higher.

Could you tell us about your relationship with Gerard Lachat?

When I reflect back on my life, it is noticeable that my life has been linked to Rolex competitions and this is brilliant. I met Gerard in San Patrignano at a 5* competition, where I was invited to help design the course. We have built some of the greatest courses in the world together such as Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva and here in ‘s-Hertogenbosch as well as courses at the FEI World Championship in Herning and so many more. We have built a friendship that goes beyond our profession and we still ride together.

The Rolex Grand Slam was formed in 2013 and will this year celebrate its 10-year anniversary; how beneficial has this initiative been for the sport of show jumping?

The Rolex Grand Slam has really benefited the sport of show jumping as it provides variety with the different Majors that have been encapsulated within it – each has their own unique and captivating atmosphere. As a course designer, it is great to see that every Major has their own signature which makes the show so special. As there are only four Majors every year, it increases the importance and prestige around them. As a result, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping attracts the best riders from all over the world. It is extremely influential in the sport and has become a dream of many riders to compete at the Majors. In addition, it has promoted riders to be tactical with their horses and to make sure that they are fresh for each of the Majors – this has actually benefitted the horses, as the riders do not over-jump them to ensure that they are at their peak levels of performance for these shows. 

Source: Press Release (edited) from Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping

Photo: © The Dutch Masters / Thomas Lovelock