Rolex Grand Slam: Questions & Answers with Aachen Course Designer Frank Rothenberger

For you, why is CHIO Aachen such a special show?

CHIO Aachen is the greatest, and most important show in the year. I was invited 20-years-ago to come here to design the course, and as always, I am looking forward to one of the most prestigious classes here, the Rolex Grand Prix. Last year it was a wonderful class and the jump-off was incredibly fast, so I can’t wait.

How special is it to be the course designer here at your home show, CHIO Aachen?

It’s incredibly special. We prepare all the classes months in advance, as with this big arena, a lot of time and planning is needed to design the courses. Over the last few days we have seen a number of challenging and thrilling classes, with fast jump-offs. CHIO Aachen provides super conditions, from the stables to the ground, to the courses and the overall organisation, everything is perfect. That is why you always get the top riders here.

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

Of course, the Rolex Grand Prix will be two rounds with a jump-off. The water-jump will definitely be included, and there are normally a number of double and triple combinations. Sometimes designing the course can be difficult because the arena is so big, so we have to make sure we include some technical combinations and lines instead of just related distances. I think the best courses use a mixture of modern course designing with a bit of everything!

How did you get into course designing?

It’s very simple. 40-years-ago, when I was a young rider, I had no fences that I could jump at home. So, I built some for my own use, and then shortly after I had other riders coming to use my stables to practice because I had a number of different types of fences including water-jumps, banks and hedges. I then started to design courses for them, and they came regularly to train at my place. When I was 22-years-old, I stopped riding, and started a company producing show jumps, which ultimately led me to my career in course designing.

Where was the first course that you designed, where was your first competition?

I was 21-years-old when I designed my first course for a competition, which is now 44-years-ago. My career is slightly quieter now – I don’t want to do shows every weekend anymore, so now I am designing at around 12 to 14 shows a year, choosing the quality ones such as CHIO Aachen.

Do you have any other passions away from course designing?

Of course! First my family, and secondly, sailing. I am a skipper, and I just came back from chartering a catamaran last week in Italy, I am due to go again in September and November. I have also been an avid skier for my entire life!

If you could predict a winner of the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday, who would you predict?

That’s very difficult. The level is so high at the moment, with very fine margins between the top riders. To predict just one winner is too difficult.

The first Rolex Grand Slam Major was held here, at CHIO Aachen 10-years-ago. What do you think has changed over the last 10 years, what impact do you think the initiative has had?

The sport is becoming better known. Numerous people now talk about the Rolex Grand Slam that includes four of the world’s top shows; Calgary, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Geneva and Aachen. I think it’s going to be incredibly interesting here in Aachen this week because McLain Ward is coming in with two consecutive Rolex Grand Prix wins, at Geneva and the Dutch Masters. He will be hoping to win the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday and therefore win the ultimate prize in show jumping, the Rolex Grand Slam.

Do you have a favourite moment over the last 10 years with the Rolex Grand Slam?

I watch all the Rolex Grands Prix, including the ones at the other three Rolex Grand Slam shows. The last Major was in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and it was thrilling. There were many clears, which made the jump-off incredible. For me it is just a huge honour to be one of the course designers for the Rolex Grand Prix at one of the world’s greatest shows.

Source: Press Release from CHIO Aachen – World Equestrian Festival

Photo: © CHIO Aachen / Ashley Neuhof