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In The Mind of a Course Designer: Catching Up with $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix Course Designer Guilherme Jorge

by Carly Weilminster | Apr 2, 2024, 3:56 PM

Course designer Guilerme Jorge said he wanted to design a properly difficult course for the Winter Equestrian Festival's new contestants. Photo: Devyn Trethewey/US Equestrian

The $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* concluded the 12-week long season at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, highlighting some of the top international combinations in the show jumping world. We caught up with Course Designer Guilherme Jorge, who is one of the most renowned 5* designers in the world, with accolades including designing the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, multiple FEI World Cup Finals, and numerous FEI Nations Cups. Each year, Jorge is tasked with designing a course that is a worthy grand finale, and he spoke to us about how he makes that happen.

So, Gui, tell us, how do you even begin to come up with your plan for designing a class like this?

Gui: Well, one of the good things about living here in Wellington, is I watch very closely throughout the season at what the other course designers are doing week-in and out, so I don’t repeat ideas, combinations, or look of the course. I always like to play with ideas and really can get going once I see where they place the open water in the ring. I knew for this year, we were going to have some new top European combinations competing in this final Grand Prix, so I wanted to build a strong course because I knew that everyone would be on their top horse, so coming up with a difficult-enough course based on the included combinations and distances, then working from there.

The jump-off was amazing. Explain how and why you set it the way you did.

Guilerme Jorge said his course rode the way he expected, with a few surprises. Photo: Devyn Trethewey/US Equestrian

Gui: For me, when you think about designing the jump-off, you want to really give thought to allowing the riders and horses the best chance at going as fast as possible. With a competition as elite as this, you also want to be sure that you want it to be about the jumping, and I love the idea of finishing the course on a fast open gallop. I really liked the first track, and you get locked in with the combinations you have set, so I wanted to include a tight rollback at fence 15 to test scope and rideability. I put the oxer at the end because it always makes for an exciting finish to see if someone can get across the back rail, but you also don’t want to go too wide with it either. Scope is such an important test in a class like this and it ended up working out well with the combinations we saw in the jump-off really going for it.

When you think back on the class, were you surprised with any of the course, and did it ride like you expected?

Gui: It did really ride the way I was expecting, but there were a few places I was surprised, and that always happens as a course designer. I was surprised at how easily many of the combinations handled the leave outs in the related lines. It takes a lot of confidence to ride so forward. I also though the tall plank after the water would be a bogey fence, but surprisingly it only came down once I believe, so they handled that question well. The triple at the beginning of the course is a scope test through and through. As a designer, you’re always hoping for the best outcome, and I felt like this year we really got it right. I was pleased with the number of clears from the first round and how the jump-off ended. With the caliber of horses and riders it was a great finish to the season – it was just such a quality group.

Guilerme Jorge explained that the Winter Equestrian Festival was a "great finish to the season." Photo: Devyn Trethewey/US Equestrian

Why is getting to design a class like this special as a designer?

Gui: You know, I’ve designed this class going on ten times now and each time I feel such pressure to really deliver for the athletes, the horses, and the fans. I’ve been coming to Wellington for almost 25 years now, and there’s something special about having the responsibility of building for this last Grand Prix. This really feels like my hometown now and it’s a show that I have a long history with, especially with this Rolex Grand Prix. It’s my job to make sure that we end the season on a high note that showcases the absolute best of the riders, the horses, and the sport as a whole.

USEF members who are Subscribers or Competing Members to USEF Network powered by ClipMyHorse.TV can catch the thrilling $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* on demand here. Watch ESPNews Saturday, April 6 at 12pm ET for a special two-hour presentation of the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix.