EN Today: An interview with course designer Hugh Lochore

Samantha Clark talks to Lochore about what eventers have to look forward to at this year’s Red Hills International Horse Trials.

From Samantha:

As part of our “Getting Ready for Rolex” feature, I talked to Hugh Lochore last week, the cross country designer at the Red Hills International Horse Trials after his latest walk around the course with a few of the officials, and we discussed what competitors and spectators can expect at this year’s event.  Red Hills is always an important event on the calendar for many aiming not only for Rolex, but for bigger things later on in the summer, and also for those younger horses looking to test themselves at the lower levels.

“As far as the cross country goes, I’ve moved around a lot of what we had last year, and lightened up some of the technicality, the technical aspect probably isn’t what it was. The pergola jump in the main flower field is a single corner now in the Open Class instead of a double of corners,” Hugh told me.

“There’s an armadillo coffin (pictured above) at the very top end of the course that the National classes won’t jump, that will only be for the CIC international classes. We’ve redeveloped the Big Bend, so it’s a much kinder mound now, and we’re planning on putting that back in this year.”

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The Big Bend last year

“As last year’s competition was taking place there were a couple of areas I wanted to focus on, and that inevitably changes through the year.  That whole cabin ruin area was something I’d wanted to work on, and we’ve re-developed that area a little bit – there’s a new prelim and a new advanced jump down there.and the idea of more differentiation between the national and international classes which I haven’t done enough of in the last couple of years, and this year I really got a chance to do more of that.”

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The Cabin Ruin Area last year

Although Hugh was already thinking about this year’s course while last year’s event was underway, he admits to finding inspiration everywhere, and in this particular case Red Hills may prove to be an important event in the run up to the selection trials, and Olympic Games later this year.

“Last summer I went to the Olympic Test Event and realised they had a water jump very similar to ours, and so this year I’ve changed mine to match the water jump they’re going to see at the Olympics. Most of the Olympics are on these little postage stamp size venues and so it’s good for the horses and riders to get used to the twisty, turny hilly kind of terrain.”

Of course, Hugh’s brother Alec is also a course designer, as well as Eventing Manager for the Games, and I asked Hugh if they had compared notes.

“Alec is pretty cagey about that sort of stuff, he won’t divulge too much, but we saw the Test Event last year, and anyone could go and walk the route for this year’s course so we had a pretty good idea as to what it’s going to be, what’s it likely to be like, and I have just recently got the Cross Country Course Map over the internet because I’m a National Technical Official for the Olympics, so I get to have a look at the route and everything on paper, but that’s all highly confidential and I’m not allowed to share it with anyone, but it does give me an idea of what’s going to be going on at the Games. I’m not sure how closely I can relate Red Hills to the Olympics – it’s a different time of year, and you’re realistically only talking about five or six horses that are going to both.”

Red Hills though, does offer a unique experience to horses at all levels that they might not otherwise find in the US until they get to Rolex, and that’s the big crowds, energy and three-day atmosphere.

“The sooner you expose your horse to that atmosphere, whether he performs well at Red Hills or not, the more likely they are to be able to deal with it when they get to Rolex later on. This is the only place you’re going to get that sort of Rolex atmosphere, so you might as well get down here as often as possible and get the horses used to it.”


This year there will just be a single corner here at the Flower Pergola

Plans are under way to move the whole Red Hills event, including the entire cross country course onto the main property, so that the cross country would be in the same place as the stabling, dressage and trade stands – the bigger, flatter area owned by the water management company,

“The talks are going very well; we’ll start moving it over next year, but by 2014 the whole course will be run on the water management property.”

*NB:  Hugh asked that I make it clear that talks are ongoing, and proceeding very well, but that he states categorically that although they will start moving parts of the course next year, it will not be wholly on the water management property until 2014.*

This will mean more crowds, better exhibitors, a flatter and less twisting cross country course, as well as a more compact facility altogether, although the course will have more space and flow – a win win win situation!

“It just gives Red Hills a better chance to grow what it’s already got.”

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PanAm and Olympic Gold – Buck and Lesley warm up for show-jumping at Red Hills 2011

Red Hills already has it’s famous community involvement, fantastic prizes (yes, you remember Allison Springer driving off in the Mercedes!) and an entry list to die for.  This year, in conjunction with the Jockey Club, they’re also proud to run a T.I.P High Point Award in the Prelim, Intermediate and Advanced Divisions, awarding a Saddle Pad, Rosette, and $100 to the highest placed thoroughbred in each class.

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The Live Oak Hounds parade before the show-jumping on Sunday

If you’re without a horse, you can run the Cross Country course the next day as part of the Proctor Subaru Challenge – it’s just over 2 miles (3.8k) and incorporates the obstacles, and you will receive a nice goody bag on completion; as a NON-runner I’ll be taking pictures of the trot-up, and looking forward to the show-jumping, but wishing everyone the best of luck, and I’m full of admiration!

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I’m on his team!

Hugh is also excited to be the new cross country course designer for Chattahoochee Hills, starting with their event in July, and including the prestigious AEC’s in September, and then of course the CCI** shortly after.

“I’ve been up there quite a few times already and I’ve got quite a good feel for the place, and I know 90% of what my AEC Advanced track is going to be, and in April I’ll go back and start thinking really seriously about my July courses. I’ll be there a lot this year, it might not be terribly economical for me because I’ll just get done what I have to get done and make sure I’ve studied the place well enough, but hopefully in the future things will become more apparent and I’ll be able to do a bit more on paper instead of going up there in person each time.”

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The stunning Chatt Hills venue

Hugh admits it’s been a few years since he’s been on a horse, and even longer since he competed cross country, but if he had to pick a course to ride around now…

“I think probably Burghley because it’s creative, and its topography is amazing, and now it’s got a very, very positive, flowing attacking style to it. Kentucky’s the same, it’s an amazing piece of ground to work with so you can be really creative and bold and create a great feel, I would think.”

I leave Hugh to go back to work, but before I go I can’t help but ask him if there’s a trademark that he’d like to be known for.

“I’m always fearful of trappiness. I prefer things to go back to the days when it was a bit more bold and attacking, maybe slightly less technical but more daunting in terms of dimensions. Encouraging forward riding would be what I’d like to see myself as putting a stamp on a course, and giving the horses a positive experience.”

So he must be very pleased with this testimonial from Olympic gold-medalist and fellow Brit turned Floridian Leslie Law: “‘Hugh Lochore has for a long time been recognized for his bold and imaginative tracks. When scheduling events you always know that Hugh’s courses will educate youngsters and experienced horses alike and the horses are always more inclined to return with a smile on their face.”

Many, many thanks to Hugh for chatting to Eventing Nation about all his exciting new ventures, and looking forward to another fantastic Red Hills. Many thanks to you for reading as always, and Go Eventing!

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