Ride the Perfect Course with Paul Jewell

Photo © Nancy Willis

“R” judge and renowned course designer Paul Jewell discusses how he got to the top, why he lives  for the horse show, and what  makes the perfect course


You may not know Paul Jewell by name, but if you love horse shows and you’ve been to the good ones, you’ve seen his work. Originally from Colchester, England, Jewell usually will greet you with a large smile and warm bear hug. He’s no stranger to hard work, and has a resume that any rider would admire. Jewell is an equestrian “analytical technician,” a judge, course designer, and show manager who thrives in the complexity of a horse show and wakes daily for the passion of the sport.

A one-time professional ice hockey player, Jewell came equipped with what it would take to flourish in the equestrian field. His introduction to the sport came when his daughter Erika showed a strong interest in riding at an early age. He quickly caught the bug and Jewell found himself working at local horse show in-gates, volunteering to manage competitions, and helping to set courses.

His partner Nancy Wallis also encouraged Jewell to pursue his passion for horse shows. They continue to travel nationwide and work closely together today.

Photo © Nancy Willis

“Every day is different, we are all aiming toward the same goal in this industry. If I can be a part of that passion, well then I’ve accomplished something good,” he said.

Soon enough, Jewell was rubbing elbows with judges, FEI and Olympic-level course designers, and now lifelong teachers like Mike & Allen Rheinheimer, Michel Vaillancourt, Steve Stevens, and Kenny Krome.

“I love the challenge of it all, I find myself walking away each day hopefully making the horse and rider better from where they started,” Jewell said of his designs. Whether it’s the infectious positive attitude that he brings to the ring each and every day, or his desire to develop himself, the rider, and horse as a whole, Paul Jewell may have found the secret to what makes the perfect course.

Statistically in the jumper ring, Jewell said that he likes to see 20-30% move on to the jump off. At a Grand Prix level, that looks like eight to ten riders for happy viewers. “We are trying to make the sport better, it’s such a fine line at the premiere level—you want the horses to jump well but you also don’t want anyone to get in trouble. You have to consider the lights, the sounds, the crowds. We are trying to consider fans and make it special.”

“To me, it is a perfect course when all the horses finish, we have a spectator-type jump off and the people are happy at the end of the horse show. That’s a perfect Grand Prix.”

With designs spread across the country, Jewell has set and walked in some of the most prestigious venues to date. From Madison Square Garden, the Devon Horse Show, the Hampton Classic, Oregon High Desert Classics, and more, every ring comes with the opportunity to provide the best outcome for each rider.

Photo © Nancy Willis

“Don Stewart once told me, ‘Paul, remember, you are at Devon, these are the best in the country. The challenge there is to make those horses show off. Set a course to not only make those horses safe, but show their best ability every time they come into the ring.’ And that is my ultimate goal,” Jewell said. The particulars can be mind-boggling: the footing, angles, materials, distances, and tracks. Ring leveling and irrigation are to be considered, and another last-minute headache will always be the weather.

“I am always considering the safety of the horse and rider, and changes happen often when I arrive to a show based upon many variables. The goal is to provide the smoothest ride possible,” he said.

Jewell admits that he takes advantage of working with some of the most successful riders and coaches in the world. He is constantly learning from his peers and asking about their rides: “When I get to talk to some of the best, and they have jumped my course, I always take the opportunity to learn from their ride.”

At 68, Jewell acknowledges he will always be a work in progress, and that is the reason why he is not ready to retire any time soon. And his 2021 calendar is booked. Jewell will be managing competitions at the Arizona Winter Circuit Series, the High Desert Classic Series in Bend, Oregon, and the Brandywine Horse Show at Devon, which plans to host the Junior Hunter Finals. You will also find him course-designing at the Washington 2021 Indoor Series, among many other top venues.

Asked about any other plans, Jewell said with a laugh, “I want to go fishing.” Until then, he continues to seek the most favorable outcomes for the horses and riders in his arena. “Dealing with an animal that will come out Wednesday and jump every jump and then come out on Friday and knock three down. We have to figure out, what’s different? It’s about discovering the dynamic and balance between horse, rider and the course,” Jewell said. “It is one of my greatest privileges as a course designer.”

Originally published in the January 2021 issue.