A Look Behind the Scenes of the Derby Finals Handy Round with Course Designer Alan Lohman

Photo © Heather N. Photography


Alan Lohman is a “R” USEF Course Designer who frequently designs courses throughout the country at shows such as Pin Oak Charity Horse Show (TX), Pennsylvania National, and the Washington International Horse Show. I took some time to chat with him about the handy round for this year’s USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship. 

French: What are your thoughts on how the class went tonight?

Lohman: I think it was a great class, but it all depends on how the class unfolds and what risks the riders want to take. You don’t always have to take all the risks in every class. They ended up doing a four instead of a five in the pen a couple times, which, I didn’t see it, but they did it well, you know? I think people stayed interested until the end, which is nice. 

How far in advance did you start planning for this event?

You know, it’s been a busy year so probably in July I started sketching out some courses. It’s been a hectic summer so I didn’t get as far in advance as sometimes I might. You look at it, you change it, you look at it, you change it again. I changed it up until last night! 

From starting to plan to actually setting the course, how many hours go into this?

That’s a tough question. But you know, I get here on Monday and we work all week until tonight. You’re thinking about things you might do all year round, just sketching it out whenever you have a chance. 

It’s a big team effort. The horse show gives you a great support system. Things are  done first-class here [at the Kentucky Horse Park].

Photo © Heather N. Photography

Where do you draw your inspiration for the track and visual effect of the jumps?

I think I base it a lot off my experiences riding. I think it makes a big difference because you know what you like as a rider and you know what rides well, or what you might not like as a rider or trainer. Also what the horses need is important. How I set the fences affects whether I can get the most out of the horses—give the riders the opportunity to get the most out of the horses. They’re great riders here so it’s easier, but you’ve still gotta put the jumps where they can showcase their horses’ talent. 

What are some of the challenges of designing in the Rolex arena?

You’ve got a big arena, which is nice. It gives the horses plenty of places to gallop, but you want to give them options also. A big ring like this is sometimes wide open, so you gotta try to create options for the horses. I think that’s the most challenging thing in a big ring. With a smaller ring, you’re kind of forced into some options. 

Photo © Heather N. Photography

Were there any elements in this course you were looking forward to seeing them ride?

The pen was a big thing. I wanted to see how that worked out because I’ve never done that before. I remember seeing some when I was a kid but I could never remember exactly how they all rode. I’ve been always wanting to do one somewhere and it just worked out this week. 

Christine French is a trainer and “r” USEF hunter course designer based out of Still Waters Farm in Virginia. She also enjoys competing in dog agility with her Golden Retriever, Ranger.