Walk The Course With Leopoldo Palacios

Leopoldo Palacios. Photo by Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof

Edited Press Release

FEI Level 4 Course Designer Leopoldo Palacios is setting the tracks at the 2022 Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, including the lucrative $3 Million CSIO5* CP International Grand Prix. Learn about his routine, motivation and more in an interview from the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping:

What’s a typical day for you like at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?

I normally get up at 6am, arriving at the showground at 7am. I will finish quite late tonight, at around midnight, as I have to wait for the ATCO Six Bar to finish, after which I’ll build tomorrow morning’s course. I’ll then arrive here early tomorrow morning to put some finishing touches to the course, which is all part of my job.

Away from course designing, what are your passions?

My main passion is horses. I love horses. The other thing I like is deep-sea fishing for marlin and tuna, which my father also loved. But just fishing for them, not swimming with them! My family used to have a special fishing boat, which my father would use for competitions in Venezuela. Towards the end of my father’s life, after he finished farming, he would go fishing, and I would go with him, so that’s how my love of fishing started. My home country, Venezuela, is an absolute paradise for fishing marlin, and also the Caribbean. That life runs very much in parallel to my course designing career.

What advice would you give to someone young who wants to become a professional course designer?

The first piece of advice I would give them is that you have to love horses. I would also tell them that you need to have passion and not be driven by money, as this is not a job for money. You can absolutely survive and I have a good life; but this job is all about loving the horses and having passion for the sport.

Technically, I would recommend that a young course designer learns about geometry and having the skill to draw, so as to be aware of scale and to ensure you have great plans. Understanding horses and learning about them is also crucial, specifically being able to read their expressions to see when they’re happy or sad. So, a good balance of technical skill and feeling is what someone wanting to be a course designer should have. Finally, you need to build the very best courses that you can, and make the riders compete against one another and not against you and your course.

What’s your favourite ever memory from your course designing career?

That’s a very difficult question, but one day that I was really happy and when my heart was pumping was when Scott Brash won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping here. That day the stadium was full and there was total silence in the International Ring – all you could hear was Hello Sanctos. In my opinion, what Rolex is doing for this sport is fantastic. Another moment for me that was very emotional was at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. Never in the history of the Olympics did the Individual jump-off have just three horses in it to determine the three medal. That was always my dream and something I asked for. And I had it. In that moment I went crazy and I was jumping all over the place when it happened. And it didn’t happen with double clears, it happened with faults in both rounds.

As head course designer, where and when did you design your first course?

I designed my first course as lead designer in Venezuela in 1976. I then designed my first international course in the North and South American League in 1977.

Who has inspired you throughout your career?

My main inspirations were Arno Gego and Pamela Carruthers, they were two of my mentors. I worked with both of them for many, many years. Over a three year period I was Arno Gego’s assistant and I learned an awful lot from him, and he became like my father after this. 

Finally, tell us about the course you’ve designed for Sunday’s CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex, and who you believe will win the class…

I never like to build courses that don’t balance, so for Sunday I will make sure that if I include a long distance, I will also include a short distance, and then a normal distance. In this way, the course will appeal to all of the horses and riders.

This year I think we have a super field of horses and the quality is very high – the best of the best. Normally, when I look at the startlist for the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex and I think about how the horses have been jumping throughout the week, I can pick between 15-20 horses who could be in with a chance of winning. But this year I think up to 30 combinations will be in with a good chance of winning. I think that riders have started to understand the significance of the Rolex Grand Slam and they’re saving their horses for this incredible opportunity.

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Whitethorne LLC

Whitethorne LLC always carries a number of high-quality Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation horses for sale or lease in Southern California. All of these horses are personally chosen by Georgy Maskrey-Segesman and her partner in Germany, and represent some of the best competition horses available in Europe for every level of competition in Hunters, Equitation, and Jumpers. Georgy travels to Europe several times per year and together with her partner in Germany, selects the best of the horses available in Germany and Holland and several other countries in Europe, and imports them to Whitethorne Ranch where they are available for sale or lease.