Course de­signer gears up for Win­ter Eques­trian Fes­ti­val

The Palm Beach Post - Neighborhood Post - Western Palm Beach County - - Sports & Recreation - Eques­trian Amy Bower Doucette writes about the eques­trian com­mu­ni­ties for Neigh­bor­hood Post. Send mail to 2751 S. Dixie High­way, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Call 561-820-4763, fax 561837-8320. neigh­bor­hood@pb­post.com

The Win­ter Eques­trian Fes­ti­val starts in Jan­uary, and a hand­ful of course de­sign­ers are al­ready hard at work, care­fully cre­at­ing jump­ing cour­ses for each class. There are 13 rings, and each course de­signer gets a dif­fer­ent ring each week. De­sign­ing cour­ses is a del­i­cate bal­ance be­tween mak­ing the sport challenging, and un­in­ten­tion­ally mak­ing it dan­ger­ous.

Course de­sign­ers spend years ap­pren­tic­ing, walk­ing cour­ses and learn­ing their craft. De­signer Nick Granat (www.Nick­Granat. com) grew up com­pet­ing in WEF and other horse shows around the coun­try and has made a name for him­self de­sign­ing ex­cit­ing, yet safe, hunter and jumper cour­ses.

“It’s some­thing I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in, ever since I was a lit­tle kid,” Granat said. “My grand­fa­ther made me a model set of jumps when I was lit­tle and I used to set cour­ses in the tack room at horse shows. I got more so­phis­ti­cated as I got older and I got to go to some re­ally big events. I got to go to the Olympics when I was 14 and walk the cour­ses. I got to see what the sport was all about. A few years ago, I de­cided to make the jump and do this full time.”

The gov­ern­ing bod­ies of show jump­ing — the United States Eques­trian Fed­er­a­tion (USEF) and the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion for Eques­trian Sports (FEI) — dic­tate the height of jumps for each dis­ci­pline, and how far apart they need to be in the case of hunter classes. Course de­sign­ers can get as cre­ative as they want within those pa­ram­e­ters. A well-de­signed course is of­ten taken for granted. A bad course, how­ever, is in­stantly no­ticed by rid­ers and spec­ta­tors alike.

“A bad course is awk­ward and harm­ful to the horses,” Granat said. “When peo­ple fall off, that’s when it’s bad. If you build a lit­tle too big for the peo­ple you have in the com­pe­ti­tion, that can lead to neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences. You re­ally have to pay at­ten­tion to what you’re do­ing, es­pe­cially as the jumps are closer to­gether. You can turn peo­ple on their heads pretty eas­ily. Peo­ple don’t no­tice when we do our job well, but when we mess up, ev­ery­one no­tices.”

In or­der to be cer­ti­fied as a small ‘r’ course de­signer, you must com­plete a daunt­ing pile of pa­per­work and sev­eral ap­pren­tice­ships and clin­ics. Once you have your ‘r’ rat­ing, you must de­sign a cer­tain num­ber of cour­ses over a twoyear pe­riod to earn your big “R” rat­ing, which makes you ap­peal­ing to pres­ti­gious horse shows. The process of get­ting cer­ti­fied, then get­ting rated, is not for the im­pa­tient.

“It is a very long process to get cer­ti­fied,” Granat said. “I went to a school in Ger­many a few years ago for a week to see what I would learn there, but most of the train­ing is hands-on. It’s very ex­pe­ri­ence-based.”

Granat is listed as one of the top 10 course de­sign­ers ap­proved by the North Amer­i­can Rid­ers Group (NARG). At 35 years old, he is the youngest course de­signer on the list. He hopes to some­day ex­pand his re­sumé to in­clude de­sign­ing cour­ses for the Olympics.

“That’s the main goal,” he said, “to de­sign up­per level cham­pi­onship cour­ses and be con­sis­tent.”

Nick Granat (left) with his friend Paul O’Shea. Granat has de­signed show-jump­ing cour­ses since he was a child. He is one of a hand­ful of course de­sign­ers for the 2017 Win­ter Eques­trian Fes­ti­val.

Amy Bower Doucette

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