Show jumping: Behind the scenes of the Longines Masters SeriesBy LE PAN staff - January 20, 2017
First there are the magnificent equine beasts – all power and grace. Then there are the riders, some of the greatest horsemen and horsewomen in the world. And, of course, there’s the challenge: to be the best and the fastest over a daunting series of obstacles put in their path by someone the captivated spectators are unlikely to have given a thought to.
For the Longines Masters in Hong Kong, his name is Uliano Vezzani, the official course designer of the second season of the three-leg Longines Masters Series – also known as the Grand Slam Indoor of Show Jumping.
“It’s of primary importance that the horses enjoy jumping,” says the 59-year-old Vezzani, once himself a rider of horses owned by the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti. “It’s about having great respect for the horses.”
A well-designed course has to be fair technically, as well as being able to provide entertainment for the public, he stresses. A designer must consider the time of year and the location, in order to account for the weather and the temperature.
An arena’s floor area could have a bearing on the sharpness of turns. And the ability of the riders – “it’s always the best horses and riders that participate” in the Longines Masters – is ultimately factored in to a course’s degree of difficulty.
The riders themselves also provide valuable feedback and inspiration for course designs. Before each event, they walk the course, getting a feel for the challenge ahead, and a chance to discuss the layout with the designer.
“I really like talking to the riders – we talk about distance, difficulty, course measurements, the jump-offs, different experiences,” says the Italian, who has built up respect within the industry since entering course design 20 years ago.
One of the riders walking Vezzani’s course in Hong Kong – as he did at the Longines Masters of Paris in December – is Grégory Wathelet. The Belgian equestrian won the Olympic-class, finale event, the Longines Grand Prix, in Paris. He will claim a Grand Slam Bonus of one million euros if he triumphs at the Grand Prix in Hong Kong and at the Longines Masters of Los Angeles later this year.
“I am very excited to come to Hong Kong,” says Wathelet. “I secretly dream of making it a double, but I know that it’s going to be very difficult – the best riders are going to be there. I’m hoping to get lucky on the weekend of the competition – especially for the Longines Grand Prix.”
Next month’s three-day Longines Masters of Hong Kong will be its fifth edition, as well as the third and final leg of the Longines Masters Series. Each Masters season begins in Los Angeles, visits Paris and concludes in Hong Kong.
Another feature event of the series is the Longines Speed Challenge, in which fences are set at just 1.45 metres high and only attract two-second time penalties if knocked down, instead of the usual four. It’s all designed for speed, and requires perfect timing and infinite precision – a challenge for the horses, their riders and the course designer.
How do the Longines Masters Series courses rank among all Vezzani’s creations? “It’s difficult to say which course is the most memorable,” he says. “I love my job, and all the shows have a story of their own, and bring me big emotions.
“I’m certainly proud of building so many top courses, regardless of where they are. I suppose my favourite course to build is always the one to come.”
The Longines Masters of Hong Kong will be held from 10-12 February, 2017 at AsiaWorld-Expo
Longines Masters of Hong Kong, by numbers
Number of times rider Grégory Wathelet has been to Hong Kong. This year, he has changed his schedule around to make it to the final leg of the Longines Masters series. “The dates for Hong Kong tend to coincide with when I’m preparing my young horses in Europe, but this year I’m giving that a miss so I can come to Hong Kong,” he says.
Michelin stars carried by chef Yves Mattagne, who is leading the kitchen at the Longines Masters of Hong Kong’s VIP Masters Club.
The penalty, in seconds, that usually result from knocking down a fence. In the Longines Speed Challenge, however, this is reduced to two seconds.
Number of animals featured in Spanish horseman Santi Serra’s United Minds show, a display of the beauty of horses through obedience and partnership with their human master: three horses, and two dogs. The show features on each of the three days of the Hong Kong event.
Hours each day that Serra trains with his horses.
Approximate number of fences in the Longines Grand Prix.
Height of the fences, in metres, in the Longines Grand Prix.
Prize money, in US dollars, that will be awarded to the Longines Grand Prix winner in Hong Kong.
The Grand Slam Bonus prize money, in euros, for the rider who wins three consecutive Longines Masters Grands Prix, from one season to another.
The Grand Slam Super Bonus prize money, in euros, for the rider who wins the three Longines Masters Grands Prix in the same season.