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Gregory Bodo: “My work is a real vocation, a passion and a great pleasure for me"

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Photo (c) private collection “To build a course where all levels of horses and riders can compete – and arrive with a result with no danger to horse or rider," Gregory Bodo says when describing the biggest challenge of his job. Photo (c) private collection.

“My work is a real vocation, a passion and a great pleasure for me,” course designer Gregory Bodo says as he talks to World of Showjumping.

Bodo has been a course designer for 22 years. He started when he was 15-years-old, and three years later he was named regional course designer. “I was interested in the artistic side, the love of the horse and the good sport,” he continues to explain about where his curiosity towards course building came from. Bodo has a riding background himself, having started to ride at the age of seven. He continued competing actively until junior level. “I was a good amateur rider, but riding was primarily a pleasure for me and not a job,” he says. “For the past 15 years I haven’t had the time to ride, as course designing has taken up all my hours.” 

The 40-year-old lives in the small town of Petite Rosselle in France, near the German border and has been an international Level 3 course designer since 2012. 

When it comes to the philosophy behind his designs, Bodo would like to think of himself as a modern course designer: Horse welfare and respect for the horses are at the centre of his work. “I like to build courses with the welfare of the horse in mind; there should not be too big efforts. I try to focus on creating subtle courses, where they might obtain a few lights faults,” he tells.

The Longines FEI World Cup in Lyon last winter was Bodo’s debut on five-star level and his work was praised by the riders and the organizers of the event. “It was a very big challenge for me, because Lyon is a fantastic show in the show jumping world,” Bodo recalls. “In addition, I was appointment as Frank Rothenberger’s successor – who in my opinion is one of the best course designers in the world. On top, a French course designer had not built a World Cup in France for a long time,” he explains. “Of course, I had a lot of pressure but I tried to be myself. It was a beautiful show with very good sport.” 

What Bodo enjoys the most about his job is how traveling the world allows him to widen his view. “Meeting new people all over the world and experiencing different cultures,” he quickly answers when we ask about his favourite part of the job. “I love to be in different venues and have the opportunity to develop the artistic side of my work.”

As the sport of show jumping is evolving with a very rapid speed, we wonder what Bodo thinks about the recent development – and in which direction he would like to see the sport go? “Show jumping has changed a lot. Riders are better, they have more dressage knowledge and we have many top riders. I would like to see the evolution of course designing. For me, I like to build courses with the forward movement of the horse in mind – I try to appreciate the natural side of the horse and not the fabricated, artificial side.” 

Photo (c) private collection “It is always important to have fresh ideas and feelings in course designing,” Bodo says. Photo (c) private collection.

About the biggest challenge of the job, Bodo answers: “To build a course where all levels of horses and riders can compete – and arrive with a result with no danger to horse or rider.”

“Of course, I would like to do more five star shows,” Bodo continues. “I think about five per year would be great. I also very much appreciate to be invited to build at two, three and four-star level; this enables me to see the talent of horses and riders coming into the top sport.”

With only a few very established names on the five-star level, it is interesting to see fresh names pop up and Bodo agrees this is in everyone’s favour. “It is always important to have fresh ideas and feelings in course designing,” he says. “To allow horses and riders to meet new and different challenges. This in my opinion, is good for the sport.”

Getting opportunities to work on a higher level, first as an assistant to another course designer, has taught Bodo a lot. “It is invaluable to work with top course designers. Without the knowledge you soak up from them, you will never reach top level yourself. Also riders and the organizing committees will see you and recognize who you are. When your work is recognized, the door is always open to enter top shows as chief course designer and not only as an assistant.”

With so many good horses and riders, a large number of combinations going through to the jump-off in the big classes is no longer unusual. What does the French course designer think is an ideal number, we wonder? “You know, this kind of question is difficult. Even if ideally a maximum of 25 % should be qualified for a jump-off, I think that the question of a number is not important – it depends if it’s a qualification competition for the Grand Prix or the Grand Prix itself. A course can be very interesting even with only a few riders qualified for the jump-off.” 

“We must provide entertainment,” Bodo says when we discuss the responsibility a course designer has towards the audience. “I feel that my role as a course designer is very important for the success of the show. I try to produce fair sport which is also entertaining.” 

In the recent years we have seen show jumping taking over one breath-taking venue after another – but which would be Bodo’s favourite to build at? “There are many places I like to build at. I think it is important to vary the venues. I enjoy arenas with interesting dimensions and landscapes. Arenas which are a little out of the ordinary.” 

And the dream event? “I will not lie to you –  I would dream to build at Olympic Games,” he smiles. 


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen

Photos © from private collection

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