A chat with Giuseppe Della Chiesa

07. Sep 2022 / Category: News

Interview by Susanna Cottica

Giuseppe Della Chiesa is the Sports Manager for the FEI World Championships 2022 Eventing and Driving, an event for which he is also the cross-country course designer. An extremely experienced rider, an extraordinary horseman with a great passion, also thanks to family tradition in equestrian sports, Giuseppe Della Chiesa plays an important role in the global eventing community. Show Director for both eventing and driving at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Rome (1998), FEI technical delegate and course designer since 2002 – including three editions of Badminton Horse Trials (2014-2016) and Senior European Championships held at the Pratoni del Vivaro (2007) – a member of the Bureau FEI and Chairman of the Eventing Committee (2010-2017), Della Chiesa had an important career in racing (gentleman rider on the flat and in steeplechasing with 75 wins), in eventing (Italian champion and reserve rider for the Italian Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games) as well as in show jumping, a discipline in which he still competes.

Mr. Della Chiesa, what are the considerations for building a course in a place such as the Pratoni del Vivaro where the ground is quite hilly compared to other flatter areas?

‘Hilliness affects the horses’ performance, and riders competing over a cross-country course as hilly as that at the Pratoni must fundamentally be far more careful and more sensitive in asking a horse to make an effort since there is already an additional intrinsic strain posed by the ground. This applies nowadays even more than in the past because many facilities hosting 3-day events are situated on flat ground, so horses and riders are less accustomed to galloping on hilly ground. What I have tried to do in designing the cross—country course for these world championships has been to put the hills at the beginning of the course trying have the second part of the test, let us say the last one third of the course, practically on the flat so as to try and help the horses that might be a little tired’.


Compared to the championships held in Rome in 1998, these World Championships at the Pratoni reflect two momentous changes in eventing: the new rules approved in 2004 abolishing the steeplechase as well as the roads and tracks stages and then also the addition of mobile and frangible technology for cross-country jumps. How has all this changed the building of courses of this importance?

‘One could say that everything has changed really in the sense that the absence of the steeplechase and roads and tracks has in a way enormously simplified matters, because in the past the course designer had to also deal with finding a suitable place for the steeplechase, build it and also find room for the roads and tracks etc. Nowadays we have totally forgotten all that, so one only has to worry about creating a more or less suitable warm-up arena and then they are off for the cross—country test, so from an organisational point of view cross-country day has certainly become much easier.

Mobile, moveable jumps have resulted in a huge revolution because previously one had to have a clear idea of a jump in one’s mind, truly visualising it and then go to build it, hoping that it would really turn out as one had imagined. Nowadays one can position these moveable jumps, change their position, adjust them, change things, move them a little to one side or another. This means that it is certainly far easier and far more similar to show jumping as far as the job to be done is concerned. The ground of course does affect things; to be honest, in these Championships too I have tried to keep a certain number of fixed traditional jumps just as one did in the past, because I believe that they too are part of the history and tradition of a place such as the Pratoni’.


When did you begin to think about this course? How did it develop in your mind and then take shape?

‘Well, what is certain is that compared to 1998 the absence of the steeplechase at Pratoni has changed things. So no longer having to build it means that there is an enormous area now available that can be used for the cross-country course. Therefore, there is a vast area available while the courses are shorter than they used to be, say ten minutes compared to the 13 minutes of the past when one even had to cross the road to use the entire area available.

All that is now no longer necessary, so the idea was to try and build a course that is far more compact, better suited to television, more spectator-friendly because now we have room to do all that. Since the distance is shorter there was no need to go too far, so the idea was to try and concentrate the course a bit making it easier to film and more fun for spectators.


Using the MIM Clip System to protect horses and riders has changed the building of cross-country courses. What has your strategy been in using frangible technology?

‘Jumps built using frangible technology involve all techniques that have been developed to ensure that safety mechanisms are applied on certain kinds of jumps capable of limiting damage done to horses and riders should the horse hit it excessively hard.

Let us begin by saying that as far as course builders are concerned, and those with a real passion since they have spent a lifetime with horses, it is the horses that are most important and one must always think of them. In fact, perhaps, as is known, we worry a great deal more about the horses than the riders, but that is the right thing to do because at the end of the day horses only make choices to a certain degree, while the rider instead decides, so it is always the horse that comes first.

So what happens? There is always a risk when a horse is moving at high speed over hilly ground jumping over obstacles of which some are fixed and others have safety mechanisms – and in any case those with pins are not the same as show jumps – so the idea is to always try and limit the risks run. Risks should be limited to the extent that this is possible while maintaining a sporting performance depending on the level of the competition. This is always very difficult because on the one hand the course must be built at world championship level while, on the other, one would like everyone to go home happy.

That is why I have my own parameters. I believe that horses must always be able to fully understand what is asked of them; so the most important concept is that the jumps must be clear, well-outlined and that the horses must be able to understand what is expected of them. There must be no deception. One must pay attention to every single detail, to the light, the colours… everything must be clear to the horses. That is my job. Then of course the training undertaken by the riders is decisive and not the same for all of them.

I have used the frangible technology a great deal and there are many jumps with the MIM Clip System on the course, more than I had envisaged at the beginning and I believe it is right to use it for the welfare of both riders and horses. These are jumps that when activated mean additional penalties as they should, but the consequences and risks are limited.

I wish to emphasise that the priority is to build jumps that are understandable for the horses, while building a course that is suited to the level of the competition. In a World Championship one expects to see riders and horses that are ready for that’.


The level of expertise is never the same in all the different countries…

‘I have no problem in saying that this is the most serious problem and one that can keep you awake at night. One must build a course fit for an infinite variety of levels of experience and capability. One needs a clear awareness that the course must be built for 97 starters, each with a different background, different experience and a different CV. Some have jumped in 5* events but others are seeing a course at this level for the very first time in their lives here at the Pratoni del Vivaro.  It is my job to build a course for both kinds of riders.

It is at this point that the alternative routes come into play. In building this course I have tried to make it accessible to everyone by using alternatives. Thanks to these alternative routes, depending on their level of experience, everyone will be able to find a path to the finishing line. Logically those choosing the longer routes will not be expecting to win a medal, but the idea is to have many choices, many different possibilities, in the hope that everyone will then make the right choices according to their capabilities’.


There are only a few days to go now. Is everything ready at Pratoni?

‘The cross-country course is almost finished. The jumps are all out there and are now being fixed and secured, then we will add the decorations and embellishments, but everything is now ready. A technical delegate visited just a few days ago and we checked everything. We are both happy with and in agreement about everything built and are now looking forward to the arrival of the horses’.


The Pratoni del Vivaro is a magical place…

‘Yes, Pratoni is a magnificent place. One of the main reasons for which I have worked so hard on this event is that I believe it is right that a place that used to host the 1960 Olympics, but then underwent a number of changes of various kinds, has ultimately always lived up to expectations, proving it is up to the task of hosting a World Championship and deserves this honour. It is also admirable that the Italian Federation has been so committed to returning it to its full, unique potential’.


So at the end of the day, this is a sort of championship of the heart?

‘Yes, it certainly is. I mean there is a great deal of passion in all this and also gratitude felt for this place where we have all ridden and where so many eventing champions have competed…’.


Interview by Susanna Cottica