Interview: Giuseppe della Chiesa

The course designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa

The course designer Giuseppe Della Chiesa - Credit: Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials

Former top Italian event rider Giuseppe della Chiesa once dreamt of competing at Badminton Horse Trials, but instead finds himself designing the course at this iconic event

Giuseppe Della Chiesa at the Gatehouse New Pond - a fence introduced in 2014

Giuseppe Della Chiesa at the Gatehouse New Pond - a fence introduced in 2014 - Credit: Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials

Synonymous with the exciting equestrian sport of eventing, the cross-country course at Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is one of the sport’s toughest, and is famous the world over. Thousands of spectators come in anticipation of watching the thrills and, more often than not, spills of cross-country day.

The Gloucestershire three-day event is an international four star (the sport’s highest level of which there are just six in the world), and is one that all event riders, young or old, amateur or professional, want to ride round – and ride round clear. It asks questions and tests the nerves of our very best horses and riders.

“I always feel a great responsibility to the horse in this job,” says course designer Giuseppe della Chiesa. “You must be fair to the horses, and try to see things from their point of view.”

Being asked to design the course here three years ago was, he says, a career highlight.

“When Hugh [Hugh Thomas, the horse trial’s director] asked me to design the course I said ‘are you sure you want me?’ It was a great honour as for any designer it is a dream to design at Badminton. If you talk to anyone about eventing, they say Badminton. It’s a great challenge. You have the eyes of everyone on you; the riders, the sport, the media and the public.”

It is his job to separate the wheat from the chaff, or rather allow the cream of the sport to rise to the top, and reward the brave and skilled.

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“The competitors coming here expect Badminton. It is always easier to make it a bit softer, and you feel much better the night before, but that is not what I have been asked to do. My job is to separate the best from the rest,” he says.

“The course is a package, a story; it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is how the fences all relate to each other that gives you the level of the course. I design a four-star course for the biggest event in the world, and then it is up to the riders to jump it.”

Giuseppe with the option fence into the Gatehouse New Pond

Giuseppe with the option fence into the Gatehouse New Pond - Credit: Kit Houghton/Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials

And he sees his role as one of innovationist rather than revolutionist; respecting the history and the famous fences and landmarks, such as the Lake and infamous Vicarage V, but also not letting Badminton stand still. In his first year (2014) he introduced a new water complex, the pond in a fresh area of the estate, which caused a few duckings – something that’s always entertaining for the crowds.

“There are always surprises planned,” he says with a smile. “I always say I want to try to make innovation with no revolution; the challenge is to respect the tradition but find something to add, yet keep it in line.”

The design process starts post-event with a look at what the track will comprise of the following year and decide what is possible, before fences are finally designed and placed.

“On cross-country day you hope everything goes well, but this is a high risk sport and that is something that is always there,” he says. “On the one hand you have the best horses and riders in the world, but on the other you are pushing the barriers. The risk is there. We should accept it and live with it. It is about risk-management not safety. If you want to be safe do not ride a horse across country.

This is something he feels hugely passionate about and something he has been keen to portray. Riders need to know the risk.

“It is important to have the right philosophy about the sport. We all work to minimise the risk but we can’t have zero risk. The more respect you have for the risk, the less risk you have. You move at full speed over fixed fences on a horse and something might go wrong.”

Badminton holds something very special for Giuseppe. Born into a horsey family he became one of Italy’s best event riders, representing the country at international level and becoming the national champion, yet despite this he never managed to compete at Badminton.

“I tried to do Badminton but I didn’t manage it. I was entered, but my horse pecked on landing at a water jump and cut his knees two weeks before.”

So for Giuseppe designing Badminton is as though his life has come full circle.

“It’s a dream of every rider to get to Badminton and, although I didn’t get here as a rider, I am very happy I got here as a designer,” he says. “I did it somehow. I love the place; It’s like a family to me.”

The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials runs May 4-8, and cross-country day is on Saturday, May 7. For more information visit