Right on course

PABLO FERNANDEZ -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

When the best equestrian riders in the world go for broke in their quest for Olympic gold next year, it will be the course designing expertise of Spruce Meadows' own Leopoldo Palacios that will try them.

Palacios, a Venezuelan national, is one-half of the course-designing team responsible for putting riders through their paces at the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008.

Palacios, along with American Steve Stephens, are undertaking the prestigious task of designing the courses, a challenge that's already become an extreme undertaking.

"Designing an Olympic course is different from designing a course like this," said Palacios, during a break from the action at the National, the first of five world-class tournaments being held at Spruce Meadows this summer.

"It's different because you have to design every single obstacle first. And all the obstacles must have a Chinese theme -- that took almost eight months in itself."

The themes may be different and the settings exotic, but, like the work he does at Spruce Meadows, Palacios' focus when designing the Beijing event is still to create an arena that challenges both horse and rider.

The design is effective if it's safe, if the horse enjoys it and if the horse thrives while competing in it, he said.

How Palacios' and Stephens' work stacks up will be tested this August when the newly designed course will be put through the most thorough and taxing of equestrian disciplines -- eventing, which constitutes dressage, cross country and jumping.

For the internationally-renowned resident designer at Spruce Meadows -- who credits the work he's done at the local facility over the last 14 years with giving him the tools with which to reach such professional pinnacle -- working at the Olympics is not a new thing.

Palacios was an equestrian staffer at the Games in Los Angeles, an assistant designer in Barcelona, a designer in Athens and designer in Sydney, making the Beijing Games his fifth performance on the Olympic stage and third time around as designer.

"This is one of the two ultimate aspiration for a designer," said Palacios.

"The first is to do the job well and to get to design the big events, such as the ones here in Spruce Meadows, of which there aren't many.

"The other is to design at the Olympics."

Although the aspirations of designers may be universal, what drives Palacios personally is his service to the equestrian disciplines.

"My primary goal is to work for the sport," he said.

"I love the sport and every time I can do something for the sport, I feel fortunate."


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