By Diana Dobson

BNZ Kihikihi International Horse Trial designer John Nicholson has been round the world and back again since the 2013 event. He’s dropped in on South Africa, Canada, Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Western Australia and even Badminton in the past 12 months.

As one of the world’s top-ranked course builders, he is sent on many of these missions by the FEI who like to see budding designers in countries not usually exposed to top-flight events, given the opportunity to improve their skills. “They want me to try and teach others – I can hardly speak their languages sometimes, but they tell the FEI I have taught them things and when you hear that, you feel good.”

But he is also asked to build at events in far-flung corners of the globe. Nicholson is known for his safe courses, but they aren’t your standard issue. “I like to push the envelope, but you have to be safe at the same time,” he says. “I have seen countries and places I never thought I would go . . . that’s got to be good!”

And while Badminton designer Hugh Thomas may have taken some stick for his course, Nicholson says Thomas was in a no-win situation. “He had all the best horses and riders in the world there for the first time, so whatever course he built was going to be either too easy or have big accidents,” said Nicholson. “It may have been a bit harder, but he got a result. The competition didn’t finish until the last horse in the showjumping, and that is just what you want. “At the end of the day, everyone wants his job. There is a lot of heel-snapping at the top, so who knows what the future will hold.”

Nicholson is still dairy farming at home – in between planning his next Kihikihi course – but he says having hugely supportive wife Karen, as well as daughter Sam and son-in-law Justin ensures everything continues to tick along while he is away.

This year he’s promising some new fences at Kihikihi, but just which grades will depend on the entries. “You can only build to the standard of the horses jumping them,” he says. And at his favourite course, those jumps are more likely to considered pieces of art than anything else.

Date Added: Wednesday, 29th January 2014