What is it that makes a course of jumps really impress a horse, rider, and spectator? Obviously, the height of the jumps and the technical aspect of the course design play a significant role, but the decorations surrounding all those jumps can provide the ‘wow’ factor.

Evie Frisque of Bond Head, ON, is recognized as one of the most accomplished course decorators in the industry and has worked with some of the best course designers in the world. If you attended or watched coverage of the 2015 Pan American Games at the Caledon Equestrian Park in Palgrave, the 2017 World Cup Finals in Omaha, or the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, then you have seen some of Evie’s work.

Evie got her start in course decorating at the Royal in 2006, and credits her success to having the eye of an interior decorator along with her past experience as a rider, FEI Level 1 and EC senior course designer, and EC senior judge. When asked how she decides which decorations to use, Evie explains, “The jump dictates what flowers and plants I use. It is important to enhance the jump and never overwhelm or overtake the beauty of the fence. This is especially true of the new designs we see in modern jumper rings where there are many sponsor jumps with their own unique branding.”

The course decorator’s responsibility is to work closely with the course designer and ring crew to enhance the look of the arena and encourage the viewers’ eyes to follow the horse over the fence. “I always try to lead the viewer’s eye up to the top of the jump, highlighting the horse,” she says. “I use lots of green more than other colour. And I love it when people are surprised that the flowers are artificial and not real.”

In the hunter ring, creating a beautiful visual experience is important, but the flowers and other embellishments can help the horse jump in good form. “I love lots of greenery and trees, especially in derby courses – natural elements such as rocks, wood stumps, ferns and brush. I do add colour to the hunter boxes, but always mixed with green.” Flowers can also create a bit of a “spook factor” that can help the judge sort out the final placings.

Evie works with a crew of 10, two tractors and three big wagons to expedite the fast builds and tear-outs necessary to keep a show on schedule. “The indoor cross-country is our biggest build, with the derby being the second biggest,” she says.

Royal Winter Fair-goers may remember the lavish (and expensive) Wednesday World Cup ‘Flower Nights’ of the past. “That build took half a day!” says Evie. “We now decorate the ring in 5-15 minutes, depending on the class. In those days, too, the ring had minimal décor on normal day builds.”

If you are considering a course decorating career, Evie advises that you need to have lots of energy, patience, and a sense of humour. The days are long; you need to be on-site early to check that all fences are ready, on hand to adjust for changes during the day, and are usually the last to leave. It is also very helpful to have an equestrian background and ringwork experience.

When setting a course of practice jumps at home, Evie encourages people to use flowers that are durable (whether real or artificial) and place them in pots and boxes that are stable and not easily blown over. Use more green plants than coloured flowers, especially in hunter lines, and try to recreate what you have seen and liked in the show ring.

Building an inventory of plants and artificial flowers will take time and money. For smaller jobs, places such as Walmart, Michaels, and dollar stores can be a good source, but because Evie purchases such large quantities, those outlets usually don’t have sufficient inventory. Some people buy online, but Evie prefers to actually see the plants and check for quality and durability at a number of trusted wholesale suppliers.

Evie’s parting words of advice are to “Remember that photos are usually taken from the side or back [landing side] of a fence, so don’t put all your décor in the front where only the rider will get the benefit. Most of all, enjoy the adventure of creating beauty in the ring.”