Sunday, 28 August 2011

Now the nerves begin to jangle...

We have just had the 2nd Horse Inspection and I am pleased to report that all three of our horses passed safely.

Piggy French, Tracie Robinson and Jakata at the trot up

Yes, all three......not all 5....... Not the best day we have had at the office yesterday but we are still in Team Silver and William is in 6th, 6.7 penalties off a medal.

So back to yesterday: Friday night and the weather gods unleashed hell.....rain, lightning and thunder: The Main Arena, trade stands and stables flooded (but not the GBR stables thanks to Brendan Murray spending Friday digging for victory – his Army training in trench digging came in handy). The German fire brigade spent a number of hours pumping water from where it should not be to where it could be. Saturday dawned....and the rain kept falling. I can report that the Toggi waterproof jackets....are definitely waterproof!

Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz....sublime...inside the time; job done. Watching the first rotation of Team riders we thought that it would be a bit of a race against the clock – the course did cause trouble as the day progressed with a number of falls and a few run-outs (were people riding hard to get the time as it was clear that that was what was needed?????).

Piggy had a great ride – she just struggled a little to keep up the pace but completed with a solid round; clear and 6 time faults. Unfortunately for Laura Collett, Rayef was not really “on form” and she was having to work hard from the very beginning of the course: This was very uncharacteristic for this horse who has been so reliable across the country: Refusals are not normally in Rayef’s vocabulary but yesterday was not a vintage day and Laura did not complete. A full work up will be done on the horse to check he is ok.

Then William! Wow.......comments were going around such as; as “balls of steel”, stickability, one of the worlds best. Clear inside the time........and that included a submarine moment at the second water (Cool Mountain head went under the water) and a near disaster at the third last (going the straight route which few had done). This was the ride of a champion and exactly what you need when you are fighting hard for a medal.

So not a great day but the Brits fought and fought hard. We are still in Team Silver and that ain’t bad. For those that thought the Brits were favourites coming in to Luhmühlen, have a look at the German scores – we always knew that it was going to be very, very difficult to beat them and realistically they would have to loose the Team Gold rather than us win it.

The Jumping is about to start and all are saying it is a very difficult track – so there is all to play for......

And Rotterdam??? An exemplary performance by our Jumping Team who jumped off against the Germans in the Nations Cup..... As seems the way this week....the Germans won! But it was a great performance especially from Ben Maher who jumped double clear.

Now the nerves begin to jangle as we build up to the culmination of the Eventing Europeans....

Saturday, 27 August 2011

William Fox-Pitt clear inside the time

Despite two heart stopping moments out on course consummate professional William Fox-Pitt picked up no penalties on the cross country course producing a clear round three seconds inside the time with Cool Mountain to finish on their dressage score of 42.70.
“Just in case you were bored I’d thought I’d keep you all on your toes!” joked William. “He’s so brave, what an amazing horse!  It was nobody’s error [at the Messme teacups] we landed underwater and I don’t know how he stood up again. It seemed like forever but I looked at the clock and we were still on it and he went; somehow we found our second wind and were flying.”
“I had asked Yogi before if he’d let us take the direct route at the Rolex combination and he said yes, with Mary out it was a big risk especially when I got too deep into the corner. I had to say ‘come on mate’ and how genuine was he that he said ‘OK’ – I had no reins and no stirrups, he had every right to run out and he didn’t. I’m very proud that he kept on going so well with lungs half full of water.”
Commenting on Mary he said:
“I think we all mentally rely on Mary. To see the Queen of eventing bite the dust nearly gave me a heart attack so it’s great to hear she’s up on her feet and feeling OK. Having her out of the running does put you under extra pressure but you have to get out there and do your best. It’s no good planning for a safe clear, you have to keep on fighting or suddenly the places start to slip through your fingers. Yogi is wonderful at the psychology and in keeping everybody focussed.”

Piggy storms home with Jakata

Piggy French and Jakata stormed home on their Championship team debut with a clear cross country round, picking up just 6 time penalties for a score of 47.2

"He jumped well and is a class horse so I'm annoyed to be over the time, we don't like time faults! He kept me on my toes with a few larey jumps and got stronger towards the end so is more difficult to pick up for the fences. I could just hear my watch beeping further and further from where I should be. But its clear and for the team that's the most important thing.

"It really means something to be part of a team of such high calibre. I didn't want to be a dud on my first attempt. The course is riding well, it's patchy in places but the ground is good and holding up well so far."

Nicola Wilson and Opposition Buzz; clear inside the time

Nicola Wilson was first out for the British team with cross country specialist Opposition Buzz who was in top gear, flying clear 14 seconds inside the time, one of only two combinations so far to come home on their dressage score.
“Amazing, just a joy!” was Nicola’s reaction. “I felt as if I pressed cruise control; he had his wings on and was class from start to finish! I’m so, so lucky to be able to ride such a special horse. Yogi’s instructions were to get up on time and then take the long route through the Rolex turn. It goes against my grain to take a long route anywhere but it’s a dream to ride for the team and under no circumstances would I go against orders!"
"I have a fantastic support team out here, the grooms have done an amazing job and the horses and the stables are in first class shape despite the weather. There are a lot of British supporters out on the course too, it's amazing, the cheering as you come though sends shivers down your spine.”

Hats off to the Germans... but today is another day!

Mary’s test was very good and her score of 38.80 is a personal best for that horse – what more can you ask for? William came in on Cool Mountain and was definitely all guns blazing. He was clearly going for it, scoring eights from the beginning but unfortunately a slight mistake in the medium trot and the reinback was costly but they still scored 42.70, equalling their score from Lexington at the World Equestrian Games.
Mary King & Imperial Cavalier
It’s absolutely what we’d expect of our fourth team rider who came out and gave it everything and still landed a good score. We knew all along that the Germans would be the ones to beat after dressage. Hats off to them, they did a great job and broke the record for a championship score after dressage and the magic 100 barrier for 98.70.
So, cross country day dawns; it’s been pouring rain all night and is still raining on and off... this will add another dimension not least because the water jumps are all slightly fuller...

Friday, 26 August 2011

Mary King gets a settled test out of Imperial Cavalier

Mary King & Imperial Cavalier
Mary King rode a smooth, consistent test with the sensitive Imperial Cavalier to score 38.80, putting them in seventh place individually at the end of the third dressage rotation. She produced a fault free round with the Irish Sport horse owned by Miss Janette Chinn and Mr & Mrs Edwin Davies scoring nine’s for his final halt.
“Thank goodness the test wasn’t yesterday!” said Mary “Today Archie got control of his nerves, he was very bright but much more relaxed; at WEG he was uncontrollable; better in Badminton and now finally seems to be beginning to settle. There’s quite an atmosphere in there and the wind has picked up but I was pleased he let me ride him. I’m really thrilled.”
Commenting on the cross country Mary said: “It’s quite twisty but a very jumpable track with the most difficult combination near the end. That’s the one real test on the course and I think Mark Phillips has almost made the long route too short; anyone up on time will of course be looking to take the safer option. Archie is a good cross country horse so as long as I do my job properly it’s within his capabilities, I’m looking forward to it!”

Day two of dressage in Luhmuhlen

Great debut: Laura Collett & Rayef
They say bad things happen in threes....... we have had our three:

            1.         A sartorial malfunction during the first Horse Inspection

            2.         A geographical navigational error during the first dressage test

And 3......Well 3 is the very sad news that Polly Stockton has had to withdraw Regulus.  When Polly rode out this morning she reported that the horses did not quite feel 100%; following discussions with the Team staff the decision was made to withdraw the horse.  Not an easy decision but the right decision for the welfare of the horse.

Polly was due to be first in to the dressage today so it was not the perfect start to the day but as I repeat....bad things happen in threes and we have had our three.  Ireland put in a sub 50 score with Camilla Spiers and then shortly afterwards Frank Ostholt (GER) entered the Field of Play (or is it the Field of Dreams):  Frank is married to Sara Algotsson-Ostholt (SWE, and lying overnight in 2nd on 36 penalties).  Frank produced a blinder, dancing in to 1st place, scoring 34.00  - the Germans went Ostholt mad and waived their flags yipping and yapping in delight.  Meanwhile our little pocket battleship – newly launched at senior championships – warmed up under the tutelage of her long time mentor Yogi Breisner and dancing choreographer supremo, Tracie Robinson.  Laura Collett – Young Rider and Junior Champion  and first year at seniors.....follows the new leader, a German, in to the dressage arena ....... in Germany; I think that can be the definition of pressure.....

This young lady might not be very good at retaining keys and seems to spend many hours with the hair straighteners (please forgive the lack of technical knowledge of ladies’ coiffeur) but this is one cool customer on a horse.  Throughout the Test she matched Frank stride for stride 8 or 9 for 8 or 9........but for one mistake she would have been neck and neck with him at the last halt but in to second she went on 35.40.  Charlotte Dujardin in Rotterdam, Laura Collett in Luhmühlen – great debuts. 

Back to last night.  The Organising Committee had laid on a get together.  Unfortunately, we had also arranged a buffet for all the Team GBR riders / staff / owners at our hotel (Hotel Sellhorn, Hanstedt).  Having spoken to the Organiser, Mandy Stibbe, Bridget Parker, Allan With and myself represented Team GBR at the Reception leaving the remainder to enjoy the buffet at the Sellhorn – as we left we could see that this was going to be a mouth watering feast (it was being laid out as we departed).  The Reception was great fun and followed the normal procedure of drinks and then speeches.  But then a slight change:  At the Opening Ceremony, all the riders signed a plastic, painted horse and this horse was auctioned at the Reception.....for charity.  What was the charity you ask.......... the equivalent of GBR’s UK Sport; yes the charity was the German sporting (all sports) elite funding agency.  Is it all falling in to’ve got it.....we are having our butts kicked in the Dressage arena and now they want us to help fund their funding agency!!!  We made it back to the Sellhorn to catch the end of our buffet – it was clear all had had a great time; the hotel is really looking after us well!

I keep reading that we are here to defend our title and to try to win the 8th or is it 9th Europeans in succession.  I do not see it that way.  We are here to try and produce the very best performance each rider / horse can produce in each of the three phases (accepted....there can be tactics on the cross country course with “long routes”).  If we win having done that then great....if we do not then we need to keep working to get better.  We know the Germans will be ahead of us after Dressage (major surprises apart) but eventing is not just about dressage.....

So now we await Mark King and William Fox-Pitt.......

Meanwhile back in Rotterdam the Jumping Team get ready to contest the last round of the FEI  Nations Cup:  GBR are safe from relegation, DEN are already relegated.....the battle to avoid the second relegation slot is between USA / BEL / FRA – nerves will be tested and the result will be very interesting....

Laura Collett makes her senior championship debut in style

Laura Collett & Rayef

Cantering down the centre line at her first senior championships GB’s Laura Collett, riding Mr Jason Houghton’s 12 year old gelding Rayef, proved she can more than hold her own. The 21 year old rode a polished test for 35.4 to go into joint second place in the dressage, scoring 9’s for her trot work.
“He was such a good boy, I’m so chuffed with him” said Laura. “He’s been quiet all week as there’s not much atmosphere elsewhere but he got quite bright going into the arena. As soon as we went in he knuckled down though and is becoming a real performer as he gets used to these bigger occasions. Apart from one mistake in his final change he was faultless; this test is definitely up there with his best.”
Commenting on tomorrow’s cross country to come Laura said: “There are a lot of places where you could have a silly blip - the combination at the end could be very testing on a tired horse. It’s very wooded which will make the timing difficult to judge – you always think you’re going faster when you’re galloping through trees. I’m looking forward to it though and hoping the course will suit him - there are some big bold fences that he should respect, I’m lucky to be going later so I can see how it rides.”

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A confident test from Piggy French fr 40.40

Piggy French & Jakata

Riding the 13 year old bay gelding Jakata owned by her father Wally French and Michael Underwood, Piggy French posted a score of 40.40 in the dressage to go into third place. The pair rode a confident test with Piggy inching every mark out of Jakata who was lit up by the atmosphere in the main arena, scoring 9’s for their extended canter work.
“He was hot in there! The occasion got to him slightly which makes him a bit tighter and stronger to ride and little mistakes creep in; he’s a horse who needs to be relaxed to give his best work”  commented Piggy. “40 is still a really good score though and I’m really pleased but I’m sure if he’d stayed relaxed you could have taken another five points off that. He has an amazing walk but in his test just wanted to gawp at the crowd; it wasn’t his absolute best.”
Commenting on the cross country course Piggy said: “It’s a nice course and probably trickier than it looks in parts. There are plenty of places to go wrong, you’ll have to stay awake all the way through but it’s a good course that asks enough questions. It’ll be interesting to see what the time [10:05mins] is like.”

More dressage, this time of the eventing kind...

Peter Murphy, Will Connell and Tina Cook appraise the dressage
Different country, different discipline, same aim.  I left Rotterdam on Sunday evening following another day of memorable Team GBR dressage performances.  There are not suitable words within the English language to describe Carl’s Silver in the Freestyle and with Laura finishing just outside the medals and Charlotte delivering another memorable (for many different reasons) performance it was the perfect end to the perfect week.

So back to leaving Rotterdam on Sunday evening; I have a pathological dislike of traffic jams and thought that if I left Rotterdam on the Sunday evening I could avoid the inevitable Monday morning traffic problems.  It took just under 1km on the motorway before I hit almost stationery traffic; the slip road from one motorway to the one I needed to get on to to head West was closed due to an accident; bugger, bugger, bugger.  This delayed me by some 20 minutes but the rest of the journey was ok....when I say ok I can report that a Land Rover Discovery can go pretty damn fast.  As I headed north from Hannover I did come face to face with lightening, thunder and very heavy rain; again the Land Rover proved its worth as we stormed up the outside lane feeling very secure in the wet conditions.

The FEI European Eventing Championships are underway.  Luhmühlen has seen great improvements to the cross country going and especially the main arena and warm up arenas which are now all weather.  I am sure the Organising Committee here were very relieved that the investment they made as, by all accounts, the weather during the build up to the event has been atrocious.  There are still a couple of patches on the cross country that are a little wet but generally the going is good.

The rain did cause me to become Mr Unpopular........  On two of our stables the rain had collected on the roof in a large reservoir (I would guess about 80 litres above each stable).  Now, without going in to detail, if we had just pushed the water off the top of the stables it would have run back under the sides of the stables and flooded them:  So being a resourceful sort of chap Andy Thomas and I set about digging drainage channels away from the stables and also piling earth up at the bottom of the stables.  This did not go down well with the Stable Managers; apparently the ground has been “prepared” and digging holes was not allowed:  Oops.  Anyway the drainage channels worked for one of the reservoirs and then we resorted to siphoning the water into our Water Boy (a portable water tank with a sprayer that we use for cooling or washing off horses.......also ideal for watering gardens by all accounts!!).

2 horses arrived on Monday evening and the remaining 4 on Tuesday; most of the staff arrived Monday with the remainder pulling in yesterday.  There does seem to have been very big differences in the Calais – Luhmühlen travel times.....I’m hunting out the truth as my Sherlock Holmes instinct tells me there have been some navigational embarrassments........

We all walked the cross country yesterday.....“only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” and it was very hot and very sweaty work.  It is not for me to speculate on the difficulty of the course (designed by Mark Phillips and built by David Evans – a very British affair..).  I certainly am not going to commit to what might or might not happen on Saturday:  We have seen many of the fences before in different positions and with different lines and distances.  What is certain is that last minute of the 10 minute course will require the riders to remain very focussed and ensure they still have petrol in the tank; the Europeans are 3* level....the last minute of the course would be 4*.

Dressage is underway and the Germans are dancing well.  Nicola Wilson did a great job albeit with a little woopsee moment (the Satellite Navigation had a glitch....).  Eventing is about the long game and there is still a long way to go.  There is no doubt that the Germans are very focused on winning on home turf but it is most certainly not over yet..... 

Nicola Wilson first to ride for the Brits

Nicola Wilson & Opposition Buzz
British team pathfinder Nicola Wilson and the 14 year old Opposition Buzz owned by Rosemary Search scored 52.70 in the dressage to put them in third place after the first section of the team competition. They presented a good test only marred by an error of course incurred by forgetting to reinback after the halt at A. Despite this Nicola recovered her poise to ride a soft, consistent test on the Trakehner gelding by Fleetwater Opposition.
“I had absolutely no idea before they rang the bell, I’m devastated with myself” said Nicola, “a serious blonde moment! I couldn’t be more delighted with him though - his test was as good as it could have been.  He stood still in his halts, I was pleased with the canter work too - he was lovely and stayed rideable through the whole test.”
Commenting on the cross country course Nicola said: “There’s plenty to jump, it’s an intense course and keeps up right through to the end but I’m looking forward to it. Saturday will be a different day, let’s hope I’ve had my brain blip!”

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Charlotte keeps a cool head for her first GP Freestyle

“He was great, I was terrible; what a disaster!” declared Charlotte, yet the 26 perfectionist still rode home for a whopping 79.357% with the nine year old Valegro in spite of her misgivings. Performing their first every grand prix freestyle together the pair showed off their fabulous extended trot work and piaffe to music produced only a week ago by composer Tom Hunt.

“I was so nervous, my legs were like jelly; I just didn’t know what I was doing. I was waiting for the pirouette music that never came and realised I’d lost my way. I had to think ‘right, let’s get on with it’ and make it up. It’s so annoying because he felt so good, I’m very very happy with him but can’t help thinking how good it could have been. I definitely won’t make that mistake again!”

“This whole experience has been amazing though, the show and the judging; everything has been fantastic. I’m so lucky to ride such a special horse and the judges seem to love him. Next year he’ll be stronger and we’ll really be ready to rock and roll.”

Joanne reigns in France

Joanne Eccles today defended her Senior Female Individual European title at the European Championships in Le Mans, France. The closely fought competition saw Joanne take Gold, ahead of her German rival, Sarah Kay by just 0.02, finishing on a score of 8.553.

Joanne commented on the result; "It was really good in there. It was a pretty much almost perfect test and was really hard to judge what the score would be at the end. It’s been a tough few days but I’m absolutely ecstatic with the result. In 2009 it was amazing to win my first Championship medal but this time it almost means more as I’ve had to fight so hard for it".

A war of attrition in Rotterdam

F1 were in town yesterday (and today) with all the associated razzmatazz and horse power. But the truly great horsepower was here at the FEI European Dressage Championships... and again many of the stars had Union flags on their Nuumed numnahs.
The grand prix special was a war of attrition with all the top combinations making mistakes but the quality of the work that surrounded those small mistakes was truly sublime. Who would have expected the eventual gold medallist to have a navigational embarrassment... a chav nav failure. Yup, Adelinde took the wrong course!
Perhaps what is shocking for me is how quickly we have moved from ‘aiming for the medal zone’ to a position within the ‘camp’ that we will win medals... a sort of quiet confidence. When I sat down with UK Sport last year to agree medal targets it was beyond my wildest dreams that we would win two individual medals in the Special and that a lady who had not competed in the Special before this year would end up sixth.
Carl Hester and Uthopia scored a PB of 81.682% to finish in silver medal position. Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris scored 79.256% to take bronze. Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro scored 76.548% for sixth. Emile Faurie and Elmegardens Marquis scored 68.557% to finish in 21st.
Again what is pleasing is that if the team medal had decided on the combination of the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special (as it will be in 2012) then GBR would still have won gold.
Today is dancing to music day; the Freestyle. Carl is being very secretive regarding his music but I detect a degree of excitement when Carl talks about the composition. But this is asking a lot of Uthopia – only a young horse and he has already performed beyond expectation in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special. By next year he will be mentally and physically stronger and better able to cope with three competitions in a week.
Laura has had to fight for everything this week and will want to end on a high note. She has again proved her standing on the world stage.
Emile has a horse described by the  commentators as “super talented but not always easy” – he came here to produce a result in the grand prix and did just that...
As for Charlotte Dujardin... rarely in sport do you see a young athlete arrive on the international scene with such an explosion of talent and success. Yesterday was only her eighth time she had ridden the GPS in competition. I am sure she will have ups and downs over the coming 12 months but I think I can best sum it up by!
So, memories of Rotterdam? Extraordinary results that crank the pressure and expectation up for 2012. A very good dinner where one of culinary experts (self proclaimed) asked “so what is this cheese?” .... “Cheese of sheep’s droppings replied an immaculate waiter.
Sorry to report a divorce between farrier and vet.... the farrier left the vet working in the stables and returned to the hotel. We used our conflict resolution skills and they kissed and made up over dinner.
This has also been a ‘staff training exercise’. What do I mean by that? Well not only do the riders and horses have to prepare for 2012 but so do the staff that will be in London and supporting the Lottery funded World Class Programme. It is important that the staff experience the Championships and therefore we have a number of staff at Rotterdam and will do the same at Luhmühlen and Moorsele. This is all part of ensuring the Programme is truly ‘world class’.
I travel directly from Rotterdam to Luhmühlen for the Eventing Europeans, competition will be tough and there will be a number of nations focussed on securing Olympic qualification. Our riders will be under more pressure than normal... or they will be... when they discover I have given up a day on the grouse moor so I can watch them; that is the definition of dedication!
Rotterdam draws to a close... a landmark event in the history of dressage in Britain. We have seen the sport reach new heights (the number of horses scoring over 70% reached new levels).
To cap it all... we even have camels doing flying changes!

Not the dressage team:

Even the flowers are orange:


Saturday, 20 August 2011

Silver and Bronze for Carl and Laura

The Grand Prix Special produced two medals for Great Britain, after superb performances from Carl Hester and Laura Bechtolsheimer.
Carl with Uthopia took the Silver with 81.682%; Laura with Mistral Hojris (Alf) was just behind in Bronze after scoring 79.256%.
Carl commented: “I was completely focussed. We had to do as big as extensions as possible because I knew where we could pick up the marks; again with the passage as high as I could. He made a couple of mistakes - of all the tests to do it in, it was just one of those things. In the tempis [onetime changes] he just lost a bit of rhythm, I felt like I tripped in them and couldn't pick up before I hit the other side of the arena. It’s absolutely amazing, I've never won an individual medal before and it just makes up for everything - it's the title I never had”.
Laura commented: “I was having the ride of my life when we started but then he just dropped off a bit, I thought he'd be really wired today after Thursday. I'm absolutely overjoyed with Bronze and to be on the podium with Carl”.

Highs and lows for Emile in the electric atmosphere of the GPS

First to go for the Brits in the grand prix special, Emile Faurie and the 12 year old Dutch bred gelding Elmegardens Marquis produced a test of highs and lows for a score of 68.542%. Classy riding coaxed every mark out of a tricky Max; there were glimpses of exceptional talent particularly in the trot work but the buzz of the arena obviously affected the horse, his exuberance throwing away marks at vital moments of the test.

Emile commented “The atmosphere is electric in there so I’m really proud he kept his cool and stayed with me. He executed all the movements and showed moments of brilliance but the walk and halts were very expensive. I’m a bit disappointed as there’s so much more to come; next year will be his year!”

Friday, 19 August 2011

What a day for British dressage

The end of the second day of team competition in Rotterdam and all our riders are happily clutching their gold medals... yippee! Yes Carl, Charlotte, Laura and Emile you have done us proud! Words cannot do justice to the amazing performances each of you have put in over the last two days. Wow!
This is a historic day, the first dressage gold ever for GB!  To do it by such a margin - 12 points clear of the Germans - and to break so many records and personal bests along the way is just sublime!  I am a very happy PD!!
A good day in the office by anyone’s standard and testament to the hard work of a whole team of people both here and at home. During yesterday’s celebrations there was a lot of talk about just how far we’ve come as a dressage nation in so short a time... the difference now is we have a system that works and we believe!

 Dr. B, Emile and Carl all regaled stories of Championships as recent as 10 and 20 years ago when selected British riders were simply packed off to the continent to fend for themselves. Hard to believe when we looked around at the assembled party, each with an integral role to play.
Yes we get friendly stick from other nations for the sheer numbers of support staff here adorned in blue Toggi team shirts but it’s a team that makes all the difference and the Brits the envy of the world... what enables US to make this possible is our World Class Programme and the Lottery funding provided through UK Sport. I’ll say no more other than to thank each and every member of the team for their contribution; our chef d’equipe, owners, grooms, physios, farriers, vets and everyone else who play their part in ensuring our operation runs with military precision... and deliver!
I think the enormity of yesterday’s achievements will take a little while to sink in. What we might rather forget is a certain farrier’s singing from last night after losing a bet with a certain Miss Dujardin...!  Proof you can take a man out of Wales but....!
So today provides a welcome down day for the horses and riders and a chance for us all to catch our breath and prepare for the Special tomorrow. There is plenty of work still to do, who knows what the rest of the week will bring.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Laura Bechtolsheimer ensures team GB takes gold in style

Laura Bechtolsheimer had a difficult Mistral Hojris on her hands as pressure mounted in the Kralingse Bos arena. It took all Laura’s considerable skill to guide the 17hh Danish bred gelding round the grand prix course for 77.280%. It was still enough to guarantee a historic British team gold medal with a record breaking score of 238.678.
““He was very flighty in there and too bothered by the noise which pushed him over the edge. I felt like a small blonde girl on a big ginger horse rather than the harmonious picture we usually go for!” Laura joked. “All arenas are different, some they like more than others, especially Alf [Mistral Hojris] who’s very sensitive to noise. I went to Aachen this year to practice in this sort of closed in arena – he didn’t like it there either!”
“Of course you want to perform up to the levels you know you’re capable of, but still I don’t think I can be too upset, this is still fairly indescribable.”

Carl Hester and Uthopia produce pure magic

Carl Hester produced a breathtakingly beautiful grand prix test with the 10 year old Uthopia, causing the crowd to gasp and murmur with excitement as he put the horse he co-owns with Sasha Stewart through its amazing paces. There where whoops and cheers before he had even nailed his halt, everyone aware they were witnessing something very special. The score of 82.568%, another personal best, confirmed it, catapulting them into the lead and leaving him and his pupil, Charlotte Dujardin sitting in first and second at the top of the scoreboard.
Commenting on his test Carl said:
“We got 10’s for our last extended trot, I didn’t know what was going on, everyone was  laughing and I thought there must be a dog in the arena! At Hickstead he was wildly flamboyant, here he felt more relaxed and in better self carriage, it was an incredible feeling! He’s only small – 16hh - but he feels massive to ride. This is a dream and even more fantastic because we’ve had the horse since he was a four year old. Sasha Stewart who I part own the horse with has ridden him too, he’s a family pet whose turned into a superstar.
I’m almost more emotional about Charlotte to be honest as she’s come to it so young but it’s all very pleasurable and at least I’ve managed to produce a decent score before I’m too old!
Jean Bemelmans saw this horse as an eight year old and said I had the next wonder horse. I believed it but it’s very difficult to tell everyone else you have the new Totilas in your stable! Anyone with a black horse is making the same claims!”

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro rock and roll in Rotterdam

26 year old Charlotte Dujardin made her championship team debut count, taking the arena by storm with the nine year old Negro gelding Valegro co-owned by Carl Hester and Roly Luard. The pair rode a confident and polished test that belied their relative inexperience, sweeping them into the lead with a massive personal best of 78.830%.

“I’m over the moon and to score a PB is really special, especially with two extra judges sitting there to watch our every move!” said Charlotte. “After Hickstead we’ve been able to sharpen up a few things and come here ready to rock and roll. Blueberry [Valegro] is so brilliant in his mind, he wants to do it and learns so fast.  He grows out of mistakes he makes in weeks, problems that other horses would take a season to get over.”

“I’m so lucky to have Carl behind me; he’s made it all possible really – he’s so supportive and keeps me on the straight and narrow. I’ve just had fantastic opportunities and owe it all to the support of the people around me, Roly Luard, who half owns Blueberry, the Lottery funding behind us, and the whole World Class support team. It’s all incredible.”

Emile gets the Brits off to a flying start

On the first day of the Grand Prix Team competition Emile Faurie riding Joanne Vaughan’s Elmegardens Marquis led out as trailblazer for the Brits. He rode a cool, calm test with the 11 year old Michellino gelding to bank a reassuring 70.426%.

Commenting on the test Emile said:

“Really chuffed!” commented Emile “Max stayed relaxed and concentrated through the whole test. We had a small blip going into the arena where there’s a lot going on but as soon as I turned left I knew I had him with me. Everyone knows he is a hot, excitable horse but he has masses of talent. We’ve had a good season, both of us have come here well prepared and this has been our aim for the year.”

“Of course our ultimate goal is London but there are so many brilliant combinations in Britain we’re really going to have to go some to make the cut. We had to get a championships under our belt to even put ourselves in with a chance.”

“I knew I would be first to go for the team and that we had to get a solid base score on the board so I’m really proud of the horse for what he did today. I’m certain there is at least another 5% in him and his owner Joanne has always believed in him.”

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Greetings from the land of orange!

I’ve arrived in the land of bicycles, cheese and all things orange for the start of a European Championship stint that will keep me out of the office for the next three weeks. First stop dressage and the beautiful wooded showground venue of Rotterdam. The main arena is already looking quite spectacular with a new purpose built permanent stand and its dressing of rearing topiary horses. Hopefully only the foliage will be leaving the floor!

As the showground builds around it so does the anticipation of what promises to be an exciting show. The British horses have arrived fit and well and last minute preparations and adjustments have all been made before the Grand Prix team competition begins tomorrow. The horse Inspection this afternoon went without hitch and I am pleased to report all the British horses passed; as usual they looked great thanks to the hard work of the grooms. 

The stage is set and the serious stuff starts tomorrow when all we can hope is that everyone performs to their best ability. Good luck guys.

Dickie Waygood is the chef d’equipe keeping everything running like clockwork – above Carl Hester has a small nap during team briefing earlier today.

View more behind the scenes photos from Rotterdam on the Team GBR Facebook page 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Yogi Breisner talks eventing

Less than a year out from the Games, we spoke to Eventing’s Performance Manager, Yogi Breisner, on how preparations are going:

"The preparation of the British Event Team leading up to the 2012 Olympic Games is on course.  We had a very good Test Event at the beginning of July where three riders had the opportunity to get to know the Greenwich venue by competing there.  Some other riders also had the opportunity to visit during the competition to get a feel for what we all think is a fantastic venue.  The management of the equestrian venue is doing a great job putting on what promises to be an exciting competition next year. 

At the moment the concentration is focusing on the European Championship at the end of August where we have a very experienced squad in William Fox-Pitt and Mary King, with Piggy French and Nicola Wilson both making their third consecutive appearances, and Polly Stockton making a comeback on to the squad after a few years off. We are also fortunate to be able to give Laura Collett her debut on the senior team which will give her senior Championship experience.

Miners Frolic, who unfortunately became ill during Badminton this spring, is making a good recovery but might not be able to get back to competitive action until early spring next year.  Redesigned, who made such a wonderful debut on the World Championship squad last year, is also getting back to full fitness and might well be seen competing again later on this year.

In equestrian sports where the horse is the main athlete things change very quickly when horses are injured or lose their form but, at the moment, we have some very nice horses in contention for next year's Olympic Games.  It has always been the aim to get as many of these horses, and riders, qualified this year for the Olympics and we are well on our way with this.  Once the autumn season has finished then it will be easier to make some further plans, and start putting together the final training and competition programmes for individual horses to build them up for the end of July next year".

For more information on the Olympic and Paralympic teams click here

Monday, 8 August 2011

Musings from the Emerald Isle

This is a very busy time of year!! 

I want to start by saying a big “bloody well done” to Hickstead and Family Bunn – they have invested a great deal of money in the Hickstead arena and their investment has paid off with wonderful going. I was lucky enough to have lunch with some representatives from Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) who are the company that have re-done the arena. It was fascinating to learn more about the science of growing grass and maintaining grass (no, no – not that happy sort, the green variety). I think many would agree that a good grass arena is the best arena for jumping that you can get.

So the Nations Cup at Hickstead did not go fully to plan but it was most certainly not a disaster. 4th was a very solid performance and yet again it was one rail that made the difference between GBR being 4th and jumping off for 1st. In all sport it is a game of small margins.

Hickstead also involves a great deal of walking.....between the Jumping end and the Dressage end. But oh mother of mary (am currently in Ireland) was it worth it; in all but the physical and emotional sense....Carl I love you. Carl Hester was sublime landing an 80%+ in the Grand Prix. Charlotte Dujardin once again demonstrated that she is just a little bit special. But it was Emma Hindle and the old warrior Lancet that brought a tear to many eyes – once again showing 70%+ plus form and reminding us of great times in Windsor at the Dressage Europeans. Emma could not be selected for the Europeans as Lancet was not qualified as at the Nominated Entries. Emma chose Hickstead to retire Lancet while he was still at the top of his game – a fitting tribute to a great horse and great rider. Emma will be focussing on the breeding now.......not equine for good luck Emma.

This is also selection season....and the Selectors have been hard at work:

  • Laura Collett riding Mr Jason Houghton’s Rayef
  • William Fox-Pitt riding the Hon. Mrs Teresa Stopford Sackville’s Cool Mountain
  • Piggy French riding Mr Walter French and Mr Michael Underwood’s Jakata
  • Mary King riding Miss Janette Chinn and Mr & Mrs Edwin Davies’s Imperial Cavalier
  • Polly Stockton riding her own and Mr Arthur Comyn’s Westwood Poser
  • Nicola Wilson riding Miss Rosemary Search’s Opposition Buzz
  • Laura Bechtolsheimer riding Dr Wilfried & Mrs Ursula Bechtolsheimer’s Mistral Hojris
  • Charlotte Dujardin riding Mr Carl Hester’s Valegro 
  • Emile Faurie riding Ms Joanne Vaughan’s Elmegardens Marquis
  • Carl Hester riding Mrs Sasha Stewart’s Uthopia
Para-equestrian dressage
  • Natasha Baker riding Mr & Mrs P Baker’s and Mr C Landolt’s Cabral
  • Sophie Christiansen riding The Berkeley Group’s Rivaldo of Berkeley
  • Deborah Criddle riding The Lady Joseph Trust’s LJT Akilles
  • Anne Dunham riding Mrs Sally Ann Brown’s Teddy
  • Sophie Wells riding her own Valerius
It is great to have such a spread of experience – both equine and human.  This “spread” is, for me, the barometer by which to measure the core health of the disciplines......

The first question that I get asked is how many medals they will win.  So let us take eventing: if the Team is in first after dressage and then they all jump double clear within the time......guess what...they will win the Team Gold. The point is, one can look at statistics and look at what the riders have achieved recently but the great thing about equestrian is that there is always that element of unpredictability. Of course I expect / hope we will medals get nothing in writing!

And so to the Emerald Isle. If you have not been to the Dublin Horse Show then add it to your buckets list. It has a unique atmosphere with every manifestation of an Irish bred pony / horse on display, being judged and....I am certain...for sale! The venue is right in the middle of Dublin and the whole of Ireland know when the Show is on..... “You’ll be here for the horse show...” is what usually greets you as you climb into a taxi.

The highlight is the Aga Khan Trophy....the FEI Nations Cup competition. The stands are packed....the Judges and Stewards are in Morning Dress...the gold trophy is front and centre in a packed President’s Box. GBR has a great record here....not the biggest course we have seen but technical and a proper course that did not frighten horses. 

At half time......GBR in 3rd....full time....thanks to three fantastic clears...GBR in joint first with Ireland. JUMP OFF; Nick Skelton V Billy Twomey. Easy, spot on, GBR win the Aga Khan. Fantastic; Robert Smith / Nick Skelton / Michael Whitaker / Scott Brash. Sweet. GBR guaranteed to stay in the FEI Nations Cup Series for 2012 – this was the primary target for 2011 and now we can focus on the Europeans.
Meanwhile the Under 21 Teams have been quitting themselves very well: 

Pony European Championships: Jaskowo, Poland (26-31 July)
  • Showjumping Team Gold (Amy Inglis, Beth Vernon, Graham Babes, Jessica Mendoza)
  • Showjumping Individual Gold (Beth Vernon)
  • Showjumping Individual Bronze (Jessica Mendoza) 
  • Eventing Team Bronze (Sophie Beaty, Janou Bleekman, Sam Ecroyd, Grace Walker)
  • Eventing Individual Silver (Sam Ecroyd)
Young Rider, Junior and Children’s Showjumping European Championships: Comporta, Portugal (4-10 July)
  • Young Rider Team Bronze (Jason Smith, Lucy Guild, George Whitaker, Dan Neilson)
  • Children Team Bronze (Emily Ward, Charlotte Smet, Kerstin Deakin, Millie Allen)
It does sound as if there were some challenges for the Chefs in Poland (Pony Championships) whether it was ear muffs on or off (depending which Nation you were); or show jumps being pulled from a magicians hat; or mathematical errors leading to the GBR Dressage Pony Team being awarded the Bronze then having it taken off them. It is always a fine line between taking the sport to new places and taking the sport at Championship level to places where perhaps there are one too many cracks in the organisation. It also highlights the need to have team staff that not only know the sport but can also remain cool in a crisis;  I think of the Chefs (d’Equipe or de Mission) role as being a combination of Leadership and Management; there is a difference (in my book) but I will leave you to think that through.

It is therefore as much the role of the World Class Programme to prepare the Staff for 2012 as it is to prepare the riders / horses.  I am sure you will have come across PRIDE – Personal Responsibility in ?????? Excellence – perhaps over the next 12 months we, the support staff = Develop and the riders Deliver; a point for debate.

One of the challenges we face in World Class is the geographic spread of athletes (riders) – from Scotland to Cornwall and in mainland Europe. This can be a benefit for always having somewhere to stay in an emergency but a nightmare for staff trying to get around and visit riders in their home / training environments. We call these Home Visits (this name took a great deal of time to think up) and it is a corner stone of what we do. The aim is not only for the Programme coaches / vets / farriers to be able to work with the riders but also we hope that it can bring the Programme staff and the riders’ Home Team (their own farriers / vets / coaches etc) closer together and ensure all are working in the same direction.

I am going to take four days off to re-charge the batteries and then it is full steam ahead for the Dressage, then Eventing and then Para-Equestrian Dressage European Championships (a break then before Jumping Championships in Madrid) – three weeks on the road in Europe and the last Championships prior to the London 2012 Olympic Games – scary!!