Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Recapping the eventing competition

I am very sorry that I have taken a day off.....or was it two...the last couple of days have passed in a blur.

So, time to wind back the clock and review the conclusion of the eventing competition. I guess you have all heard the result.....

The weather on cross country day was almost perfect. The gates opened to the public and the masses arrived...from the feedback I had, getting into the venue worked very well. Now would be the day that the two incredibly long cable cameras that crossed above the Park, would come in to their own. As the first few horses set out we all crammed in to the "TV tent" to see how the course would ride and most importantly how tight the time would be. The "tent" is the heart of the Start/Finish area and is where the coaches, athletes, owners gather to analyse and prepare.

At first site the finish area of a cross-country course at Championship level can look a little chaotic and something akin to a bunch of school boys having a water fight on a hot summers afternoon. In reality, for those Nations, that are well drilled and have studied the science, it is far mor akin to the workings of an F1 team in the Pits...... What we are all trying to achieve is to assist the horse to recover from the excursions of the cross country. Primarily, we are cooling the horse as quickly as possible and providing an environment in which the horses heart rate can return to normal prior to returning to the stables.

Many sports use cooling baths or temperature controlled baths. We use water that has been cooled with ice. The methods used date back to pre the Atlanta Games when the Atlanta Project looked at the impact of heat and humidity and also how horses were best cooled. 

I remember part of this project with great clarity.....unloading horses in Service Stations throughout France and Italy, so we could track weight loss during that travel to the 1995 Europeans near Rome....was an experience I do not want to repeat. In those days the weigh bridge needed calibrating each time and to do this we also had to unload 8 large (filled) water containers). Back to Greenwich....we like to think the GBR Team, under the guidance of Liz Robbie (nee Brown) is pretty damn good at the end of the cross-country......and yes we have quite a lot of kit....including sandwiches, crisps and chocolate (perhaps we differ from many sports with these accessories.....).

Kit packed ready to leave the cross-country
Returning the kit from the end of the cross-country
So how did the cross country go?

First fact...there were 9 clears within the time allowed and 3 of them were British. I wonder how many horses have done a clear within the time at 4 successive Championships.....Opposition Buzz holds that honour..2 Europeans, a Worlds and now an Olympics. Zara and Tina equally brilliant....Mary coped with a challenging ride (we coped with increased heart rates while watching) and William demonstrated all his skill in nursing home a very tired Lionheart. If there was a Gold medal based on the combined results of 5 horses on cross-country day, we would have won it...but there is not....bugger!

Sue Benson (the designer of the cross country) certainly got a result with the cross country....all that fell were ok and there was a range of faults, falls and time faults as their should be. A little like Athens and Hong Kong, Beijing, it was a little bit like a jumping speed competition. Watching, I felt I was as focused (if not more) on the clock than I was on how the horses / riders were answering the questions posed by the course designer. I felt for those that had falls "on the flat" ...the terrain at Greenwich was always going to introduce unusual challenges.... also, as predicted, a number of horses lost shoes....never have the farriers had to work so hard!

For certain, it was a great day for the sport - the pictures on TV looked fantastic and I have never heard such a  cacophony of sound as the riders galloped through the crowds. This was a day that showed that equestrian sport can be enjoyed by a very wide audience....a sponsor's dream?

The Horse Inspection passed without incident for GBR on Tuesday morning. So on to the jumping reality, 4 teams in the hunt for 3 team medals. Yes, we had a sniff at the Gold but if I had been offered Team Silver a couple of months back when everything was getting cancelled and some of our potential Team horses were incurring slight injuries that would rule them out of London....I would have said Team Silver was darned attractive.

I am certain there will be critics...those that say we did not succeed etc etc but they are very boring in their repetitive negativity and lack of analysis of the facts. On paper, we should not have had a shot at beating the German Team...we did and it would have been great to have done so.... As for the individual competition, true to the form books would be my reaction to those that occupied the Podium. For sure.....damn, damn, damn those two fences that took an aversion to the British horses.

And so to the media circus.... I feel for the riders; a very late finish after cross-country, a very early start on Showjumping day. It seems that once the medals are in the bag it is open house with Mixed Zones (where the press gather), Press Conferences, more press commitments and so it continues the following Soon they will be able to sit down, relax and realise that they are Olympic Silver medallists.

So as the riders were rightly paraded as the heroes, so the grooms set about packing for the departure, assisted by our hard working farriers.  With the riders whisked off to Team GB House to fulfil more media, a celebration for the full team was not possible....although they did manage a glass of fizz with family, friends and owners in the International Teams Tent. So the grooms and some of the staff set off to Cafe Rouge....and yes, alcohol was consumed...and richly deserved.

Following  the end of the eventing the Dressage Horse Inspection took place...... I am not sure why there needed to be such a small final holding area just prior to the horses entering the Horse Inspection.... it was hairy for the eventing...damn right dangerous for some of the prancing dressage stallions...I stayed well out of the way...a job for the Team Manager and Team Vet....well why get kicked when you can employ people to get kicked for you....another benefit of Lottery Funding!!

So to today; the dust has settled on the eventing competition, the results are finalised...... An early start to load all the kit and wave the horses off.  I admit that I felt a little sad for a minute as they drove has been a long road and Yogi and his team have given their all....and now, for eventing, London is over......a damn difficult Spring but a great result.

Yogi and Lionheart
Emptying Lionheart's paper bedding ahead of the arrival of the jumping horses
Horses depart from Greenwich
Stables were cleaned out and fresh bedding put down for the arrival of the jumping horses. The jumping riders are on their way but as I type there is a bit of a backlog at the ESF so the kit is going to be a little late....and tomorrow battle commences in the Dressage arenas...... The only battle joined so far is between Laura Bechtolsheimer and Charlotte Dujardin, to see who can collect the most pins (each Nation has its own Team pin....and they are a currency at the Games) rumour has it that there is skulduggery afoot.......

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