Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Looking ahead.....

It has now been a week since the momentous events that took place in Madrid. I use the word momentous intentionally as winning team and individual medals was a major milestone on the road to getting Team GBR Jumping back on the Championship podium. With horses it is always a very fine line and a knock here or a twist there can change a team’s dynamics and potential overnight. I guess it hit me the other morning as I opened the yard gate in the dark to leave for the office: In 12 months London 2012 will be over, a memory, passed in to history; I couldn’t help thinking…….. ‘what will the medal table show’. I admit that it sent a shudder down my spine.
But then, to quote one of our most well recognised Groom Philosophers……. I gave my head a shake. There is no point in worrying….. remain focused…. Do not be distracted and keep the faith!! I believe we have the riders, the horses, the grooms, the staff, the owners and the plan.
I am already feeling the pressure increasingly from some of the ‘distractions’. There has been a noticeable increase in requests for riders’ time; whether this is from the press or from Team 2012 (a UK Sport, BOA, BPA and LOCOG fundraising partnership). Take your ear muffs off…… I am not going to have a pop at the press…..  I understand the responsibility the elite riders have in promoting their sport…… but there has to be a balance and that is where myself, the Performance Managers and the Federation Communications Managers will work with the riders.
I am reminded of a comment by a Canadian athlete and a coach post Vancouver 2010… “You can do all you like to meet requests for athletes time pre-Games but if you do not success at the Games you will be slated….. if you do nothing pre-Games and win a bucket full of medals….. all will still love you.”
We are now into the ‘admin and planning’ time of the year. It is a vital time of year as the foundations that we put down now will be the base on which we build next years plans. It is also now that all the training camps are organised – the prime training period is January-April and the staff at Stoneleigh, the Performance Managers and the Development Coordinators will be hard at work booking venues, accommodation and guest coaches. It is a fine balance between training delivered at centralised squad sessions and the training riders organise through their own support structures. For this reason, we place great value on what we call ‘home visits’, which are, as it says on the can, where the World Class Programme staff visit riders at their home training venues. This allows and promotes better communication between the trilogy of rider/rider’s own support teams/World Class staff.
Paralympic ticket sales have now reached the end of the first tranche. It will be interesting to see what sales have been like - I hope all have purchased equestrian tickets. If you didn’t then you may have missed the opportunity to see equestrian sport in Greenwich. The GBR Team want your support!
I think it is time that we brought back ‘transportation to the colonies’ for certain crimes….. Top of my list is lorry drivers that block dual carriageways by overtaking other lorries…… when they are only going 2mph faster. 10 miles, b****y 10 miles I followed 5 lorries chopping and changing on the M11. Grrrrrrr……

Monday, 19 September 2011

Finale from Madrid

Saturday – I can’t say I was leaping out of bed at 0800 hrs.....but then neither was I crawling in to bed at 2300 hrs the previous evening.  A good day for the Brits as Scott Brash continued to pocket many of the Spanish euros on offer for the speed classes.  He has had a very good week apart from the big disappointment of being the “5th man” and missing out on the Team medal. The big class of the day was the Gran Premio Copa S.M. EI Rey – the baby Grand Prix for horses / riders not qualified for the final of the Individual Championships / riders with 2nd horses; 16 clears meant the jump off was going to be a bit of a hum dinger  and Nick was 3rd to go in the jump off with the 8 year old Big Star – a wow wow round was only just beaten in to second by the last to go Maikel Van der Vleuten (NED).

I took the opportunity of another long break in proceedings (this Show has redefined the meaning of drawn-out) to wander around the trade stands – I resisted the urge to purchase magnums of a rather yummy Rioja but did take the opportunity to inform the occupants of a trade stand promoting an English speaking school....that their Union flag flying at the entrance to their tent...was upside down.  How difficult is it to get the Union flag the right way up!

Sunday – the last day of competition (phew). Yes, they changed the timings again so all the transport plans to the airport had to be changed again. Nick started in 2nd but a great deal of jumping would follow before the Individual medals would be decided.

WHAT A ROLLERCOASTER of a competition.  Plenty of clears to start with in each of the two Rounds but then the 4 faults started to really count.  The pressure was being applied to the top order.... Rolf-Göran Bengtsson sublime......quietly moving up the order to land the Gold. Disappointment for NEDs as, last to go again (as per the Team competition), 8 faults (this time it was Gerco Schröder) cost them a place on the Podium. Germany again on the Podium but it was Nick Skelton and the Widdowson’s 10 year old Carlo who set British pulses racing....ok, so Nick will regret the one down in each round but what a brilliant performance....GBR on the Podium again...it has been a long time coming.


Ben was also very impressive with a 4 faults / 1 time fault, finishing in 12th – Tripple X is only 10 and the youngest horse jumping on the last day.  Peppermill qualified for the last day of competition but John sensibly decided to rest him – he has not long been back at top level competition and he will have an eye on next year.

And so the Championship season for 2011 concludes – I have covered some of the facts and figures but I suspect that this is the first year that GBR has medalled in all four Olympic / Paralympic discipline Team competitions. Add to this the success of many of the Under 21 Teams and the Vaulters, it has been a good year........but there is more we could achieve.  The bywords going forward;

•    Unity of purpose (and not just within World Class / the Teams)...work it out
•    No compromise approach to performance
•    Do not panic – try to re-create what worked well and do not dwell too long on what did not or where Lady Luck did not smile on us

For now, however, it is time to say thank you; thank you to the horses, to the owners, to the riders, to the grooms (who often receive far too little praise and are sometimes treated very poorly in the way they are looked after at Championships by organising committees), to the staff (World Class and riders’ home teams) to all in the offices at Stoneleigh that support us when we are on the road, to the sponsors and supporters of Team GBR and also to all of you who buy Lottery tickets; the funding we receive makes a very big difference.....keep buying Lottery tickets please!

So what do the next few weeks hold for me..quiet?...Like hell!!  Some of the things on my little list for the next two months;

•    Revisit and revise the London 2012 Plan including roles & responsibilities / accommodation / kit / clothing / accreditation / competition programmes / training camps / transport
•    World Class Programme briefing to the Member Body Chairman / CEOs
•    Recce to Rio de Janeiro (Rio 2016)
•    Write the draft Rio 2016 Plan – we have a number of Working Groups looking at aspects of the Programme
•    Financial reports / performance reports / appraisals
•    Grooms training days
•    Staff CPD (Continual Professional Development) days – this is great stuff linked around communication skills and how o avoid and if necessary deal with, difficult situations – not difficult to find scenarios!!
•    BOA Team Leader Training Workshops
•    Selection Policies for 2012 
•    2012 Owners’ Briefing
•    2012 Selection for the Development Programme
•    A little research project that we are all very excited about
•    Meetings, meetings, meetings to arrange meetings and then more meetings
•    Etc etc

So reasonably busy.  And it is of course the shooting season and I have some really great invitations that I am looking forward to (pour memoire – I gave up a day of Grouse shooting to be at Luhmühlen – Mr CEO of the BEF......now you know what my bonus {ha ha ha – whatever a bonus is} could be).  Those that know me well, will know that I have managed to shed a few pounds this year (unfortunately some have reattached themselves to me during the Championships (7 ½ as per this morning – but hostilities recommence today) and have also carried out the occasional physical training session resulting in the reappearance of an ability to travel further than 100 metres without having to reach for the claret – I might put this new found skill to the test and follow the hounds occasionally without the aid of an Equus.  Well, I might....Boekelo is on the horizon and I am off to Rio at the beginning of December and straight from Rio to Olympia, The London International Horse Show.

Put the Countryside Race Day at Cheltenham in your diary; 11th November 2011 – Cheltenham have very generously allowed Team GBR to fund raise there and a number of our top riders will be there – there will also be some unique silent auction prizes.......come along and support the Team.

Not sure when I will next be Blogging........never thought I would find myself using that dreadfully modern term.....

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Some ponderings on our well deserved team bronze

Madrid finally realised that there was a horse show on and turned up in force.
Team Bronze!!  If you have not heard, where have you been hiding??!!  A great day that saw the GBR riders fight hard for a medal.

Another clear from Nick; Guy Williams and Titus “came good” with just 1 time fault, Triple X (Ben Maher) just clipped the oxer at 5 and John, for once, was the discard score with 8 faults. 

France and Germany had the perfect day adding nothing to their score from Thursday; so Bronze was the best result we could have achieved with score we had at the end of Thursday.  NED achieved their aim of securing Olympic qualification but will, I am sure, be disappointed that they slipped out of the medals.  There was a sizeable gap between GER / FRA / GBR / NED and the other Nations, with the BEL challenge dying away early during yesterday’s proceedings.

Nick goes in to the individual Final in second place so perhaps more to come........

Some thoughts;
·           Without the Speed Competition (the first round of the Team Competition) GBR would have jumped off for Silver with France.  i.e. if it had been a normal Nations Cup we would have been 2nd = with FRA.
·           GBR and GER are the only Nations that have medalled in all 4 Olympic / Paralympic discipline European Championships this year.
·           GBR would have qualified all 4 Olympic / Paralympic teams for London 2012 without Home Nation qualification – only GER has, to date, achieved that – this demonstrates just how difficult it is to qualify for the Games, especially if you are from Europe.  CAN and USA could achieve teams in all 4 disciplines as well.....

Of course the success we have achieved this summer will only raise expectations ahead of next year.  The important thing is that we do not panic – we have a plan and we have the people in place that can deliver that plan.......keep the faith!


Captivated show crowds

Friday, 16 September 2011

Things are steaming up in Spain.......

We eventually tracked down the final Team scores on Wednesday night (hint – if you want the scores try http://results.scgvisual.com/2011/ec-jumping/ rather than the Championship website):  Going in to the second round (Thursday) (often referred to as the first round of the Nations Cup) the Team scores are;

1st FRA – 2.95 penalties
2nd GER – 4.41
3rd SWE – 6.74
4th NED – 7.42
5th GBR - 9.46
6th BEL – 9.78
7th ESP – 11.53

So we were within 1 fence (4 penalties) of Bronze and 2 fences of Gold – all to play for.

It is interesting that all 9 of the teams that have finished 1st / 2nd in a 5* Nations Cup competition this year are in the top 10 – making up the 10 (in 8th) is ITA who of course won a Team medal in 2009 and have been part of the FEI Nations Cup series in the past.  Sweden looked very strong at Falsterbo CSIO earlier this year and were impressive again yesterday.  But it is FRA and GER (yet again) that are looking like the teams to beat – FRA have not had a great season by their own high standards but they were stronger towards the end of the FEI Nations Cup Series and certainly look on form here.  NED had an excellent beginning and middle to the Series but the last three Nations Cups have not gone quite to plan – along with SWE they will have their eyes firmly fixed on qualification for London 2012.

I admit that I was feeling a little tired on Wednesday night and opted for a snack in my room and an early night; work was completed by 2230 and after 30 minutes of reading (all about the successors to Ghengis Khan) I turned my light off and started to drift off to sleep.  But sleep was to be interrupted....at about 2345 hrs, auditions started in the corridor (no carpets, wooden floor) to find the combination of the next Usain Bolt / Eurovision Song Contest Winner (junior version) – three (I think) kids charging up and down the corridor screaming their annoying heads off.  We don’t so much need the BIG SOCIETY.....just a little respect and parental control.  Baroness Bomburst (work it out....flying car) had a point.....  So, yes, I was a little grumpy yesterday morning; although I did manage to speak to people at breakfast...which is rare – breakfast should be taken in silence....breaking the fast..not exercising the eardrums.

Thursday started with a non Championship Class – a Table A speed competition (i.e. faults count first, then time); Nick rode the very talented 8 year old Big Star and jumped a wonderful clear – this is a really exciting horse and very much one for the Team for the future.  Guy Williams and Depardieu Van’T Kiezelhof had one fence down but otherwise jumped well.  Scott Brash and Bon Ami were out to “have a crack” and they did just that.....Scott was just headed by an Italian rider but secured a well deserved second.

And so, once again, battle was joined.  The Teams placed 11th – 16th jumped first; it is quite clear that this is a competition of two divisions – until the top 10 teams jumped poles were flying everywhere (I think there was one clear) and cricket scores were being racked up.  Nick was 5th to go of the Top 10 teams:

Discussions take place in front of the water jump that caused so
many problems during the first round of the Nations Cup
 

The offending water jump

Nick and Beverley Widowson’s Carlo – Another classic round; only the second clear of the day – the perfect start.  Nick finished the day in individual 3rd overall.

Guy and his own Titus – Lowered the first which was annoying and then another two rails – nervous glances on the GBR benches but other Teams were finding the track not so easy.  All to play for

Ben and his own Quainton Stud’s Tripple X – Brilliant round.....b****y water jump; 4 faults

John and Rebecca Stones’ Pepermill – And again.....brilliant round.....b*****y b****y water jump; 4 faults

GBR have had a hate hate relationship with water jumps in the past but neitherTripple X or Pepermill really appeared to do anything wrong.  The water jump was causing problems for all the teams and I am sure was the most influential fence on the course.

I am told by the experts that the low take off fence in front of the water did not help the horses get high enough and the tape on the landing was very ill-defined.  There was much discussion going on behind the scenes and the jump has been changed for the second round of the Nations Cup today (Friday).

GBR moved up to 4th less than 2 penalties off Bronze......  I make no predictions but NED (currently in Gold) look very strong, GER (in Silver) look dependable and FRA (Bronze) have slipped a little since Wednesday’s impressive performance.  BEL are right on our heels and like FRA, GER and ourselves do not have Olympic qualification to worry about.  Of course NED will be “going for Gold” but I am sure Olympic qualification will be their number 1 priority.  The other two Nations apart from NED that sit in London 2012 qualification slots are SWE (in 6th) and IRL (in 7th):  SWE have 11.38 penalties over IRL but IRL are only1.54 ahead of SUI and 3.41 ahead of ESP....the battle for the third London 2012 slot is going to be exciting. 

Today the Top 10 Teams and any other riders still wanting to contest the Individual competition, go again.  It is going to be hot hot hot and that is not just the temperature.

On the subject of hot hot hot.... In front of the stands there are some stalls selling candy; not the only candy on display.....hot weather + Spanish señorita = hot hot hot eye candy........sorry chaps, no photos...the lens keeps steaming up.

Contender for daft decision of the week..... Ben Maher may not be able to jump his specialist Puissance horse in the Puissance as it is not qualified to jump in the Championships!

Rider reaction to Day 2

Nick Skelton:

“Carlo’s been jumping brilliantly for me and is really on form and it’s a difficult course; the last line takes a lot of jumping but I couldn’t be more pleased with him and just hope we can keep jumping clear rounds.”

Ben Maher:

“I’m happy with the way he went. He jumped the course easier than I thought he would jump. Normally he’s a great water jumper but not today so hopefully we’ll get a bit more height tomorrow and jump a clear round.

“I think I would guess maybe 40% of the horses jumped in the water today; the boards very low and the horses don’t seem to get a lot of height from it - Tripple X is a little inexperienced and I think he’ll jump that better tomorrow.

“I always knew he was a Championship horse and it’s a nice feeling to know he can do it.”

Rob Hoekstra:

“The horses are jumping really well; we’re getting closer and obviously we need a little bit of luck tomorrow. The horses have performed really well, we have been a bit unlucky with the water jump today – it was very hard to jump for a lot of horses and it cost us two fences, let’s hope we can do a little better with that one tomorrow.

“All the guys have done really well. Carlo was fantastic, Tripple X was great and Peppermill, to come back after quite a long lay-off has also been jumping great. Guy’s horse lacks a bit of experience and it showed today but hopefully he can come up with a good round tomorrow.”

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Rider reaction from day one in Madrid

Rider reaction after their first round in the Speed Class on Wednesday 14 September

Nick Skelton:
“My horse jumped great; as good as he’s jumped all season. It’s going to be a fast course. I was pretty fast today, I don’t think I’ll win but it’s good ahead of tomorrow. Hopefully the rest of the lads can go close as well. It’s not too big but it will be very fast.”

Guy Williams:
“I felt my horse was a little bit looking and maybe I was a little bit deep at a few fences but hopefully we’ll correct that tomorrow. He feels like he’s been jumping today and he should get better as the Championship goes on.”

Ben Maher:
“He jumped really well today, it’s hot for him and I didn’t want to take too many risks but a clear round and we’re just outside the top 10 at the moment, so a good placing hopefully for the team tomorrow. I think John’s the most reliable rider there is, to go last on the team, he can hopefully produce another clear and we should be, I guess, up near the top going into tomorrow’s leg.”

 The fence that saw John have an unlucky stop with Peppermill

And so it begins......

 The first day of competition at the FEI European Jumping Championships; the Table C speed competition.

Well not quite the first competition – we are in Spain (I guess you will have worked that out) and in Spain everything seems to happen a little later in the day; well everything that is, that involves the intake of sustenance. Long late lunches and siestas are all very well but are not easily accommodated into a busy competition schedule (there are other jumping classes here apart from the Championships). Our hotel does not have a restaurant (it has a small room service menu that you can order in the lobby....) and so it is necessary to “eat out” – the local restaurant is only 50m from the hotel and serves perfectly adequate Italian fayre (yes, I know we are Spain...but keep going...you’ll get to the end soon). That is fine...except restaurants around here do not open until 2100 hours (9 p.m. in civilian speak) – the riders like to ride early before it gets hot and so at 2100 hrs last night the GER, NED and GBR teams were all lined up at the start for the Great Italian Food Race.....this poor restaurant was not expecting to be inundated by 50 hungry mouths from the Jumping fraternity.  Anyway...I love a little challenge and I am pleased to report that at the first marker (the Starters) GBR was well in the lead; NED rallied by missing out on the starters (cheeky) and GER seemed to have stalled at the start. Final result....GBR Gold, NED Silver, GER Bronze.

So back to the real competition. The speed competition is quite complex (ha ha – yes the fastest wins and faults are converted in to time but that is not the complex bit); so going forward the winner starts the next round on 0 faults and then the difference in time between the next riders and the winner is converted in to faults – I know it is complex but you can now become an armchair expert;

The scores obtained by each Athlete will be converted into points by multiplying the time of each Athlete by the coefficient 0.50; the score must be rounded up or down to the second decimal place. The second decimal place will be rounded up
from .005 and rounded down from .004.


The Athlete with the lowest number of points after this conversion will be given zero Penalties, the other Athletes being credited with the number of Penalties representing the difference in points between each of them and the leading Athlete.


If an Athlete is eliminated or does not complete his round for any reason, he will be awarded the same number of Penalties as that incurred by the Athlete who has been the most severely penalised, plus 20 Penalties. If the Athlete concerned has himself received the highest number of Penalties before being eliminated or retiring, 20 Penalties will be added to his score. Adding the 20 Penalties is done after the time difference has been converted into Penalties.


The three best scores from each team are added together to give a team score that is carried forward to the first round of the Nations Cup.

Simple....as the Meerkat would say.  So simple that as I write the Team scores are not yet out (1 ½ hours after the end of the Class).

Not a great draw for GBR being drawn second to go in the Teams but that did not put Nick Skelton off – a classic round from Nick and Carlo.

Guy Williams next; he was fast but lowered a couple of poles; the horse jumped very well and got better as the round progressed. 

Ben and the young Triple X..... just what the doctor (that would be Rob Hoekstra) ordered; a safe, clear but fast enough round.

And so John....how many times have GBR depended on John Whitaker....the showjumping version of cool under fire. Pepermill, back to his best form... jumping brilliantly...3/4 of the way around the course... going quick...then “what the hell” – a red wall that I did not see cause any trouble all day... Pepermill went to pick up and then put down and stopped, crashing through the wall. John restarted and still finished with a very respectable score but why why why remains a mystery.

So it finished Nick 8th, Ben 21st, John 36th and Guy 41st - we think the Team is in 5th very much in touch with FRA / GER / NED / SWE who are ahead of us.

You will have guessed that Scott was not selected for the Team of 4 – a very difficult pill to swallow for a competitive, highly motivated and excellent team player. Scott has handled the disappointment with great maturity and I am certain we will see him back in the team in the future.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Welcome to Madrid.....

It seems that I start another diatribe with....another week....another country...another Championships. I am now in Madrid for the FEI European Jumping Championships (note that in just about every other country showjumping is referred to as jumping).

So let’s cut straight to the mustard; Britain had a great end to the FEI Top Level Nations Cup with a win in Dublin and second in Rotterdam; I am told that we will therefore win a Team medal:  Oh that sport was that simple (but then it would be boring)....I would just point out to all that there are 9 Nations here that have been 1st or 2nd in a 5* Nations Cup in 2011 (the 8 FEI Nations Cup shows and Gijon CSIO5*).  That is (at least) 9 Nations that have a very realistic chance of winning a Team medal....I do not think the sport this week will be boring. 

For Team GBR, Madrid 2011 is about securing the best possible results in, initially, the Team competition and then, if appropriate, the Individual competition.  But for all but GBR, GER, FRA and BEL, Madrid 2011 marks the final opportunity to qualify a Team Quota place for London 2012; the three best ranked Teams in the Team competition (less GBR, GER, FRA and BEL) will qualify for London 2012:  It is tough being European and trying to qualify for the Games – at least 2 Teams that have been 1st or 2nd in a 5* Nations Cup in 2011 will not qualify for London 2012.  Globalisation of sport is vital but it does not always sit easily with Teams from Europe in what is a Eurocentric sport.

I have already seen a number of my counterparts out here....my friend Ad Wagemakers from NED looking a little focused as, NED set out this week to secure Olympic qualification


Rob Hoekstra (World Class Programme Performance Manager for Jumping) was keen to have a training camp prior to moving in to the venue....and what a location was found...stunning


View from the training camp outside Madrid   

The Team were guests of Alicia Daurella and Alfredo Fernández Duran; their beautiful estate provided the Team with exactly what was required; elite training facilities, outstanding accommodation for humans and horses and all the trimmings to help all relax, gel as a team and prepare for the Championships.  Jumping riders spend so much time on the road that there is never an opportunity to unwind; Alicia and Alfredo were the perfect hosts and when I arrived on Sunday (the horses arrived last Thursday) the atmosphere was as positive as I have known within a GBR jumping team.  If things go well this week then we should dedicate our success to Alicia and Alfredo.  We also managed a day trip to a beautiful estate some 100 kms from where we were training.....and an estate full of wild pigs....I seem to have an affinity with wild pigs....we communicate.



Yes, where we went was very comfortable and we were very well looked after but it was time extremely well spent and I think Rob made a great call.  This is a sport where week in week out the riders compete against each other for, quite often, decent sums of money.  All 5 riders left the training camp as a team ready to do their very very best.  Unfortunately only 4 can compete and Rob (having met with co-selector Di Lampard) has had the difficult task of telling one that they are now the non jumping reserve – I am not sure whether the process has been completed so I will not name the 4 or the, bound to be very disappointed, 5th rider.  Sometimes being a Chef d’Equipe is a lonely job.

We all left the training camp around midday on Monday.  I understand that Jeremy Clarkson may be the new voice of Tom Tom....I think Mr Clarkson may have had something to say about our journey...the intended (I think not....excuses, excuses) fly past of the Madrid Bull Ring....might have attracted a Clarksonian comment.

So on arrival there were riders and Performance Directors bedding down the stables (I have a blister to prove that I undertook manual work) and then Nick Bob the Builder Skelton set about hanging a sun screen above the aisle between the two blocks of stables.  Riders also proved themselves to be closet sparkies (electricians), running cables to each stable so fans could be hung to keep the stables cool.  Andy Fingers Thomas proved himself a right little interior designer hanging flags and bunting oh so decoratively....All in all the stables now look very smart:  I hope the horses appreciate the efforts!


I look out from my hotel over Madrid; towering above the skyline are four skyscrapers – I hope and pray that by Friday evening there will be 4 British rider/ horse skyscrapers towering above the opposition here in Madrid.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A great day at the office.....

Yesterday was a great day at the office.  The final tally was;

•       Team Gold
•       Grade Ia – Gold & Silver
•       Grade II – Gold
•       Grade III – Silver
•       Grade IV – Gold

A truly outstanding result.

To bring ourselves back down to earth a few of the staff and myself went to Ypres to watch the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.  The Menin Gate remembers 54,896 soldiers killed in the Ypres salient whose bodies were never recovered; each name is carved into the walls of this simple but oh so effective memorial.  I would like to put all those low life rioters, who decided to run amuck through the streets back home, on a bus and take them to Ypres and show them a dose of in your face reality......

We just made it back to the hotel before the heavens opened, the thunder exploded and the lightening lit up Belgium......luckily the storm blew itself out before today leaving normal service to be resumed by Team GBR.  Today is the Freestyle and at the time of writing we have secured;

•       Grade Ia – Gold & Silver
•       Grade II – Gold

I hope I do not sound either complacent or boastful about these results – they are the product of truly talented athletes being supported by a truly talented group of coaches, grooms, vets, osteopaths and managerial staff.  The standard in all Grades is going up and up – I have never seen so many 70% scores in all the Grades.  The next 12 months are going to require even greater effort if we are to achieve what we want to achieve in London.

So I have one question – has any of this success been reported in the National media.....?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

It's heating up in Moorsele......

The temperature is rising in Belgium.....and I do not refer only to the meteorological situation.  Battle commenced yesterday....and it was a damn good day for Team GBR; Grade Ia - 1st & 2nd, Grade II – 1st, Grade III – 1st, Grade IV – 1st !!!!!!!!!  This was not a medal competition in itself but the first part of the Team Medal competition; the Team medals are decided by the best three scores after the scores of the Team Test (yesterday) and the Individual Test (today) are added together.

Drama has also been taking place off the Field of Play as various key officials linked to the Organising Committee (not Team GBR) throw themselves off steps and pavements; one broken arm and a possible concussion is the score so far.  That said we did have a certain Development Programme Manager who had to make an early hours visit to the local hospital following an allergic reaction to substance or substances unknown.......I am glad to report that he is looking much better today. 

And so to today.  It is still early but so far it is good news.....Gold (Anne Dunham) & Silver (Emma Sheardown) in Grade Ia and Gold in Grade II (Natasha Baker).  Very well done to all....especially Natasha who is riding in her first Championships.  Deb Criddle and Sophie Wells compete this afternoon and we will then know the results of the Team medals but going in today we were on 221.815 with DEN on 215.497 and GER on 215.106 (kinda role reversal from last week!).  With Anne and Emma landing good scores today (Natasha is competing as an individual) all is looking good......but of course it is not over until the National Anthem plays (note to self.....always carry a DVD with the National Anthem on it....the version they are playing here is quite dreadful and sounds like lift music in a cheap hotel).

So.....a very big thank you to all of you who purchase Lottery tickets......I am in no doubt that without the support we get through UK Sport that the riders would not be able to produce the results they do.  The support available to riders is outstanding and makes a difference; all the costs of attending a Championships are met by the funding we receive as are the costs of the World Class Programme staff that support the Team.  I wish that the value of the support elite sport receives was recognised more in the Press.  After 2012 a higher proportion of the funding will come from Lottery (it is a mixture of Lottery and Exchequer) – so every time you buy a Lottery ticket you are helping put British athletes on the Podium. 

It is a very hot day here (I hope it is not as hot at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials for cross country day) and there is one disadvantage of this venue...the drains stink!

So fingers crossed that we see the Union flag rising up the middle flag pole a few more times here and that we see a Brit on top of the podium at Burghley tomorrow (now that would piss the antipodeans off who, of course, have not had to contend a Championships this year).


Natasha Baker at the start of her test

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Next stop Belgium... definitely not on holiday...


I know it has been a few days.....but that does not mean that I have been on holiday. I am currently in Belgium at Moorsele watching the horses being presented at the Horse Inspection for the Para-Equestrian Dressage Championships. I believe Great Britain still exists but I have not been back to the homestead having travelled directly here from Luhmühlen.

Reflections on the Eventing Europeans........ In the days of UK Sport Lottery / Exchequer funding should it still be acceptable to say that things did not quite go our way or that we did not quite have the “rub of the green”? I have thought long and hard about last week and I do believe that there is little we could have done differently and also that winning a Bronze medal when things do not go well is not a bad achievement: Often when things do not go well in Eventing, Teams do not even post a finishing score. This view is not based on complacency and we are very aware that we need to do much better next year (when we will have not just the Germans & other Europeans but also NZL / CAN / USA / AUS going all guns for medals).

The GBR has proven year in year out that it can win medals and I believe we have, through the World Class Programme, solid systems and “world class” staff to support the riders. Onwards and upwards. The eventers are now at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.....and yes Burghley, Stamford, is still part of the United Kingdom and has not been annexed by New Zealand....although looking at the entry list you would be forgiven for thinking there are an inordinate amount of Kiwis trying to take home the Pounds (stirling); also a strong representation from USA and CAN; an interesting competition me thinks. Reports state that the cross country course is a classic, so Saturday should be very interesting as we see many 2012 potential tested to the full. One thing we will be investing is new Satellite Navigation systems for our Performance Programme riders; it would seem that the “navigational embarrassment” virus is spreading........

But back to Belgium, where the British Para-Equestrian Dressage Team are most certainly going to have its work cut out to keep the Team Gold. Both our top Grade 1b riders (Lee Pearson and Ricky Balshaw) are sidelined with injuries (and to the same part of their anatomy.....suspicious). Sophie Wells represented Great Britain at the (able bodied) European Dressage Young Rider Championships this year on the horse she won Grade IV Golds on at WEG last year – Sophie brings the exciting (and occasionally excitable) Valerius to Belgium for his first Championship appearance. Deb Criddle (who has been on the Team many times before) brings her new ride, LJT Akilles; Natasha Baker is the new kid on the block and our two 1a riders Anne Dunham (perhaps one of the most experienced riders in the sport) and Emma Sheardown complete the squad.

OK, take a seat....yes, I groomed a horse yesterday...I had to refer to the manual but I did manage it.....almost unaided. I do not like grooming horses.....I do not intend to repeat this. This unfortunate situation occurred due to a rather bumpy landing as one of our coaches (doubling up as a groom) excited the horsebox in England just prior to departure – the novice pilot did not quite position her undercarriage correctly and badly twisted one of her lower struts......Karen Robertson is performing miracles with laser, ultrasound and good old ice.... I have been relieved of grooming duties....phew.

I can report that all GBR horses passed the horse inspection and competition starts at 0830 hrs tomorrow. This will very much be a week of building for next year although of course the riders and support staff are all focused on winning as many medals as possible. The standard across the Grades has risen tremendously over the last few years....it will be odd not seeing the Union flag being raised in the Grade 1b prize giving ceremonies but I hope this will just be for 2011....

A certain Chief Executive arrived in Belgium last night; with press officer in tow; during dinner (fondue), said Chief Executive regaled us with stories of h?? cooking skills – or lack of cooking skills. We all doubted that someone could have such a low self esteem when it came to culinary expertise....that was until we witnessed the piece of chicken being withdrawn from the fondue pot by said Chief Executive...........burnt to a crisp, moisture free, unrecognisable......... self appraisement of cheffing prowess proven accurate.

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 place.....you’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 saying...wow!
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.”