Friday, 22 July 2011

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Journey to Aachen

I guess just over a week has passed since I last tapped the keyboard but it feels like many weeks rather than days. This is perhaps the busiest few weeks of the year in a normal year but add in the Test Event and it has been manic. The Land Rover has become my home and I am going to have to check a map tomorrow before I head home.....just to check I can remember where I live. To add to the frantic pace of things.....I have been without a credit card....but more of that to follow.

I left the Test Event following the LOCOG debrief and headed for Sweden (see last Blog).  Arriving just in time for dinner on Thursday I met up with the Team and some of the owners at a restaurant with a part Swedish menu.....called Paddy’s...the Irish influence stretches far and wide. Moral was good but I think that all were aware the GBR Team was perhaps not the most experienced horse / rider Team that would be taking to the Field of Play the next day.  As I said previously, the Germans and the French had their “big guns” out:  Friday dawned....a Friday in July in Sweden...no sunshine...just rain.  Worst was to come....the bunny jumping was cancelled for much of the day...I do believe this impacted on our mental preparations; if the bunnies do not want to jump..... 

As I said the GER & FRA teams were strong and so it proved with the Germans winning and the French second equal with Sweden (who are of course not in the FEI Nations Cup league but compete as the “home Nations”).  GBR finished 7th (6th of the FEI Nations Cup teams) – whilst we would like to have been higher up the rankings it was actually a good day.  Bruce Mencies (horse & rider’s first 5* Nations Cup) delivered 4 faults in both rounds which is a great sign for the future;  Robert Whitaker and Peter Charles also both delivered solid rounds on young or inexperienced horses. The bare facts are that to get a good placing you need at least one older, experienced horse that can deliver a clear or ideally two clears.....or do you....read on.

At the conclusion of the day I think it would be fair to say that there was a nervousness in a number of camps about who would get relegated at the end of this season; two teams go down and as things stood at the conclusion of Falsterbo, DEN looked likely to be relegated with GBR, BEL, USA and FRA all looking a little shaky. Off to Aachen CHIO for the next round......via Barbury CIC3* for me.

Easy isn’t it? Jump in a taxi Saturday morning, go via the hotel we have reserved in Malmo (where we stay for Falsterbo) for the Malmo 2013 European Eventing Championships:  Check-in at the airport....sleep on flight....drive to Swindon...check in at the hotel.....go to the gym.....order room service...eat, sleep, wake, go again.

Well no....it is damn well not so *^*^*%^ easy.  I spent 4 hours at the airport....had to change hotels and by the time I finally crawled in to bed I was ready for a change of lifestyle. Worse was to follow after Barbury.

Barbury International Horse Trials has grown in stature over the years and is not only a damn good eventing competition but it is also much, much more with other attractions..... include hunt relay; I love it. We do not have “final trials” in any of the Olympic or Paralympic disciplines but the eventing riders in contention for selection would have been very aware that the eagle eyed selectors were circling above Barbury stroking their crystal glasses and looking in to the future. The primary stop on the road through the future is of course London 2012; the 2011 Europeans at Luhm├╝hlen are of course important but it is building that 2012 Team that is the focus of all we do within World Class.

It was a good day for Equestrian Team GBR with Pippa Funnell winning, Piggy French second and Laura Collett third. I even saw the Selectors looking happy!! There were a few delays as the pins on the corner fence broke a number of times; the pins are designed to break, thus allowing the rail to drop and hopefully preventing a fall becoming rotational:  Frangible pins have been a great safety benefit to the sport but I wonder whether the next debate will be around how good it is to have horses warmed up, then be delayed, then warmed up again etc – I offer no opinion but it would be an interesting discussion.

On to Ashford...... another hotel...another easy check in and then bed. Again.....not so *^*^*%^ easy! As I arrived at the hotel I could feel my eyelids becoming heavy and was looking forward to a shower and bed (well maybe a quick low flying Scottish bird with some ice & water in-between). Credit card passed to the Receptionist....sorry sir...it has not been accepted:  What???!!!!!!! Used my own credit card and left to ring the Bank and give them what for (this has happened before......once when I was trying to pay for a dinner for about 40 owners and riders....ooops...embarrassing). Contacted the Bank who acknowledged they had blocked authorisation to the hotel...grrrrrr was my reply....understood the grrrrr was theirs but could we check some recent transactions?

“You have been busy” was their opening gambit...“travel a little do you”....yes, I am a nomad, a tired nomad who wants his credit card back. Well ok....it was time to eat humble pie....there had been fraudulent activity on my Card; so well done the Bank. But what now: Panic: About to leave for Aachen where I would have many bills to pay. The Bank immediately ordered a new Card, but that would go to the BEF in Stoneleigh and I would be in Aachen. Do not worry....I was advised...ring the International (Insert Name) Card Provider and they will issue, overnight, an emergency Card for the period you are in Germany.

That was Sunday.

My new Credit Card arrived from the Bank at the BEF on Wednesday / Thursday.

I spent a total of 3 hours and 50 minutes on the telephone (USA telephone number) to the International (Insert Name) Card Provider and the “emergency card” did not arrive until late on Thursday.  Useless service. 

Luckily (is it luck or is it what I am paid for), I foresaw a possible issue and asked Stephen (our very capable accountant) to give Tracie Robinson money to bring out to Aachen. Tracie arrived clutching holiday catalogues and with a new wardrobe in the back of her Land Rover...and £800 in cash. I jest of course. However, having back up plans to the main plan is part of what we do and it is another benefit of the Lottery Funding that we can put in place robust plans for Championships, the Games and other major competitions.

So off to Aachen CHIO; the World Equestrian Festival.  Vaulting, Eventing, Dressage, Driving, Jumping – all taking place at one Venue over a ten day period.

Aachen has a soul, a unique feeling; an atmosphere that underpins the gathering of elite athletes and horses from 5 of the FEI disciplines:  Aachen has its own identity that has grown with the show over the years....it has a heart....yes that heart may beat to the strains of DAS LIED DER DEUTSCHEN (Deutschland, Deutschland ueber Alles etc etc) but it is a heart that is passionate about horse sport and celebrates success and commiserates when things do not go quite so well. 

To win in Aachen must be an extraordinary feeling......for most of the competitions the stands are packed; for the Jumping this can mean up to 50,000 watching and cheering. It is a wow atmosphere.

I arrived after the Vaulting but GBR had already topped the podium with Joanne Eccles winning the Female Individual and, with her sister (Hannah), coming second in the Pairs.  Excellent results with some very solid results in the Team and the other GBR vaulters. It is such a shame that we, as a Federation, cannot find greater financial support for sports such as Vaulting: The World Class Programme is funded to support the Olympic and Paralympic programmes but we have some top class athletes in the Non Olympic Disciplines and with the right sponsor support we could bolt a “Non Olympic Discipline” programme on to the World Class Programme – I really believe this could help.......

So our Jumping Team for Aachen looked a little short on 5* Nations Cup experience taken as a whole (partly in the rider department, partly in the equine department). The Nation Cup at Aachen starts at 1930 hours (luddites; 1930 = 7.30 p.m.) – did I mention that Aachen has a passing acquaintance with “usual practice”? Thursday dawned and the day became colder and colder...and then the wind and rain arrived. This was certainly going to be a test. The Aachen arena is huge and the tracks there are always big and testing. I admit that I was nervous and felt 5th would be an ok result.

Oh how wrong I was......oh ye of little faith.... I am still smiling. 2nd = with Germany and Ireland. A fantastic result by Guy Williams, Scott Brash, Michael Whitaker and Nick Skelton.  Take note world...GBR has plenty of outstanding Jumping riders.

There was an amount of head scratching going on amongst the German and Dutch Dressage teams; where was Carl Hester and Utopia and why was Charlotte Dujardin riding Fernandez not Walegro? I think the Germans were almost at the point of “how dare they not bring the very best to the very best Show”. Tactics darlings; sneaky beaky tactics....... or could it be that it was felt to be the best preparation for certain horses for the Europeans....or was it a request from the Selectors: Well sorry, I am not letting on but I can report that the horses not in Aachen are most certainly fit and sound.

The result.... another 2nd for the Team with Laura Bechtolsheimer again scoring over 80%.  German won, Netherlands third. Interesting results. Charlotte, an Aachen virgin, was again outstanding....one cool customer...but I suppose I have to agree with her description: same old game, just a different arena.

But for many, Aachen was the “coming out Ball” for Totilas. For those that do not know Totilas, he was World Champion in 2010 when ridden by Edward Gal. Totilas moved from NED ownership to GER ownership at the same time that many Euros moved from GER ownership to NED ownership. Matthias Rath was given the privilege (??) and associated pressure, of riding Totilas. Hats off, he did a great job and won the Grand Prix, the Special and the Kur. I will not offer opinions except to say that I believe he is beatable and the hype of Aachen would not have hindered his front ended striding to the top of the podium. However, the lesson I came away with was that exaggerated jingoistic, high fiving, body embracing, yee ha shouting behaviour does not always endear one to others (whether that one is a person or a group of people pulled together through a certain association).

Aachen dressage was a very interesting competition in many ways; some will be very happy, some will be tweaking their plans; some will not be buying the video.

So to Eventing; a CIC3* so Jumping was before the Cross Country. This was an experienced Team; Mary King, William Fox-Pitt, Nicola Wilson, Polly Stockton and Oliver Townend as the “individual”. Australia danced beautifully and led after the dressage (was this a little bit of a shock to our hosts?), GBR were in 4th but in touch. And so to a touch of brilliance in the Jumping – GBR 5 clears....spot on Mr Murphy (who arrived fresh from the Cock o’the North....no really, I am not being crude...it is a big Jumping Class at the Great Yorkshire Show). GBR led after the Jumping.

The brilliance continued on the cross country; there were 8 riders / horses that went clear within the 7 minute optimum time; 3 of these were British and the fourth Team rider was only 4 seconds over. Britain won the Team gold!

All in all a good Aachen. Much still to do and lessons learnt. Did I mention the Friday evening gathering??? No? Well there were some 60 owners / riders / staff from the three disciplines and it was a great fun evening.....

Next time we can look at selection....and the onward march to the Europeans but for now I need to do some work. 2012 Selection Policies to finish, CPD to finalise; Research & Development work to implement, training camps to attend; Olympic / Paralympic accreditation data to gather etc etc., then Hickstead, Dublin and four Europeans.

 



The view of the showjumping competition at Aachen

Friday, 8 July 2011

Will signs off from Greenwich

I am very sorry that I did not post something immediately after the Test Event. 

Wednesday was a manic day and almost as soon as we had finished at the Venue the World Class / Team staff headed off to a restaurant to discuss what we had learnt during the week.  My aim was to write something while I was sitting in Heathrow waiting to fly to Copenhagen for Falsterbo CSIO5* - the next round in the FEI Nations Cup series....Well that was my plan but I caught up in trying to understand why one of our leading newspapers (broadsheet) decided to run an article with the headline “Riders Slam Greenwich”. 

The article reported that the surface was not yet of the standard required for the Jumping but I felt failed to mention other important matters......maybe, for example, that GBR were first and third in the CIC2* - yup Piggy won it by a golden mile and Pippa Funnell once again demonstrated why she is the only person to win the Grand Slam (Badminton / Burghley / Lexington):  Whilst winning the CIC was perhaps the not most important aim of the Test Event......it was damn pleasing to see two Brits standing on the Podium receiving their medals from HRH the Duchess of Cornwall.

I do not claim to understand the psychic of some of the Press – maybe I need to spend more time trying to understand or maybe I need to just accept that there are some journalists that really are onside and there are those that will seek out the negatives. I am in no doubt that the pressure Team GB will be under next year from the Press will be immense and I fear could act as a performance inhibitor rather than an enhancer. Of course the Press must report the ups and the downs but a balanced approach is what is needed: they also have the power to really help the Nation get behind the Games or they can create negativity.....as Cilla Black used to say.... ‘The choice is yours’. 

Back to the Test Event. 

Wednesday morning kicked off with the “Jumping Demo”...Nick Skelton, Laura Kraut, David O’Brien, David McPherson, Ben Maher and William Funnell all competed two rounds (ok, so David O’Brien didn’t quite ‘complete’ the second round due to an involuntary dismount) with the second round against the clock. The track was around 1.50m but not overly technical.  Whilst giving the venue a very positive thumbs-up, all agreed that the surface needs to be improved for next year.  I wonder whether it was the right decision to have a Jumping & Dressage “demo” – perhaps we should have looked in more detail at the timelines that existed for the preparation of the surface and the fact that there was not the water supply there will be next year. Conversely, it is better to get the discussions out in the open now. I am quietly confident all will be fine for next year and the ball is firmly in LOCOG’s / the surface provider’s court to show that the surface will be spot on.....just like it has been at other shows.

The last logistical action of the Test Event was for Piggy to go and collect a banner from the protestors (anti Greenwich Park being used for the Games).  The banner read....Go Piggy, Go Piggy, please..go...home.  Well Piggy did go home....clutching her London Prepares Gold Medal....yipee.

We had a very productive evening on Wednesday discussing what we had learnt – you will, I hope, forgive me if I do not go into more detail as we do not want Johnny Foreigner to hear all our secrets but discussions did go on for nearly 4 hours.  We were looking at three main areas; what could we feed back to LOCOG to help them learn from the Test Event, what adjustments do we need to make to our “Plan” and do our Test Event “experiences” alter our thoughts on the “soft” side of what will happen next year...e.g. Home Advantage V Home Disadvantage.  A good nights work that once again reinforced how lucky I am to work with such a committed and talented team.

The Test Event has been hard work and certainly involved far more work than say the Test Event in Hong Kong.... Demonstrations / ticket distribution / receptions and of course the CIC2*....... also work added when certain people forgot their tickets!.... all run through the World Class office.  So it is very, very well done to Sophie Thomas, Sarah Armstrong, Nikki Franck-Steier and Debbie Lee for all their hard work to pull together the logistics plan and Claire Shand and Pippa Wade for herding the Press.

Falsterbo CSIO5*........at the tip of a peninsula....near a beach populated by the beautiful people of Sweden...glorious sunshine....scantily clad Swedish ladies.......NO NO.....it is cold and raining. My biggest concern is that the weather could impact on the Bunny Jumping.... yes, jumping rabbits is big sport in Sweden and they are here in force.

The FEI Nations Cup is 8 competitions for 8 teams: At the end of the Series two Nations are relegated and two promoted for the “Promotional League”.  We are missing some of our top equine stars and it is a real challenge to stay in the top level league.....  After 3 Shows GBR is sitting at 4th with 16 points, USA are on 11.5, GER / FRA on 11 and DEN on 4.......  Germany and France have their “big guns here in Falsterbo... so today is going to be high tension. If this weather keeps up then the ground (it is a grass arena) is going to become a real challenge. Peter Charles had a good win yesterday on Murka’s Vindicat W.......hopefully the good fortune will continue today........    

From Sweden I fly back to Barbury Castle CIC3* and then drive out to Aachen CHIO.....not sure when I will next be able to tap the keyboard.....




(the Bunny Jumping course in Sweden)

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Riders talk test event

"It's very exciting to ride here but at the end of the day the comeptition is not the be all and end all. It does help you prepare yourself mentally for next year as a competitior and to get a feel of the place seeing as this will be the only time we do so" - Piggy French

"The importance of being in London, in the hub, is that it's just so special. It would be such an honour to compete on home territory, it's going to be such an experience if you compete here next year - but of course the pressure will be on. I think London 2012 will be just as much about the terrain as the fences and will really push ourselves as riders" - Pippa Funnell

"Great experience to have done it, very very twisty course and very demanding; you've got to have a horse that uses his gears very easily, that doesn't take too much out of himself when he does so. It was a great experience for my horse and for myself" - William Fox-Pitt after the cross-country

H&C TV caught up with the British athletes (competitors, demo riders and spectators) during the test event; here they talk to Piggy French, just after she won the eventing invitational competition.



For all the interviews courtesy of H&C TV please click here

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Rider reactions after the first round of the showjumping

Piggy rode a clear round to remain at the top of the leaderboard;

"The set-up here is phenomenal and it's really exciting to be at the Park to get an idea of what it's all about. For me it wasn't really about the competition at the start, more about the venue, how it rides and what we can learn from it.There's become quite a lot of hype surrounding the competition, it's good for me to have to ride under so much pressure.

 "It's would be amazing to compete here next year..... its everyones dream"

William was unlucky to finish with 8 faults after the first round;

"He jumped really well. It's a fantastic surface in there but its always going to be challenging to have a surface that can cater for everyone.

"I was a little frustrated that we had a couple of poles down but i'm really happy with him and how he coped with the atmosphere."

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Cross Country in Greenwich was bloody great and it wasn't just down to the results...

The 4th of July celebrations started with a Reception at the Queen’s House (adjacent to the National Maritime Museum).  It is just the perfect venue for a reception and we had invited the delegations attending the Test Event from around the world as well as the ITOs and NTOs and representatives from the BOA and BPA.  The Reception was attended by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, Patron of the BEF which was a great honour and those that had the privilege of meeting HRH will hold last night as a special memory. With modern security measures, hosting an HRH does present challenges in terms of trying to herd the guests...many of which consider HRH very much part of the “equestrian family”.

P.S.  Rumour has it that the 4th July celebrations for certain Americans continued until 5th July......0630 hours on the 5th July....  

So cross-country (XC) day dawned. XC is always the highlight of an eventing competition. So as I Blog you will of course be expecting me to wax lyrical about Piggy French’s faultless round that leaves her 6.9 penalty points (more than one down in the showjumping) ahead of the field or Pippa Funnell’s and William Fox-Pitt’s solid and (to be expected) foot perfect rounds that leaves them 5th and 9th respectively. Sorry to disappoint you but these are not the memories I will take away.

Well done LOCOG....Greenwich Park was heavily populated with school children...kids who have probably never seen a horse up close and personal.  The very positive yipping, yapping, clapping, cheering and shouting as horses approached the water jump was unlike anything we have ever seen, heard or dreamt off...it was bloody great.  Mandy Stibbe (Chairman of Eventing Selectors) and I watched Pippa through the rails / ditch / brush arrowhead complex... as Pippa cleared the third element the cry went up from about 20 kids....  Pippa.... we believe!

Perhaps too late but please try and buy or get your hands on a copy of the 5th July Times...the photo on the back page explains “legacy” the article by Simon Barnes explains passion.... the combination explain Greenwich.  Sorry but those that sought to doubt, sought to criticise and sought to question Greenwich were wrong and you should hide your face in shame and go and watch another sport next year.  We might not win medals next year (I sincerely hope this not to be the case) but we will still recognise Greenwich as a truly wonderful venue.

So Pippa Funnell is out walking the XC and this young (I suspect Londoner) kid comes up to her... “Are you in this Race”... “Can I have your autograph?”  Pippa – “Well yes....but I am just testing the biro.” The point is that this is just a Test Event but it has had the atmosphere of something truly unique.  I suggest you all get engrossed in Pippa’s books...Tilly’s Pony Tails... I have a sneaky suspicion that the Tilly might pay a visit to Greenwich sometime.

The GBR riders have been true stars...endless media engagements and so many people wanting to know more about the sport.  At the end of play one came up to me and said; “We should have done more to get out there and meet people who wanted to learn about the sport”.  What a great attitude; it is such a privilege to be involved in some way and such a driver to make me ensure that when I awake following the 2012 Games I can look in the mirror and know....there was nothing more that I could have done to help them win medals.

I know I have banged on about this venue but I add one last word.....from the Chef d’Equipe of one of our WEG 2010 Gold Medal winning squads (that would be Vaulting);  “Wow what a venue, what a great day, well done all, next year will be fab.”

If ever there was a time for equestrianism within the UK to unite under one banner now is that time.  Petty differences should (must) be put to one side and we should be as one, celebrating the glory of the horse.  

Celebrating the horse under one banner can encompass all the various facets that these noble beasts bring to us; whether it be elite sport, recreational riding, hunting, racing, trade or the very important therapeutic benefits that horses bring to those less fortunate.  Whether it be jumping, dressage, eventing or para-equestrian dressage we will, in 2012, be Equestrian and thus we should present ourselves as Equestrian.

I am occasionally reminded of some major differences between City protocol and country protocol;  there were kids hand feeding squirrels in the Park today....wrong wrong wrong:  Mr & Mrs Nutkin should know their place; this over familiarity would not happen at home (we think Mr Surl is recovering from the shock of seeing Nutkins not fleeing at the sight of him).

Piggy shines in Greenwich

“He was a good boy”, exclaimed a beaming Piggy French after having finished 4 seconds under the time, in 5.01, to go into the jumping phase tomorrow on her dressage score of 34.7.
“It felt like the going was fast. He looked at the water and it wasn’t as fluent as I would have liked - lots of kids ran over to look just as I approached which distracted him but otherwise he was brilliant. The course is relatively unknown territory, with twists and turns coming up very quick. I think for next year you would need an amenable horse. DHI Topper W is a very exciting, lovely horse and is improving all the time; you wouldn't say he couldn't be an Olympic horse.”


Pippa Funnell survives a sticky moment to ride clear just outside the time

Pippa Funnell riding the homebred mare Billy Shannon added just .8 of a time penalty to her overnight score to finish the cross country phase on 44.9.

“The whole thing has a really good feel” commented an enthused Pippa Funnell. “But it’s felt quite nerve wracking this morning, almost like the real deal! I had a tricky moment at fence five when I think she was too busy looking at the London skyline but after that she picked up through the water and made up for it on the second stretch of the course. I think London 2012 will be just as much about the terrain as the fences and will really push ourselves as riders.”

“It’s really fabulous to be here, meeting all the kids and their teachers out on the course has been really special and given me a real buzz.”

Greenwich proves a real cross country test, William Fox Pitt confirms

Going clear on course but notching up 5.19 time penalties, first of the Brits to ride, William Fox Pitt, with the 9 year old gelding Gaucho, gave his thoughts on the Test Event cross country course. The undulating track follows a shorter route than next year’s test but the twisting track through Greenwich Parkland covers much of the same terrain that the Olympic trial will follow. He commented:

“A bit like a BMX track” was William’s first impression, “the course really tests the gears and the steering; it’s tight so I’m delighted with just five time penalties. “We’re all talking about what’s the right Greenwich horse for next year - you want a proper equine athlete - this puts even Gatcombe in a shadow. The course should mean next year will be a real test of acceleration, accuracy and control and not a dressage and showjumping competition.”

The result leaves William on a score of 52.3 going into the final phase, currently lying in sixth place.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Piggy French Tops the dressage finishing on 34.70

Piggy French and DHI Topper W ride into the lead after dressage at the CIC2* invitational, producing a super clean test peppered with 9's - and including a 10 for their final halt - to finish on a score of 34.70. The result puts them more than 6 points clear of their nearest rivals Clayton Fredericks and Bendigo. A clearly delighted Piggy commented:

"It’s my second season with Topper now and he’s really come on another level; this is definitely the best he’s gone and he’s now really a horse in with a shout at coming here next year. The whole competition has a real buzz about it and he has an excellent brain to cope with the atmosphere; it’s exciting and surreal to be here. It all looks great especially when you look up at the skyline and remember where we are."

"It’s a great thing for equestrian to be based so centrally at the Games where hopefully we can rally more public support and persuade more people that our fantastic sport is something they’ll want to watch and be a part of."

Dressage day

Day one of the competition – what a beautiful day; warm, sunny but a nice breeze, the Park looks truly at its best!
My feet don’t seem to have touched the ground since breakfast. I got to the venue just after Emily Baldwin arrived. Drivetime looked fab and produced a lovely test that would have been extremely competitive had he been in the competition, but then again he is a regular competitor at 3 and 4* events.
Next up were a round of media interviews, some filming for a short film that’s being made about Equestrian Team GBR and then some work with the BBC. It was great to see Piggy on Breakfast TV this morning!
There was also a lot of media work for the dressage riders that are here to watch the Grand Prix horses go this afternoon; with the eventers - Pippa, William and Piggy also inundated with requests, from radio, tv and news journalists.
So isn’t this great, all this publicity for equestrian?
Well, yes it is and it’s all part of why Greenwich is the perfect place to be next year but it is also a real taster of the extra pressures British athletes will face next year. Don’t get me wrong – I love talking about equestrian sport and how it works, but inevitably as the Games draw closer questions will turn to medal expectations and an analysis of what Team GBR hopes to achieve and these are questions that are always difficult to answer, especially when one of the athletes involved in delivering medals in our sport (the horse) doesn’t know it’s an Olympic/Paralympic Games.
We’ve also had two briefings from Tim Haddaway and his staff. These briefings are giving us a great deal of detail ahead of next year and will really help with the planning. I must admit that I felt a little bit proud to be British when the plans were unveiled, that doesn’t mean to say everything’s quite where it needs to be yet but I refer you back to what it says on the can: it is a Test Event.
So it’s the 4th July and we get to celebrate our divorce from the Americans. We’re running a reception tonight for all the participants in the Test Event, the team officials and representatives of the BOA, BPA and LOCOG.
We’ll then be heading off to dinner with the American team to raise a glass to 1776 and quietly remind them that their army was staffed by rather a large number of Frenchmen, while the British army included many Americans. Confusing thing this international politics.
So....... back to the competition.
William and Pippa both produced great dressage test, with a few errors that unfortunately cost dear........ William, who rode Gaucho, finished on a score of 46.70; Pippa, with Billy Shannon, posted 44.1. Piggy again showed true class delivering an exceptional score in the final session of the day to take the lead going into the cross country with a dressage score of 34.1.
Must dash, the dressage demos are about to start.

Pippa Funnell's take on the dressage and all things Test Event so far

"I’m delighted with the trot work, she’s a hope for the future with a bit to learn as she showed in the final halt but altogether I’m happy and this is an amazing experience” was Pippa Funnell’s assessment of her 44.1 penalty dressage score, putting her into third place at the end of the second session. Pippa rode the eight year old bay mare Billy Shannon owned by Barbara and Nicholas Walkinshaw.

"It’s just wonderful to be here; so far everything has been exceptional, if slightly surreal competing with the city right behind you. We all had the feeling that an Olympic equestrian event in this country would be just another traditional event but this feels everything but – ultra modern and like a proper Olympics."

"I’m so impressed by the stables which have been built on raised platforms that will be cover us in wet weather; they’re spacious and airy and plenty big enough - so important from a rider point of view."

William declares Olympic arena surface one of the best in the world

William Fox-Pitt on his dressage round this morning, scoring 46.70 on the 9 year old gelding Gaucho owned by Mrs Celia Plunkett...

"Quite extraordinary!” was William Fox-Pitt’s reaction on leaving the dressage arena “Greenwich has an Olympic feel already and gives a real taster of what next year will be like. The facilities here are incredible and the surface rides beautifully – it has a real spring which is very kind and forgiving on the horses.  It’s a brilliant experience to be here and I’ll leave no stone unturned to get here for real next year. Being here in London is very special and to have the equestrian venue so close to the Olympic stadium in 2012 will be a one off for the riders.”
“Gaucho is a young horse on the way up, he was a bit green in the arena and made a mistake in the counter canter but there’s a little bit of atmosphere in there and I’m very happy with how he coped.”

Sunday, 3 July 2011

And here we go..........

The green light is on and everything is under way. The first Horse Inspection has been completed 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 British delegation is also arriving in force with the possy nearly at full strength....there will be 28 from Team GBR here by tonight – this is such a valuable opportunity for all to see the venue and get a feel for how things will work next year. Each day I am here I fall more in love with this venue – I have now walked the course and had an opportunity to see at close quarters the work that has been done of the cross country going ....or footing as our cousins from across the pond call it. I am not sure what superlatives to use to describe how successful the work on the going has been....when you walk on the course it is lush green grass and good / good to firm going – go off the course and it baked and compacted hard ground and many bare patches where the grass has been worn away. The locals should be demanding that STRI work on the whole park.
Ok, so there are things that need to be looked at for next year...or rather tweaks...or even re-designed.  Let’s start with re-designed..... Many will know Peter Whitehead, an extremely experienced doctor in the eventing world who has worked with the World Class Programme and Team GBR as the lead doctor for many years. Peter is the Venue Medical Manager (big chief quack) and is walking around resplendent in his LOCOG issued poloshirt.......which is Dutch orange in colour...Dutch orange I ask you; we have enough problems beating the Dutch (especially in Dressage & Jumping) and now we have LOCOG staff implicitly supporting them:  re-design time.
We have happy Grooms; oh how I wanted to say that: One of the great advantages of Greenwich is that the Grooms are accommodated in Devonport Hotel (which is 200m from the stables) – at last Grooms are getting good quality accommodation and good quality food; as it should be as Grooms are one of the hardest working groups of people at a Games.
Competition starts tomorrow; it is interesting taking a step back and watching how a Home Games Test Event differs for me as a Team Leader (Chef de Mission in non Games talk). At this stage I would be fairly relaxed; everybody would have arrived and a day of dressage is not taxing for me (take it away Tracie Robinson) but tomorrow we also have the Guinea Pig (the test rider for the judges) arriving, Emily Baldwin, who will be riding Drivetime and I have a little suspicion she will have one of the best scores of the day! We have also organised the dressage demo horses and riders, who are Henriette Andersen riding Louis D'Or, Hannah Biggs riding Weltzin and Amy Stovold riding Macbrian......they will be riding Grand Prix tests following the completion of the eventing dressage – this will test the Organisers!
Check your diaries; tomorrow is the 4th July....and there is a large American delegation here at the Test Event; and they think we are sad about them winning their Independence in 1776....not so American cousins, not so.......and p.s. there is no such thing as English (United States) – Microsoft please note.
Must rush as we have the first of 6 briefings about to start; these will be briefings by LOCOG which aim to explain to us how everything will work next year.....

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Test Event is gathering pace!

Horses started arriving yesterday and the GBR horses came in today; this is a little more complex than might at first appear. All the horseboxes have to go via an Equestrian Staging Post where full security checks are carried out prior to the horseboxes going on to Greenwich. This process has all gone very smoothly although there will need to be small tweaks ahead of next year.

The venue is looking superb......compact and of course different to what we will see next year (LOCOG have worked very hard to keep an element of the Park open to the public). It is very surreal watching horseboxes driving in to a Park in the middle of London but as I have already said......this is most certainly an Olympic/Paralympic equestrian venue that is being created. This Games will be another glorious feather in the hat of Greenwich Park.....a Park with a rich and varied history. It is completely beyond me why some do not want to share Greenwich Park with the rest of the world through the auspices of the Games.

The stables are a brand new design, based on an American barn layout; rubber matting on the floor and wide aisles – they should be perfect for next year. For the Test Event there is one all weather training area and one grass arena: the Main Arena (the Field of Play in Olympic talk) is of course all weather.......but.......built on a stage!! The ground drops away by about 1.5m and to avoid digging the ground out to level it or bringing in soil, LOCOG have had a stage built to give a level Field of Play. It is quite a feat of engineering but it will certainly do the job. Yes, oh yes, our stables are bedecked in Union flags (not, not, not the Union Jack) and Team GBR stable drapes: Brendan Murray and Sarah Armstrong have been busy again.............

Take a look at Google Earth and zoom in to Greenwich Park.... you will see just how brown the grass was when the image was captured on 27th June 2010. Well now much of the Park is a pristine green, thanks to the work that has been done to the cross country course.......

Socially we are managing to survive..... dinner with some of the USA delegation last night..... WEG 2010 all over again. One sad story to report..... Amanda Bond (Chief Executive of British Dressage and Para-Equestrian Dressage advisor to LOCOG) was testing the bell (not electric) today, ahead of the start of the dressage..... and the donger fell off. That is what the Test Event is for.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Will's Blog is Back!

Welcome back..... the last time I was blogging was during the World Equestrian Games in 2010 and I will be updating you regularly throughout the Test Event and then weekly throughout the summer season and then through to the 2012 Games.

Since WEG 2010 we’ve been working very hard to finalise our London 2012 plans and especially to look at how we recreate what worked well at WEG and what we can learn from WEG ahead of London 2012.  This weekend sees the start of the Test Event, the Greenwich Park Eventing Invitational CIC2*.

So what is the Test Event?

A Test Event is most certainly not the finished product and anyone who goes to Greenwich must realise that what they will see is not to the same scale as what they will see in 2012, it is very much smaller and does not utilise the whole of Greenwich Park.

Test Events exist so that the Organising Committee, LOCOG, can test their venue and the various internal functional areas. There are over 80 functional areas within an Olympic/Paralympic Games Organising Committee, ranging from results management through to waste disposal, transport, accreditation, the list goes on. The first time these functional areas really get an opportunity to work together is at the Test Events, but not all areas will be tested at all Test Events.

So the Test Event is a vital milestone on the road to London 2012, but it is what it says on the can; it’s about testing everything rather than producing the finished product.

So how do we, within Equestrian Team GBR, utilise the Test Event?

Well, the first thing I would say is all credit to LOCOG, who have included ‘small’ demos of dressage, jumping and para-equestrian dressage, the actual Test Event being an eventing CIC competition. In the past Test Events have just been the eventing competitions.

For the Test Event in Hong Kong we were very keen to get as much info about how the horses would react to the journey and climate and so we focussed on selecting three different ‘sizes/weights’ of horses so we could collect data from a wide range of horses.  For London, we are not so focussed on climate (we are used to it being hot and sunny one day and cold and rainy the next) and travel, but we want to learn as much about the venue as we can, including the topography of the cross-country course. Therefore, we have selected three of our most experienced riders in William Fox-Pitt, Pippa Funnell and Piggy French and we are confident that they will give us really good feedback on the competition.

We also have British riders participating in the three aforementioned demos. I will of course go into far more detail about these as the Test Event unfolds over the next few days.

There is much written within sports about ‘home advantage’ and I would of course agree. However, there is ‘home disadvantage’ and we’ve been working very hard at how we can maximise the advantage and minimise the disadvantage. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but as you can imagine, the expectation from the press will be massive.  Also the expectation of people within the equestrian community to be able to ‘access all areas’ at these Olympic and Paralympic Games, is an expectation that in the main will not be fulfilled – there is a great deal of management of these expectations and others to be done over the coming months.

So, as I write this I’ve just arrived in Greenwich, my car is packed to the gunnels with kit for the Test Event but also for Falsterbo CSI5*, Barbury CIC3* and Aachen CHIO5*: the very smart Land Rover Discovery is filled to the roof and is, amongst other things, now doubling as my wardrobe!

I also have with me a new Tokyo Horseweigh Equine Weighbridge, which breaks down into three parts, which will be used at Aachen to gather information on competing horses. I also have a Waterboy (effectively a big tank with a pump and hose which we fill with cool water), which we used very effectively out at WEG. I learnt the other day their biggest market is gardeners in Europe, rather than equine enthusiasts, seeking to cool their horses.

The home Test Event seems to generate a monstrous amount of work and all in the World Class office and Nikki Franck-Steier have been working flat out to make sure everything’s prepared. Just to make sure we’re not bored, the World Class Programme team are also running a reception for some 400 guests during the Test Event, which will be attended by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall (Patron of the BEF) and also a dinner with the American delegation to help them celebrate their Independence day, or as we like to call it, ‘the day we eventually got rid of you’.

We have organised some 130 room nights at three hotels and distributed 730 tickets, so that potential 2012 athletes, staff and owners can attend the Test Event.  On the subject of tickets, I know that many will be very disappointed that they could not get tickets to next week. The equestrian Test Event is being kept small and ticket sales and the management of large spectator numbers is not a functional area LOCOG is testing at Greenwich. There will be other Test Events where tickets will be on sale.

I know it’s been a long time since I last blogged and there have been so many exciting results that I’d love to tell you about but more of that to follow.

I need to start cracking on with Test Event preparations, which includes checking out the stabling, accreditation lists, hotel lists and of course that the various restaurants that we’ll be using are ready to roll out the red carpet. But most of all I need a large drink to recover from the journey down here, being stuck behind lorry drivers who insist on sitting in the outside lane on dual carriageways, trying to overtake lorries that are going at the same speed as them...............drives me mad.....more anger management training needed.