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

1 comment:

  1. I have never been in Aachen, but I have heard that they have really good pay per head services there thus I am really interested in traveling to that place in the near future