Monday, 8 August 2011

Musings from the Emerald Isle

This is a very busy time of year!! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No comments:

Post a Comment