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 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) 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 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 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 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 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’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. 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 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 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 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.