Friday, 31 August 2012

The Brits take to the arena

I hope you all stayed up to hear the head Orator of the GBR Para-Equestrian Dressage Team, David Hunter, take the Oath on behalf of coaches and Team staff.  David’s fame in Norfolk is now assured through the pages of the Norfolk Evening News although the aforementioned media outlet did report that he took the Oath on behalf of the Judges; which seeing we are a sport that relies on the clear eyes and straight brains of kinda interesting! 

Only David and Lee Pearson / Daniel Kinson (Lee’s Carer) attended the Opening Ceremony and we held a buffet in the hotel for the staff and some owners to watch the Ceremony – there was much whooping and cheering when the Orator took the stage, dressed in a manner that will have brought pride to his former Officer Cavalry colleagues.

The Green light was pushed for competition to begin at Greenwich. First on the Piste for GBR; a first time Paralympian but reigning European Grade II Champions – what can I say – wow.  We could not have asked for a better start; 76.095%, some 3.5% ahead of her closest rival.  Natasha is not in the Team so this score did not count towards the Team score but the perfect way for Natasha to say “Cabral & I have arrived; TAKE NOTE”.

The weather continued to laugh in the face of the GBR Team (many a RH Mears Riding Jacket has had to hold out against attack from above). As Lee Pearson warmed up the skies darkened, the wind became stronger and the temperature dropped. Autumn arrived accompanied by a round of applause as Lee entered the arena. Another winning test was delivered although the rain did get in to the sat nav at one point and caused a temporary glitch.  A great start for the Team with a score of 74.682%. Pepo Puch (who many will remember from his eventing days) was snapping at Lee’s heals on 73.636%.

Autumn has definitely arrived – the workload is building as attention turns to Rule revisions and most importantly the preparation and delivery to UK Sport of the “Rio 2016 Plan”. I am sure all involved with Team GB at the Olympics and ParalympicsGB at the Paralympics will readily acknowledge the value of the support we get from UK Sport; the funding (Lottery / Exchequer) is epicentral to the success that was delivered during the Olympics and I hope will be delivered during the Paralympics. Making sure the Plan (and hence the funding bid) is as detailed and understandable as possible will be my core Mission through to early October. It is then that I will be able to relax a little and have a real think about my future.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

It's nearly underway.......

The pressure is beginning to crank up. All horses passed the Horse Inspection and as I “blog” the draws are being done to determine the order of starting. Trays full of ping pong balls were spotted earlier in the week....high tech stuff these draws.  

The Team of four has been announced; Sophie Christiansen, Lee Pearson, Deborah Criddle and Sophie Wells. They will compete for Team and Individual honours and of course Natasha Baker will be aiming to land medals in the Individual competitions. I am sure Natasha would love to be in the Team – there cannot be many countries that can leave a reigning European Champion out of the Team. The Team carry a heavy burden; undefeated since equestrian entered the Paralympic Games in 1996. I wonder what other undefeated Teams there are in the UK; eek that’s pressure!

I thought I would have one last wander around areas I will not be able to access during competition; or perhaps should not access at all!
The BOSS of the Field of Play, Simon Wingnut Garrett

Angie Murray with one of her creations
It is a shame that not all the Para-Equestrian Dressage will be shown live on TV; I guess cost is the driver. The compound that housed all of the broadcast trucks during the Olympics is nearly empty and much of the miles and miles of TV cabling that hung on the fence has now gone.

The Opening Ceremony is tonight; only one athlete going but there is a starring role for a certain member of the equestrian team – I am not sure when this will be loaded on to the web so I am sworn to secrecy.....but watch!

Competition starts tomorrow and I am off to organise a little get together in the hotel for all of us that are not going to the Ceremony. It is difficult to define how I feel; it is very challenging to try to assess what other Nations have in their arsenal – there are not many International Para-Equestrian Dressage competitions and so we do not see all of the Teams together very often. Watching horses training there is certainly a number of very classy horses ready to take to the Field of Play. I am of course aware that there are huge expectations and I suspect the margins between success and disappointment will be very very small. We have an outstanding group of athletes and horses supported by talented and dedicated staff and grooms. I guess....I feel like....let battle begin!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Technology, training and the 'field of dreams'.......

No entry yesterday as the wigglyamps disconnected me from my email; well that is my excuse and I am sticking to it. There is a relaxed but focused atmosphere in the camp and that is good. It would be all too easy to wind the tension stakes up too early.

Horses and riders had their first experience of riding in the Main Arena yesterday; the Field of Play to give it its correct title – I rather like to refer to it as the “Field of Dreams” as perhaps that is where dreams are realised or broken. LOCOG have been very generous (and very sensible), riders will be able to ride on the Field of Play on a daily basis from now until competition starts.  It is very important that the horses get as acclimatised as possible to the arena; some para-equestrian dressage riders have limited ability to “stay on board” if a horse becomes spooked or too excitable. This poses another challenge for LOCOG and that is how they “educate” the spectators – nobody wants a silent Games with no applause but it would be terrible if the applause caused a horse to spook and a rider to fall; discussions ongoing!! 

Training was followed by a trip up to ParalympicsGB House for a Press Conference.  ParalympicsGB House (was Team GB House during the Olympics) is situated in part of the Westfield Centre and fills a number of functions: 1) It is a place where sponsors and key personnel can be entertained, 2) it provides a venue for non-accredited media to work from and meet athletes, 3) it is where ParalympicsGB staff work from who do not have access to the Village and (very importantly) 4) it is where athletes can meet up with their 'Nearest & Dearest' in a relaxed and private environment. So the “House” is a busy place!

The Press Conference lasted about 45 minutes and that will be that for press commitments until after competition; less of course for the Mixed Zone. All athletes must go through the Mixed Zone once they have competed, almost immediately after exciting the Field of Play. They must go through the Mixed Zone although they do not have to speak to the media – you will have seen the pictures of athletes being grabbed for TV interviews immediately after a race / competition.

A fun evening in Cafe Rouge then followed; grooms, staff and British Dressage staff who are working at the Paralympics. BD is well represented here and it is great to see so many friendly faces each day. 

More training today and a very important meeting between David Hunter, Sarah Armstrong and myself; how everyone is going to get home! The planning for the departure has to start early and with horses / grooms / staff / kit to get back to the riders’ yards and the stables to strip out, the plan needs to be watertight!  The athletes will stay in London until the Closing Ceremony on 9th September and the Team GB / ParalympicsGB Parade in London on 10th September.

Yes, the place to be on 10th September is London; big party!

I spent the afternoon catching up on some admin but also made a quick visit to Westfield to buy some trainers....with specially moulded insoles – how techno modern is that?

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Update from Greenwich

Horses have arrived (by horsebox), Stewards have arrived (55 seater bus), squirrels are omnipresent. All is well in Greenwich.

Horses unloading at Greenwich Park
Akilles and Cabral say hello in the stables
The para-equestrian dressage team have arrived earlier than the Olympic Teams; normally we would hold a Squad Training session before a Games or Championships and then move directly to the competition from the Squad Training. Usually, of course, the Games / Championships are abroad. It was felt this time that it would be an added level of disruption to move twice, so the decision was made to go directly into Greenwich. This will give the opportunity for horses, athletes and staff to settle in, relax and then build up to the crescendo of competition. That is the plan....

What is it about "pins"? These little critters cause me more hassle than anything else. Each Country will have a "pin" for the Games and these become a currency at the Games with "swops" or just outright begging for a pin being the order of the day. We worked our way through 3000 for the Olympics and tried very hard to make sure as many of the "back of house" volunteers as possible received one as a thank you. Please note we have none left from the Olympics and we do not have 3000 for the Paralympics!!

Whinge of the day....I have to move rooms in the hotel....again. Long story, full of intrigue, innocent mistakes and teddy throwing by a certain person from a certain international organisation that should know better. It is a pain in the posterior but if it keeps the peace then so be it.......

New trend at photos by our union flag at the entrance to our Stables; venue vet team and venue logistics team so far today. This is our "sitting out area" so heaven help any group that arrives for their David Bailey moment if I am having a siesta.

I would have liked to have been at the Endurance World Championships which take place today near Newmarket. The Non-Olympic Disciplines do not have the benefit of Lottery / Exchequer funding through UK Sport and so it is a struggle for them to develop and fund Programmes that support the elite end of their sports. It has always been an aim of mine to try to find more funding. We have some outstanding athletes; for example the Eccles clan from Scotland who have taken the Vaulting world by storm. Joanne Eccles is the reigning World and European Champion and, I believe, undefeated for four years. With her sister, Hannah, they are now winning medals in the Pas de Deux; a fantastic achievement under the guidance of their father John. 

So good luck to the Endurance Team. I must rush now as the heavens have opened and I need to deliver umbrellas to various training areas!

Friday, 24 August 2012

Groundhog Day meets Day of Mourning

Once again I am back in London; although a different room in the hotel, much the same view! Except, tragedy, the cable camera has gone: It was the cable camera, stretching from near the Royal Observatory, across the Thames, that gave us some of the most stunning TV images of Greenwich. I guess that with the Paralympics having a different broadcaster and the fact that the camera could not move during dressage tests, it was time for it to depart Greenwich.

We were greeted by the same enthusiastic LOCOG staff although there are some new faces amongst the Volunteers. Thank heavens we still have military doing the security / “mag & bag”; after we had finished in Greenwich for the Olympics I visited another Venue that had F2R security...within two minutes I was ready to scream.

Same drills, different branding (and some great branding that we have received from the British Paralympic Association); ParalympicsGB rocks! The stables are now ready to receive the equipment (0800 hrs tomorrow) and horses (1200 hrs tomorrow). The Para Equestrian Team have gathered today at a yard in Kent and will leave from there tomorrow: The athletes, carers and Team Manager (David Hunter) will head straight to their new home in the Paralympic Village; the horses and grooms to the Venue and the staff that do not have rooms in the Village will be transported by Perry Taxi to the Hotel. All very complex but I am sure all will work!

We had a little bit of a Carol Beer (think Little Britain) moment today when Sophie and Sarah tried to validate their PIAC cards (in English.....activate their accreditation). The computer said no and then it kept saying no. Briefly; for the Games you complete endless forms, some online, some in hard copy and then you complete more forms. Apparently the Carol Beer residing in the LOCOG system decided that Sarah and Sophie had not signed Form number 8974; anyway, all eventually sorted with 20 phone calls and a few emails; thank you Anna J of BPA fame.
New stables branding

Inspirational messages from Paralympics GB

They definitely rock!

Stable Fairies; Sarah Armstrong and Sophie Thomas

The road to the GB camp

So Groundhog day complete, stables ready.

Then the sad news. Canna, Mother’s trusted Labrador companion had to be put down today. He went blind a few months ago but things went from bad to worse and it was the kindest option. Canna was originally brought to replace Freoch who was just the most wonderful Labrador and my constant companion for many years. Freoch took a turn for the worse when I returned to Command the King’s Troop and parents found Canna. However, I threatened the Troop Vet with very prolonged and painful torture if he did not save Freoch and Freoch soldiered on for long enough that Canna really became Mother’s dog. Canna was not trained to the gun but he was a great companion and just loved being out and about. Farewell friend.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

A glorious end to a glorious Games.... Memories

I had a dream and the dream has evolved in to reality; another chapter to go but what was a dream, only to be talked about in hushed tones, has projected itself on to the Field of Play in Greenwich. Through the magical abilities of our top riders, supported by generous owners, nannied by dedicated grooms and assisted by talented Team Staff those magnificent equines have danced their way in to the history books. What has driven many of us for 7 years, frustrated us, worried us and at times felt well beyond touching distance has mostly been delivered. Could the reality of the dream have been better; of course. Were there opportunities missed; perhaps. In terms of the % rate of medal opportunities V medals won, equestrian would be well above the accepted average. 4th = in the GBR medal table for the Olympics – I’ll take that.

But I still have a dream.

I have a dream that as one sport we can rise up and embrace that emotion that has touched so many, whether it be the written media, TV, radio or the wee lad in the stadium who shouted:  “We love those dancing horses” . That mantra can embrace all, whether it be dressage, jumping, cross country, vaulting etc etc. The beauty of the horse and its ability to perform amazing skills....

I have a dream that we can further educate all age groups as to the therapeutic value of horses for those with disabilities or special needs.

I have a dream that we can take elite equine sport once more in to the centre of our Capital City and other great Cities around the country. Imagine dressage and jumping on The Mall...regardless of discipline it still celebrates the horse....VIP hospitality one side..inner city children the other side of the arena...what a send off for the World Games in 2014 that would be.

I have a dream that all young people can enjoy that freedom and majesty of riding horses.

I have a dream that we can attract sponsorship to our top shows; that we can see great competition centres developing around the country. Centres where the facilities are elite both for spectators and for the athletes (2 legged and 4).

Perhaps I was tired but I admit I had a tear in my eye during the GBR Freestyle tests; some of the music invoked glorious memories of my time at the King’s Troop RHA. I understand that the Dutch may have felt that Parzival could have been ahead of Valegro but the reasons for Valegro winning Gold were well explained at the Press Conference; I have watched Valegro and Charlotte’s test back a few times and it was just stunning.....which about sums up the achievements of Charlotte, Carl and Valegro. The cream on the cherry on the icing on the cake was two individual medals; go go go Gloucestershire Girl Power. 

We managed to control the media commitments post the Dressage fulfilling a myriad of interviews at Greenwich on the Thursday evening and then a trip to the Olympic Park (BBC) and Team GB House (non accredited media) on Friday morning. Within a few minutes of the riders being on the BBC “balcony” a large crowd had gathered. “Which sport are you” shouted a lady......"They’re the dancing horses silly” shouted back a kid who cannot have been more than 10. 

I was saddened to learn that some people had criticised the coverage that the dressage team had after the Team competition compared to jumping....have they heard of Chris Hoy...have they heard of “still being in competition”.  How anyone can criticise the amount of coverage all three disciplines had is beyond me. The equestrian media have been fantastically supportive throughout the Games and have given the riders the space they needed and reported accurately and fairly. A first...thank you the media...well, most of the media; to those that tried to create scandal out of nothing, I blow you a big raspberry.

Rewind to the Jumping Individual Final and there was a different mood post competition. Big Star was a star and deserved a rail down in 6 rounds must be close to a record. Tripple X and Sanctos both had rails but still jumped superbly..... Hey, they are the 2012 Olympic Gold Medallists....the last time that happened the Blogger of the day might have been using a Qwerty keyboard but electric typewriters would have been right “with it” and semaphore would have been the preferred method of communication with the Judges Box (hang on.....I seem to remember, in very recent times, the occasional Water jump Judge using this well tried and tested method of inter personal communication).

So competition done.

Friday morning was spent clearing up the stables....well to be truthful, I saw the dressage horses off and then disappeared to the Olympic Park with Laura and Charlotte to “do media work”. The stables that we will keep for the Paralympics have been mucked out and disinfected, the others emptied of bedding. Olympic branding removed...ready for the Paralympic branding. Everything cleaned and tidied up. On that note...another Gold medal needs to awarded; to the Vets: Shock, horror, surprise – they managed to contain themselves to their three trunks and not spread their kit around our store room; who said the Lottery funded CPD we have been doing has not paid benefits!

Our office in the hotel was closed and the House cleaned and tidied ready for handing back to the owners.

The end of a Games is always a bit of a tug on the heart strings but this time I had secured a couple of tickets to athletics and basketball and I had to stay for the Closing Ceremony. OMG OMG OMG the atmosphere in the Athletics Stadium was pure adrenalin...but I kept my cool and managed to call the GBR Mens 4 x 100m mistake as it happened. Watching a World Record being set was and will remain a treasured memory.

So to the Closing Ceremony: Preceded by a reception for all medallists and Team Leaders laid on by the BOA and attended by a range of celebs and politicians: The Prime Minster spoke extremely well and the news that Exchequer funding is secured through to the end of the Rio cycle was greeted by cheers....Lottery and Exchequer funding DOES make a difference.

The Closing Ceremony. Enough said; 2 ½ hours to get in to the Stadium, could not hear the music or see the performers in the Stadium. I, like many, left and watched the most poignant moments back at the hotel. The lowering of the Olympic flag and the extinguishing of the Flame. OK, I might not have smiled much during the Games but I sure as hell shed a tear as the Flame left the UK.      

Although only ¾ of the way through the Mission it is job well done to LOCOG, the Volunteers, the Army and most of all, the Nation. So we return to the fray next week.....standby for the occasional Blog.