Monday, 21 November 2011

Time: The One Thing You Can’t Buy - Carpe Diem

Mark Todd Squeezes Through The Trout Hatchery At Burghley
Adelaide CCI**** finished yesterday and with it the end of eventing in 2011, well except maybe for some crazy Americans down in the depth south and some in the southern hemisphere. So as we prepare enter December, and I prepare to enter Dubai on my way round the world (the wrong way round!) I got to thinking about how fabulous the sport has been this year, and all the fun I’ve had eventing or otherwise.

It’s been a year of opportunities not to be missed, in my personal life, my professional life, and my horsey life. The ‘big’ season for me always starts with Badminton and this year’s event gave me the chance to witness everybody’s favourite eventer, Mark Todd, take the title for a 4th time, in what proved to be one of the best Badmintons for many years. We had great weather, most of the world’s best event riders vying to catch the selectors eye, and the greatest collection of event horses I’ve ever seen gathered in one place.

Ruth Edge | Dressage Supremo
Badminton got under way as it often does, with Ruth Edge leading after the first phase. Ruth is something of a dressage specialist, and has excelled in the pure discipline. Personally I think she’s not far off slipping into the 2nd string for team GB, in either discipline.

Cross country day brought it’s far share of high drama, and at one point in the quarry I thought Mark Todd might not make it home, as NZB Land Vision trotted through part of the complex stumbling over one of the logs. Plenty of horses came home tired that day particularly as the heat of the day set in. Mark describes this horse as one of the best in the world, and to come back the following day and show jump clear after such tough time out on the course, he must be.

Being held over Easter, much early than normal, Badminton gave me another opportunity not to be missed; a visit to Rolex Kentucky 3DE, which for the first time was held after Badminton, and there watch another historic win, by another of eventing’s icons, Mary King, taking first and second place.

The Permanent Stand At Rolex Kentucky
I have to admit to being as fascinated with how the event was run, and any interesting differences I could take back with me to Badminton, as I was with how the competition was unfolding. It seems the UK four stars are alone in not being run with permanent facilities, like a grandstand, and the one in the Kentucky Horse Park is probably the most impressive of the lot. This also means the UK events are also the only ones to perform dressage and show jumping on grass, which personally I prefer.

As far as the competition itself goes, the British, and British based riders were the stars of the show. Mary King took home first and second, which made her virtually untouchable for the rest of the season in the HSBC Classics Series rankings, Clayton Fredericks did fabulously on his rather tricky mare to finish in the money, and gain valuable points towards the aforementioned series.

The Americans fared less well, although Sinead Halpin of course can be singled as a beacon of talent on the day. For most of cross country day I was struggling to keep up with the number of fallers, stops and all manner of mishaps that befell the home nation, on what was a fairly straight forward 4 star track, not soft, but by no means tough.

This was also my first chance to watch James Alliston, the young Brit making a name for himself over on the west coast in California. It seems the British can excel away from the mother country, and James rode 2 perfect rounds in his first four star to finish in the top half of the field, and very recently followed that by clearing up at Galway Downs only a few weeks ago. Yogi Breisner is going to have his work cut out if this guy makes it on to a team, that’s a 10-hour flight for team training!

I did enjoy Rolex immensely, but I’m probably not quite as excited by this now as I am about some of the others, perhaps because I visited Lexington a few times in between WEG & Rolex, plus of course this is now a sort of home away from home for a little while at least.

The Great White Charger | Ready For Retirement At 18
Work & play has taken me across the Atlantic a fair few times over the past year, and I don’t particularly have a problem with flying or jetlag normally, so shortly after Rolex I had hoped I would dust off my own boots and hat, get the great white charger fit, and tackle the best British Eventing had to offer within a 50 mile radius of home. Unfortunately my horse’s age put paid to those plans, and after a gentle XC schooling session he was letting me know he’s run his last event, nothing serious, just old age catching up with him.

I can’t complain though, this horse owes me nothing, has been loyal, honest and a pleasure to know (which can’t be said of some people I’ve met!). He will now spend some time in semi retirement until he tells me that is more than he’s comfortable with, and he goes out to graze permanently under his favourite tree in his favourite paddock. I’m lucky enough to have several people clambering to ride him, as the perfect, if somewhat quirky, school master, which means plenty of gentle exercise at a pace he can set.

The next chapter in my foreign eventing adventures, took me to Luhmuhlen for the 2011 European Eventing Championships, albeit for a day – cross country day. I had ridden here many years ago when I was still a teenager (man, I sound old!), and it has changed a lot since then.

I had applied for accreditation, as I had intended to buy a new camera and start honing my photography skills, something I’m keen to get to grips with over the coming years. When the passes came through, I couldn’t believe my luck, but left me with another dilemma, I wanted to ride at Highclere, the same weekend. Anyway, the horse and his creeking bones squared that away, so I headed to Germany for XC day, the trip was as exciting as the competition (see here)

The British, as always, were holding the bookies to ransom, as firm favourites for Gold. They had 3 solid anchors in the shape of William Fox-Pitt, Mary King & Nicola Wilson on her ‘made for xc’ horse, Opposition Buzz. Add to these, one of our rising stars, Laura Collett, and surely it was another whipping for the bookies? Not so! Laura Collett had a few problems on course, which she later discovered may have been due to some irregularities that showed up in some blood results. Mary King tipped up completely - the picture in the horse and hound the following week was quite frightening, and so Nicola Wilson had to hold it all together on the wonder horse, Opposition Buzz.

This left William Fox-Pitt to bring up the rear, and boy what a performance that proved to be. He demonstrated why he’s the most successful eventer of all time, and why it’s useful to have long legs.

Nicholas Touzaint Sails Through The Water Complex At The Europeans
I was at the second water, in a prime spot, shiny new camera to hand, and had just watched two of Europe’s best go through, Nicolas Touzaint & Michael Jung, both of whom made it look effortless despite some pretty appalling conditions after rain for most of the day. So I figured William Fox-Pitt would do pretty much the same, but no! He took a different route through the water, stumbled on landing, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing through the lens at the time (here’s the sequence). The horse just seemed to plough through the water, as it got off it’s knees and William had his legs wrapped round the horse, despite hanging off the front end, and even as the horse violently shook from side to side to remove the water from it’s ears, William was velcro-ed to the saddle.

He went on to skate over another combination later on the course, but still managed to finish without penalty, paying for his mistakes with only a soaking.

I’d got the ‘money shot’ (not that I was selling it), had a lot of fun, and managed to return home in time for tea and medals. It really was a fabulous day out!

By this time my day job was starting to hot up, all sorts of rumours were abound of Apple releasing a special piece of software with the new iPhone that was going to be transformational, especially for my business. But I wasn’t going to let a little thing like Siri get in the way of a few more exciting events in the HSBC Classics Series that demanded my attendance!

Burghley | Fantastic As Ever
So off I trotted to Burghley, albeit last minute I managed to find somewhere to stay close by, and after an hour or two sat under a tree on the Friday, finishing off my emails and other work, I got down to the serious business of snapping away with my camera. As luck would have it on the Saturday, I just happened to be at the trout hatchery when Mark Todd came through, and very nearly eliminated himself as the giant Major Milestone, jinked sideways on an awkward stride between two brush fences, which caused no end of discussion at the fence at the time amongst all of the officials (photos).

If you’ve followed the press about Burghley 2011, you’ve have heard plenty of talk about the course being big, bold, and retro! There were a few big fences, but these always walk so much bigger than they ride, particularly due to the terrain. Plenty of horses came home knackered, including a few where I felt the riders deserved a warning for continuing.

Boyd Martin & Neville Bardos
It turned out the be a fairy tale ending, with a historic 6th Burghley win for William Fox-Pitt, edging him ahead of Mark Todd & Ginny Leng, plus the Americans came home with a Disney style story after the impressive top 10 completion of Boyd Martin aboard Neville Bardos, a horse which only weeks earlier had had a lucky escape from a barn fire, back in the states. It really was a Burghley to remember.

The rest of the North Americans were not so lucky, including Michael Pollard fell on the very tired Icarus, and Holly Bennett-Awad who suffered a run out early on the course putting paid to her intentions of coming home with a top five placing.

The former colonies made a comeback one week later though, at Benheim, where both Clark Montgomery and Tiana Coudray finished in the money behind eventual winner Piggy French, on what must surely now be one of her fancied horses for next year’s four stars, DHI TOPPER W.

Blenheim was lacking a little polish I thought this year. The competition was great though, and I managed to get there for 3 days, including one day with the children. A chance for Australia or Japan to secure a team placing via a regional team competition, left the Aussie’s smarting, as Brook Staples brought show jumps crashing down to eliminate himself and any chance Australia had of getting a quick qualification for London 2012. They will now have to wait until March for the FEI rankings to be published to get a qualification.

Blenheim or Burghley, whichever comes last, would normally signal the year end of any eventing involvement for me, but this year Blenheim just didn’t quench my thirst so I headed to Pau CCI****, and I’m really glad I did.

Andrew Nicholson | Mr. Cruise Control
It’s still relatively fresh in my mind, I suppose good memories always are. Having an earlier date than in previous years, the weather was superb – bright warm sunshine, ‘walk around in a shirt’ type of heat, and a pretty awesome setting, on a thoroughbred training facility, next door to a racecourse with some fabulous landscaped ponds. I won’t recant how all of this went as you can read that in the previous few posts, needless to say I can definitely see myself returning to Europe for Pau, particularly if they maintain the earlier date. I’d even go as far as to say, I really would like to ride the CIC** here. One final thought on Pau whilst I remember; After the final trot up, I had a good look around the arena, trying to pick out where I thought a good spot for photographs might be. A thought struck me in looking around the arena; there are a lot of horizontal lines in the background to all these fences. I wonder if that had any affect on the horses’ performance that day?

As the Steve Miller Band song goes “Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking, into the future”, and I constantly remind myself ‘you can’t buy back time’, so I’m really pleased I have visited all these overseas events this year. These experiences, particularly in the run up to a home Olympics, have been well worth it, something we might never see again. Heading down to Adelaide was just a bridge too far this year, but I now need to tick that one off the list at some point soon.

I should be sad and melancholy with the season now ended, but I’m hoping to have enough time to undertake a special winter blogging project on breeding that will require some travel, and 2012 promises to be just as full of ‘not to be missed experiences’ as this year has in all walks of my life, so I’m actually pretty excited. Whilst I’ll be spending plenty of time in the states, rest assured I’ll be at the games, at Badminton, and hopefully eventing a new horse for at least a few months over the summer. I think I’d miss eventing in England too much if I started up in the states, but we’ll see, a ride around the Kentucky Horse Park wouldn’t go a miss!

Seize The Day!

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