Cliché and not so Cliché

While I don’t usually do the touristy things when I travel, today I took the tour. In truth, four tours (loops) through various parts of the city. It was worth the 30+ Euros, since I hadn’t spent any time in Paris since 1983. (That was after delivering a Thoroughbred stallion to Bangkok, Thailand.)

The bonus was that I was able to add to my collection of horse-statue photos. Someday, in my spare time, I will put them together and compare them – war horses, generals’ mounts, artistic renditions, likenesses of famous horses, and so on.

Two different chocolatiers captured my attention along the routes, and I was forced to stop, make a purchase and hop on the next bus. I haven’t touched the samplings from the second store, but, I am not ashamed to say that I am glad I did not have to share the hand-made bar of chocolate mousse with a praline crust and a dark chocolate coating from the first store. Simply marvelous! Price and calories be damned.

And since dinner consisted of salad, I don’t feel guilty about the rich dessert. I know; I’m in Paris and I had salad for dinner. Can you believe that? I think I was carb-ed out from the Games.

Finally, how’s this for cliché? Because I am working on an in-depth conformation analysis of Valegro for my regular column in Warmbloods Today, I am literally a writer working in Paris.  I’m no Hemingway, but…

Now back to work for me.

Off to Paris…

Or maybe just off?

How is it that the contents of my luggage expanded in the 2.5 weeks I’ve been in Caen?

I brought some leave-behind clothing and footwear, and that pile takes up more space than the 2 T-shirts, cap and pens that I added to my collection.

It must be that the humidity has made the clothing expand.

No room for purchases in Paris, which is probably a good thing.

Anyway, time to pack up the computer and head to the train station. I do hope they have the right number of coaches for the first class tickets they have sold.

What a Difference a Day Makes

The city of Caen is shedding its WEG skin rapidly.

By Monday noon, pretty much all the Alltech fabric on the fences was gone. The crowd-control barriers were gone. Most of the horses were gone. And only a few media people were left.

I noticed all these things – and it was hard not to – on one final trip to that bakery I mentioned previously for one of their fabulous quiche.

Upon my return to the hotel, I asked what they were going to do with one particular poster now that the Games are over. Throw it in the trash was the answer, so I volunteered to rescue it.

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Now if I can just figure out how to get it home in good enough condition for framing.

I’m packing up, because I head to Paris on the train tomorrow.

 

Jaded?? Perhaps

Upon reflection after the recent World Equestrian Games…

I am still passionate about horses, and when it comes to a compromise of any sort, I am always on the horse’s side.

Of all the disciplines contested at these Games, vaulting is likely the only one that could happen without a real, live equine partner. A mechanical horse could actually work.

It is kind of fun to picture humans competing at most of the other disciplines without their horses.

Which show jumping rider would go clear in the time allowed? Would it become a sport for tall people or would height categories evolve? One might become the World Champion in the under 5’6” category or the over 6’ category, etc.

Which dressage rider would do the best piaffe or pirouette? Is it possible that they could mistakenly appear to be having fun while doing their tempe changes?

Which reiner would do the best sliding stop? Would they develop specialized cowboy boots for that? I bet no one would need to be checked for spur marks after their round.

Can you imagine people running 100 miles (160 km) with 5 or 6 pit stops that included the public use of rectal thermometers?

Who would find eventing such an adrenaline rush on cross-country day if it were human legs at risk? Maybe dressage would become the most popular phase among competitors.

And how would driving work? Would they draw straws to decide the four to be harnessed and the one to be given the reins? Or would people play nice and take turns pulling each other around in a carriage?

Wouldn’t the veterinary inspections be boring? No pretending to be too high-spirited to trot.

Au Revoir, Norman

Well, the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are coming to a close. The closing ceremonies are literally taking place as I write this post.

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Norman, the Games mascot

In driving, the individual medals were pretty much as expected: Boyd Excell (gold), Chester Weber (silver) and Theo Timmerman (bronze). I had hoped to stay for the press conference after that event and the medal ceremonies, but the time was too tight if I hoped to catch the final four in jumping.

On my walk ‘home’ I witnessed a lot of people cutting sections out of the fabric-covered, chan-link fence to take as souvenirs. I suppose that`s another way for Alltech to become a household word.

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The most popular sections of fence

By the time I was back at the hotel, there were only a few minutes before the jumping competition started.

Dubbledam (NED) did a great job riding each horse to a clear round and deserves the win. I felt sorry for Delaveau (FRA), who settled for silver, in front of his home crowd, due to a single time fault.

Cortes C was the best horse – clear throughout. But, it was interesting for me to see that he was the only horse wearing extra leg protection in the warmup sessions. This makes me think that his connections are aware that his forelegs may be at risk. I hope he gets some time off now, but I doubt it. Nations’ Cups loom.

It was also interesting to watch the other riders, especially Dubbledam, who did not allow the dark gelding to use the underside of his neck to take the weight off his forehand as Madden does. He’s a very clever horse; he compensated very well.

If he`s still sound at the World Cup Finals in April, I`ll try to get the conformation shots to show his susceptibility as well as those that show how he compensates. At least there I will not have to battle to get educational photos.

(FYI, my lip has pretty much healed now. Hint: do not eat salad dressing with vinegar when you have an abrasion on the inside of your lip.)

And now for my rant about the final-four format.

While it may be a good way to determine the ‘best’ rider, it makes absolutely no sense to me that they change saddles. Why can’t the riders adapt to the saddle that suits the horse if they are truly the best riders? Certainly, stirrups are adjustable at this level. Aren’t they?

Why don’t they change reins on the bridles for the riders’ grip preferences, if the rider is the most important part of the equation? I understand the reasons for not changing bits.

And I thought I noticed at least one exchange of spurs between riders, which was, I assume, to suit a particular horse.

Earlier this week, I spoke to an Olympic medalist (individual gold) about it, and he/she did not agree with it, saying that it is too awkward for the horse. That medalist did not want to be quoted by name, and I am respecting that.

Admittedly, the differences in horse builds were not as dramatic this year as they were in 2006 – Cumano versus Shutterfly, Piolotta and Authentic – but, still…

Maybe changing saddles has something to do with the sponsorship deals? Perhaps the riders signed contracts saying they would not ride in any other brand of saddle save the one that sponsors them? Good thing no one takes photos or video of these riders when they try out horses they may be interested in training or purchasing. I know for a fact that the riders do not always insist on their own saddles in those instances.

So, tell me; how does the industry support so many saddle fitters if saddle fit for the horse does not matter at the World Championships? Do you think that the message is that saddle fit is only important in other disciplines? Or do you think that the message is that the riders are the stars and that horses are secondary?

In an era when welfare of the horse is supposedly foremost, can’t they dispense with the changing of saddles if they insist on keeping the final-four format?

Marathon Day

With due diligence, I went to the main arena this morning, handed out the Canadian pins to the volunteers and headed down to the tunnel to help Pedro tape in his earpieces. Not allowed down the stairs today, according to security. Are your eyes rolling?

Fortunately a lady explained to the security person what I was doing (travail important) and that she would accompany me. (I did not get her name, but she had enough accreditation to impress the security person.) Thank you again, my dear!

By the way, the so-called approved photo area, where I seemed to have caused so much trouble with my camera, was blocked off this morning. Interesting, but immaterial to me. As you know, I had decided two days ago that I was done with jumping for these Games.

After fixing his ears (Pedro’s term), I headed over to driving. I still say that I would not be able to negotiate those obstacles on a bicycle.

See what I mean? 

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Some drivers made it look smooth and others had difficulty.

I was surprised to see that Chester Weber had switched out Splash for a different right leader, one that did not look happy. Chester’s team did not look smooth through #1 or #4, the two I watched. Boyd Exell’s team. also with a different right leader than in dressage, were very smooth through those same obstacles.

I was speaking to two Canadians who are involved in driving and came as spectators. It was nice to get an insider’s view of the sport and explanations of the options. They came as part of a tour, but were not exactly thrilled with some of their experiences at these Games.

No surprise, their main complaints were about the lack of common sense regarding security. They too are of the opinion that it was simply the wrong kind of security. The daughter remarked that on their first day they were not checked at all when entering the main stadium, but their bags were checked on the second day. Guess one had to pack the Oozy in the first day, if that was the inclination.

She further said that they were told they (35 tour members) could not wait for their tour bus in the location that they were told to wait for the tour bus. Fortunately, resourceful Canadians that they are, they found a place that satisfied security and still allowed them to be on the lookout for their bus.

I walked back to my hotel and caught the final few riders in jumping on TV.

Here’s my prediction: based on what I saw, Cortes C (Beezie Madden’s mount) will suffer a similar injury to Authentic (her former mount).

My eye says he could bow a tendon or tear a suspensory in a foreleg pretty soon. But, hey, I’m not a vet. However, I did predict Authentic’s injury before it happened. And Star Power’s too.

I’m definitely not going to watch the Final Four in person. More on that tomorrow.

DRIVEN

Yes, I was driven (bad pun, I know) to take more dressage pictures. However, this time there were four horses at a time. I also took a few action shots so that I can do a future article on conformation for the upper-level driving horse.

Splash, who is the right leader for Chester Weber (USA), was one of the photo subjects as well as the subject of a previous conformation study. It was great to see him in action!

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During the lunch break, members of the media and photographers were given a course walk for tomorrow’s marathon phase of driving. Up close it is obvious how precise the drivers and their horses have to be. I might have trouble negotiating some of the elements in a bicycle, never mind in a carriage behind four fast-moving horses!

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I’m thinking I might take photos at driving tomorrow and just avoid the security hassles at the showjumping arena. However, I do have a few Canadian-flag pins for volunteers and would like to make sure those are delivered. I’ll see how the timing works.

I do have a positive to add to the list now: The presence of horse ambulances (yes, plural) at every competition ring and every warm-up ring speaks to planning ahead and consideration for the horses.

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The sky was overcast and the temperature was in the comfortable zone today, so it was just an all-around pleasant day.
So pleasant, I actually walked the 10 minutes or so to the driving venue and then back. On the way back, I stopped in at the market and bought salad fixings plus grapes and cheese. Guess what’s for dinner tonight.

Got One…Actually Two

As intended, I went to the warm-up arena today, and I managed to get standing photos of one horse. Mind you, it was a horse I have wanted a photo of for some time, so that’s good. I’m not sharing at this time as it will be for a future article. Sorry…well, sort of sorry.

Looking at the situation in the warm-up area, I decided a few things:
– Other riders were not likely to stop in a position where I could take halt shots. There were no coaches standing at the rail any longer and everyone was now jumping.
– I was roasting on one side only, and balance appeals to me.
– Going indoors to take the action shots of the photographed horse made sense from an educational perspective.
– After that, I could stand in the tunnel (horse entry/exit area) since I, and others, had been assured that photographers could take up positions at the entry to the old mixed zone.

Sounds practical, right? And it all worked according to plan until I lifted my camera to take a photo from the photographers’ position that had been cleared…you know, the one in the tunnel that is out of everyone’s way.

The ever diligent security men jumped in front of me and said, in very good English, “No photos!” Oh yes, this again. This happened to other photographers as well, so it isn’t just me. Whew!

Fortunately, a volunteer who speaks French and English managed to communicate to the guards that it was allowed and approved by both Christoph (sorry if his name is misspelled) and Andrew, the guys in charge of media and photographers, but I don’t know their actual titles. I do know that I would not want their jobs, though.

The security man, who seemed to be in charge of the guards (picture FBI-type suits, but no sunglasses) in that area, made some phone calls to check the facts. Naturally, nothing changed.

Meanwhile, poor Andrew happened by and was told of the situation. He said that there seemed to be a bit of a blockage somewhere in the information chain. I suggest that was a form of Irish understatement. Therefore, I hereby nominate said blockage, who I assume is a single individual, for entry into the Guinness Book of Records for stubbornness.

To add to the silliness of this situation, site workers were trying to haul chairs, full-length mirrors, rolling clothes racks and clothes hangers out of storage directly behind me and past the horses either waiting to enter the ring or just exiting the ring. I put out an arm to stop them from spooking the horses and was thanked by Pedro for helping save potential wrecks. Can you imagine that mess? Good thing they didn’t do that during dressage!

I thought of it too late, or I would have just lifted my camera so that the security blockade would have formed and stopped the progression of workers while horses were present.

Instead, I was rewarded by one of the workers bumping the water bottle I was sipping from, and I now have an abrasion on the inside of my upper lip. Maybe it was an accident, but I really don’t think so. The culprit smirked every time he passed me after that.

Fortunately, I did manage at least one useable photo from the tunnel as well. But the best part of the day involved finding the right ears.

I spoke to someone gathering information for the organizers of Bromont’s Games in 2018, and I spoke to a nice, Irish lady from Alltech (title sponsor of the Games) about how an accumulation of small things can send out large ripples.

I’m proud of the fact that I had on my constructive hat and not my destructive hat when talking to these folks. I also had a good time joking with some volunteers after the competition and before the media shuttle. I shall reward their efforts with Canadian Flag pins, which they seem eager to possess.

I celebrated with a lovely pasta dinner…to go, of course. And I have decided that I’ll wait until the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas next spring to get more photos of jumpers.

I will likely take in more of the driving competition instead of trying to accomplish anything more regarding jumping at these Games. That is, IF I want to go out in public with my now slightly fat lip.

 

 

Where’s the Driving Jog?

Tuesday afternoon I began asking where the Driving inspection, trot-up, jog, or whatever you want to call it, would be held. Yes, I knew the time (10:30 Wednesday morning), but I needed to know the location.

At 17:00 on Tuesday I was told that the location had not been decided yet. Really! So I abandoned hope of walking to the jog from my hotel, about 10 minutes  from Driving’s main venue.

Suffice to say that I was eventually directed to the location on Wednesday morning (after the jog started, of course). The location? A field outside the actual venue, but close to the stables.

As shocking as it may seem, the location made sense from a logistical perspective for the horses and their handlers. Wish the communication about the location had been better…a lot better.

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The above photo gives you some perspective of the field, the footing, etc. Personally,  I liked the way the shadows from the trees played on this horse’s dapples.

I am pleased to announce that I was able to obtain conformation shots of several driving horses as well as a good interview with multi-champion Boyd Exell (AUS).

With no security people at the site and just a few volunteers, the drivers and officials sort of organized themselves…smoothly. Unfortunately for the sport, there wasn’t a lot of media presence.

But what an absolutely refreshing experience compared to the lack of common sense and utter rigidity of the security personnel near the end gate of the main stadium.

Dinner last night was divine: a local French restaurant – not as easy to find as you might think – with a 4*-rating, for food and it is just around the corner from my hotel.

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Today I plan on trying to obtain conformation (standing /halt) photos of some jumpers by going to the warm-up area. Wish me luck.