Monday, August 25, 2008

Hello Kitty...Hello USA

It is Saturday the 23rd of August. I guess I had better bring some resolution to this adventure, at least for this round; because clearly this is an ongoing path I’ve discovered.

Where to begin, where did I leave off? Hmm…Well, it was an adventure and considering that Hong Kong is having another Typhoon right now, I can basically say we were fortunate. We were fortunate both in the terms of the Olympic Games and the trip home.

So, I mentioned Amy had minor surgery to remove a small bruise around her knee that thought about trying to get infected. I say that because they were never actually able to culture a bug while we were in the hospital for a week, it just acted like it was infected. So, she has two small incisions on either side of her knee. Mind you, I say small, but I’m not the one with two holes in my knee. Now the challenge was to get home before Amy thumped the pain doctors upside the head. At the hospital, each task was performed by a specialist. Sometimes that became a bit annoying to live through.

In this hospital, nurses do not start IVs, they wait for specific doctors to show up and start them. This is okay until you start to think about the fact that the experience level of the Doctor who is on duty at 2 in the morning on a weekend… Now, having alluded to some decreased level of capability here, I have to note that generally I was very impressed and comforted by the care that Amy received while at Prince of Wales hospital. She had the chief of the ER checking up on her, as well as various other practioners she saw through out the week and continued to follow up, even though it was not necessary. I probably was the least happy with the pain docs. The Doctors and the Nurses were unable to either provide or change pain medication without the specific direction of the “pain team”. I will leave this part of the story with the comment that I forced the Pain Doctor to stay and endure the procedure of changing Amy’s dressings, along with her, just so he had an understanding that his decisions had consequences.

Thanks to the hard work and diligence of the US Doctors and the Hospital staff, all coordinated by the members of the USEF, Amy was able to finally leave on a flight back to the US on Wednesday the 20th (the 19th back here in the USA.) In traveling back to the States, Amy had a Doctor, I mean a nurse, I mean a Doctor, I mean…some jokes are lot more funny when you actually understand the story behind the punch line. Suffice it to say that the medical transport/insurance company that the USOC uses could stand to be a little more organized in their procedures. This is where I give the big thanks to all those people mentioned before, because without them we’d still be in Hong Kong, or perhaps have ended up somewhere else, a little less helpful, like Timbuktu.

It is a bit ironic that the fire department transported Amy to the airport. With their help and that of the Doctor flying with Amy to make sure all went well (a requirement of the USOC insurance) we got to the airport and through security in a timely manner. We eventually got on an airplane flown by EVA airlines. he first stop was Taipei, Taiwan. To add to the humor/surreal nature of all this, the plane had a big “Hello Kitty” printed on the side of it. After having spent nearly two hours flying on this aircraft, I am having “Hello Kitty” nightmares. There was a big picture of Hello Kitty on the bulkhead directly in front of us. Hello Kitty was telling us not to use our cell phones on the plane. We laid our heads on Hello Kitty head rests. Hello Kitty toothpicks speared my lemon in my drink. And the final bit, to push anyone over the brink into Hello Kitty hell (although, after all the rest of the gear, it was strangely satisfying in ending the Hello Kitty torture) was the Hello Kitty toilet paper.

If I ever have children, there will not be a Hello Kitty in my house, and I do not care if I will end up in some book entitled “Daddy Dearest.”

After the Hello Kitty adventure to Taipei, we had to hop onto another EVA aircraft and fly 11 hours back to Seattle (this one, thankfully devoid of any pink kitty cats). With Amy’s knee about twice the size it was, due to not being able to properly elevate it for that long, we were met by a limousine for transport to the hospital (again part of the insurance requirements of the USOC.) Now, imagine that you are the triage nurse at the Evergreen Hospital Emergency room. Here you are: this woman shows up with a Doctor (who by the way looks younger than Doogie Houser), a parcel full of MRIs, Xrays and CT scans, a story about Olympics, falling, surgery, antibiotics, and her first words are this is a little complicated…What do you do? You guessed it, put a mask on her and send her back out into the waiting room. Eventually she makes it back to the ER proper, where the Doctor, and probably rightfully so, isn’t all that eager to deal with this confusing issue. Eventually all was made right, Amy’s orthopedic surgeon (shocking I know, Amy actually has an Orthopedic Surgeon; she actually has two that she highly recommends) had arranged for a direct admit which in short order was accomplished.

It is now the evening of the 20th here in the States. Basically, we made it to the hospital 30 minutes after we took off from Hong Kong. If you are okay with losing roughly 15 hours of your life, it isn’t so bad really.

A few, Jack in the Box, Oreo Milkshakes later and Amy was able to come home. She still has her two small incisions to be closed on Monday, if all goes well (not to mention the requisite Doctors appointments associated with said procedures and follow up.)

Mom’s home: the terriers are happy, the blind beagle is happy; and the ponies at home are going…damn, the vacation is over.

So (I know, needle pulling thread…) the place looks great. Lauren has been doing a great job making sure we still had a farm to come home to. I would like to thank Dee (the owner of Upson Downs) for hanging in there while her barn manager was gone for the last 9 months. Katrine and Allyson are still in England waiting for a flight home with Pogi and Leyland (as well as McKinlaigh - the silver medalist!) Not really happy with the bloodstock folks about the delay, but a monopoly is a monopoly.

As I close this part of the adventure, I get to ponder a few things and wax quixotic. Thank you to friends and family who both cheered and provided support (in some cases, way beyond their means) for this dream. To those who have patiently waited for bills to be paid long after they were due, thank you. The impact to these businesses was every bit as difficult as it is to us to try and go to the Olympics. To those making sure our bills got somewhat paid on time, thank you. If you were patiently dealing with all the things that we have let slip while we were gone, lucky us. Those that took the time to read this blog, I hope you enjoyed it and could feel at least some part involved in the adventure since it wouldn’t happen without that involvement. To Mark and Craig, thanks Docs, while the medical side is important, the friendship is infinitely more satisfying. And to the friend who offered to fly out to Hong Kong just so I would have someone to sit next to, thank you, for it is amazing who you end up standing next to when you are running the high hurdles.

To my brothers, sorry I wasn’t around and I will see you shortly. To my crews and fellow BCs thank you for allowing me the time away.

I think I probably will have to spend less on marriage counseling this time around (see, it isn’t only Beagles who are moderately trainable!) Again this is probably more due to my friends and family teaching me the things I need to learn in life, than any one thing that I have learned on my own.

If you find it within your power, please support the businesses that have helped to support this adventure ( ). We need them to be successful, so we can continue to rely on their generous support to Team Tryon and in most cases, horse sports in general.

Cheers and best wishes to all.
- Greg

PS. Apparently the $%^$A%!* delegation was suggesting some sort of super bug was causing Amy’s condition in Hong Kong. They apparently wrote to the US State Department wanting clarification or some other information. As usual, we can all learn a lesson here. First, quit being so nosey; and two, sometimes it is prudent not to be so quiet about yourself and be a little more forthcoming with information. Again, marriage counseling rears its ugly head; I and Amy have to learn to talk more!

I was going to use the actual country’s name in this blog, but after thinking about it for a few days I decided against it. I would love to make a snide comment, but in the end, in the absence of information, stuff gets made up either innocently, or deliberately.

Again, take care!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Lotus Root, Dried Octopus and Pork Shin

It is Saturday the 16th of August. I hate asking people for things, so fate being what it is, causes me to have to do the things I dislike the most. There will be more to this story.

So, morphine does not enhance one’s sense of humor I have discovered (actually, I repeatedly have discovered this, to be exact.)

Since I have been informed via email that I will be smacked upside the head for leaving people hanging after the last blog, I guess I better fill in a few blanks. Please remember that I think that the Chinese Government only allows cell phone calls to go through that they have time to listen to. You think driving in the US is bad in regards to people talking on cell phones; here no one needs a microwave oven since I am sure you could just stand on the street corner and wait a few minutes to cook your popcorn.

Okay, moving ahead from Wednesday evening where we wandered our way to Prince of Wales Hospital via taxi. Now, you have to picture a really sore rider who is gritting her way along a really noisy, busy city looking for a taxi to take us to the hospital. Since security is so tight there are cops everywhere. This may or may not be normally a good thing when you are a visitor to a new city; however it causes the taxi drivers to be less then helpful because they are only supposed to pick people up in designated spots (which they usually ignore, except when the jack-booted thugs are standing around to shoe them on, sorry Bill.) Now, my dearest has a pain threshold that is amazing; however it does not limit her ability in expressing her displeasure at the current process of walking for what seems forever. It also may just be that I am hyper sensitive.

The hospital is listed as “Prince of Wales”, I was told to ask for “Prince of Wales”, guess what, everyone but the Chinese call it “Prince of Wales.” It is a busy place. Every story you have heard about SARS, usually had its start here. They have a mask vending machine in the lobby, maybe I should be nervous?

Since it is now the 18th of August, I could relate dozen of humorous and not so humorous stories over that last few days Amy has been in the hospital, especially today when I took a taxi back to the hotel so I could get a shower and answer phone calls and emails. Wanting to just veg for half an hour or so while driving back I get the one taxi driver who wants to practice his English. We discussed horses, the NBA, is Washington DC a City or a State… thankfully he was a nice guy.

The long and the short of it is this: on Wednesday evening Amy presented with sharp knee/leg pain that while it was being assessed was accompanied by chills. Eventually after being attended to by a great staff at the hospital, as well as the US Team Doctor and the FEI doctor, a decision was made to place her on antibiotics. All this winds on for a few days before minor surgery was done to remove a hematoma (a bruise, in people terms) around her knee that was trying to get infected.

One of the menu items recently was Lotus Root, Dried Octopus and Pork Shin; yeah Amy is eager to come home. It is pretty funny to listen to her on pain meds, she usually has a conversation with one of our terriers (I am assuming that they are not actually talking back to her of course.)

I need to take the time to thank the people here who have been stopping by and checking on Amy, the hospital staff who are being patient with my lack of Chinese and generally understanding my half-assed, white-man sign language, our family who are getting pathetically little information from us in a timely fashion yet are remaining calm, the families of the two US Docs helping take care of Amy since they are spending a lot of time at the hospital, and the 7-Eleven clerks who clearly work more than a 40 hour week.

Time for me to go find the Outback Steak House around the corner to get something other than Lotus Root for Amy to eat…

Best wishes to all.

- Greg

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ups and Downs of Sport

It is Thursday the 14th of August. Well, the short version of this installment would be $^&**&! The longer and more insightful version, will note that the beauty of sport is that, after all, it is a sport and it wouldn’t be, if not for the ups and downs associated. The longer version will also talk about the heart of McKinlaugh.

Okay, the events of cross country, if you haven’t heard, went sort of like predicted, i.e. time was impossible to make. What didn’t go to plan was the actual riding of cross country. Amy was up at 3:45 to get to the course by 5am to walk it one last time. She comments now that apparently it was not all that helpful. The day dawned cool (only in the upper 70s low 80s) and various amounts of rain coming down. Given the dire predictions of the weather, all lucked out.

As Amy finished her preps for the ride, Pogi was completing his final preparations as well. Allyson went about diligently getting Pogi ready for cross country by gearing up with studs (really big ones), saddle, bridle (plus various spare versions depending on the mood of Pogi in warm up), rear leg protection made from an REI sleeping pad, front leg boots with tuba-grip underneath to prevent rubs with color-coordinated electrical tape to secure the combination, plus various other accoutrements to denote he is a US Team horse.

With calm demeanor, Amy and Pogi rode out to the warm up ring. Since there are not enough wrist bands to allow access to the vet box (10 minute box, D box, warm up, whatever term you prefer) we found some wrist bands that looked similar, so the husbands could assist their riders (wives) as they would normally do. Allyson and I followed behind with burghley cream, bridles, blankets, wrenches, etc so that any change could be accommodated with minimal effort. It never fails that whatever we didn’t bring is what is needed. What we needed was a timer who could actually tell the time.

The horses were sent off on cross country at 3 minute intervals. As the rider ahead gets ready to go, the next rider is assigned a “timer” or a person who is supposed to provide the countdown to the rider so they know when they actually will start. This is critical since the warm up area for cross country gets a little hectic, and each horse needs a different amount of time to get ready. Amy usually only jumps a few jumps to allow Pogi to stretch a bit, after that it is usually more flat work to continue the warm up and stretch. She plans for a leisurely stroll to the start box to maintain a calmness that usually disappears after Pogi starts to hear the starter countdown to “Go”. Again, in order to help reduce stress, Amy likes to stay away from all the warm-up jumps that happen to be near the start area since there are usually quite a number of horses getting ready and controlled chaos is the norm. This is where the timer comes in, by the information the timer provides she would decide when to move to the actual start area.

So, knowing that the time is drawing near, I move our gear over to the finish area (connected to the start area by a gate in this case). I arrive to watch the former World and Olympic Champion Mark Todd just completing the course on his grey horse. About this time, I see Amy cantering up to the start box, enter it, and take off in a flash. Apparently the timer was a minute off on his or her watch, so Amy entered the start box with 5 seconds to go. This is normally something that each rider handles on their own, but like a number of other items at the Olympics, they get managed by others, but in the end it is our responsibility to make sure it is being done correctly. Oh well, they are off.

I find the US tent in the finish area and start to set up for the cool down process that happens after the cross country ride. Given that there is only 8 minutes on course this time, it will be quick, famous last words on my part. The cool down area has three large misting tents established. Each tent is approximately 30 feet by 50 feet with at least 16 high-tech misting fans flowing chilled water through them to help reduce the ambient air and body temp of all those entering it.

Of course Allyson runs inside the tent to watch Amy on the TV screens, I per usual choose to stay away from such frontal images. It is not so much about injuries, I just personally live the ups and the downs of this sport on Amy a little too much. Since I choose not to chew my nails, smoke, drink, do heroin or anything else of that ilk, I just find it easier not to watch the monitors. Days later? Sure, I’ll watch the video, no problem. Live? No thanks, I’ll pass.

Well, it didn’t take long for the announcer to make a comment about fence 9 being a little ugly (she was apparently the last person to go the straight way there) but they were moving on. Whew. She passed the two minute marker and the next thing I heard was the announcer saying something about parting company, an euphemism for rider and horse going separate directions. Having been through this before, there is a moment when you want to throw something or verbalize displeasure, but the need is to remain calm. Is she okay? Is Pogi okay? The quick report is that all appears well, with everyone on their feet. I’m a firefighter, and I know just because someone is walking around that is not enough to indicate that all is well, but it is still nice to hear over the loudspeaker nonetheless. Besides there are enough others who are verbalizing their feelings at the moment, so I might as well remain quiet and calm. There will still be a horse and rider to take care of, eventually.

She may have only been two minutes out on course, but that is still over a kilometer away. And although it may be that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, there is never a straight line in getting home (in life, or Eventing, I am discovering.) Now this group (Olympics) planned and prepped for just about anything (typhoons, bugs, terrorists, etc.) except for the scenario where the rider walks back to the start with their horse in tow and all appears to be fine. No one could tell us where Amy was and if everything was okay. You want to see a frantic and ticked off groom? Just play dumb and say you do not know what happened to your rider, and more importantly, your horse.

There was an air of disbelieve and frustration in the US camp after the fall. This clearly wasn’t in the game plan, after all, that was the reason Pogi went first. Not to mention that his dressage was supposed to be the least likely to provide a great score for the team. Knowing Amy, I was able to make the statements to the support members of the Team that I knew she was thinking, sorry, we didn’t get the job done today. As nice as the response was, “she’s bailed us out enough”, it still doesn’t cover the fact that we wished we would have been better today.

Amy finally made it back to the finish/start, with Pogi and Laura Kraut in tow. Allyson, the good groom and better friend, ran to Amy to provide a hug and kiss. The only response from her rider was tears and an “I’m sorry” (for letting you down.)

Off comes the tack, and a quick check by the US Team Vet, as Pogi gets cooled down. There is a small avulsion on his leg from what appears to be an overreach (a wound from his hind leg striking his front leg.) A quick wrap by the Vet and Pogi is approved to return to his stall for some rest and fluids. Pogi got his carrots, lunch, and plenty of attention by the vet staff. He, like his rider, just wanted to be left alone for a short period. Amy was back at the finish area helping the Team track the other riders and try to make new decisions about riding the course.

I will not cover the rest of the day in detail. To be honest, it sucked from my standpoint. It rained. The US riders had some challenges at times. As for the entire field, there were riders who rode the course well and others who too had better days. And some of each of those are people I consider friends now. I witnessed a wonderful horse (Pogi) get dejected because he clearly knew something didn’t go quite right. The coach, and others, will tell you Pogi made a mistake today, a first for them to witness. Amy will tell you she should have put him in a better spot at the jump. Either way she ended up on the ground, and with the new FEI rule, they were eliminated from the competition for fall of rider. As it turns out, they wouldn’t be the only ones, just the first.

I will let the bulletin boards go wild for whatever they wish to say. She will tell you Pogi was going the best he has ever gone and never more happy in his performance. Come glory, or otherwise, the plan was to retire Pogi from this level of competition after the Games. And the lawn ornament plan still stands. We just have to find a buddy so he will not drive us nuts. I know my 5 year old niece is eagerly awaiting his return so she can continue her lessons on this wonderful horse (and I believe he is looking forward to it as well.) Thank you Pogi for doing what I asked in taking care of Amy (just watch the video of him avoiding his rider falling.) No, I still haven’t watched the video yet either, heard enough of it from others watching online and at the venue.

To top it all off, Amy and I were interviewed by a local journalist regarding the death of two Hong Kong firefighters the night before (just down the street from where we are staying in Kowloon as it turns out.) We would like to send our condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of those two firefighters and wish them the peace their hearts are looking for.

I do love the translation of languages. Imagine this coming over the loudspeaker, “thank you for coming, now please go home…” I am sure that the Cantonese version was a bit more elegant.

Again the efficiency of the moving process was amazing. They had the 70 or so horses and gear packed in under an hour and shipped back to the permanent stables in Sha Tin. As for the rest of us, we made the last bus back to the train station, in time to head “home.” All were tired, all were frustrated (okay, pissed-off may be a better term). We went from the only Team having all 5 riders in the sub-fifties for scores; to, well, being beat by others we shouldn’t have allowed to catch us.

Somewhere that night I finally really got to see Amy. There were a number of bruises in new places and the usual no response about the back. This is where I usually throw in the line “you know, you are supposed to model the communicative behavior you would like me to practice so I know what it looks like…” Yah, that’s actually what she said too, how’d you know?

Guess who jogged sound that night? No, it wasn’t Amy, yes Pogi. Unlike most events where the final vet inspection (jog up) is early the next morning, this one was scheduled for the following afternoon around four, with Team jumping starting at about 7:15 in the evening. This gives either enough time for horses to work out of being sore, or their riders and teams a lot more time to fret.

There was some drama at the final horse inspection. McKinlaugh who clearly has a very big heart, got through the jog with some delay. An Australian horse was held as well, but eventually was passed. The evening jumping time brought a new sensation, that of actually being able to watch the competition without too much angst.

The final part of the event was the way it was supposed to be. Well, other than we as a Team weren’t in the hunt for medals. At the end of the night after two rounds of jumping, the top seven riders were within a rail of each other (3.4 points to be exact.) The US Team finished 5th, up two spots from where they finished after cross country. hillip Dutton and Gina Miles made it into the final round in contention for individual medals.

At the end of the night, with luck, toughness, and coolness, Gina was standing on the podium with a silver medal around her neck. She and her horse saved the day for the US Team. Her husband, mother, sister and two kids got to watch her take part in a victory gallop around the stadium. No time to celebrate though, it is off to the drug testers for horse and rider (and all the medalists tonight.) I imagine having to pee in front of a bunch of people is a great buzz kill.

We got back to the room at about 4 in the morning, with Amy having to be back out at the venue by 10 am for the Team picture. Mark Hart, an owner of Pogi, and now head of the Eventing Horse Owners Committee, put together a little sight-seeing trip for the grooms. Since, they had basically been cooped up in the barns for two weeks. He arranged a small bus to take the 5 grooms, the horse physio Tina, and the Canadian Vet Dr. Oberg (an American), to Victoria Peak and some traditional shopping in Stanley on the south end of Hong Kong Island. We also had a minder from the State Department with us as well. The riders were left in charge of their horses once again; a bit of panic could be seen in the grooms eyes.

The tram up the side of the mountain was fun; especially considering the thing was well over a hundred years old, give or take a day. The view from the top was amazing; hopefully the pictures will do it justice. The weather was perfect, sunny and clear with a cool breeze at the top of the hill. Our driver met us at the top. Eddy, a great guy who speaks very good English, yet doesn’t understand a word of it, made the day interesting. He showed us where Jackie Chan lives. Hey, the event may have been a bust for us, but at least I can tell my crews I have seen Jackie’s place.

We continued on to Stanley were we had lunch. Emma, Phillip’s groom, ordered something simply American, since it had been a while. She smiled as her stomach thanked her for something a little less exotic for once. We ran out of time so it was a race back to the barns to allow the riders to be released for some additional duties they had to perform back in Hong Kong. All the ponies still accounted for, and even fed, prior to the return of the grooms.

The best part of the return is that our driver managed to drive his way into the venue, passing by several check points, without ever having more than the simple card on the front of his bus saying “Mr. Hart.” Who knew Mark Hart (an owner of Pogi) was so powerful? The State Department security officer just shook his head turning to the grooms and remarking: “And this is why we are assigned to protect you guys…” He added further, “…guess I do not have to do to much probing to see where the security gaps are today, jeez.”

The Olympics and the 2010 WEG group threw a get-together for all the countries to come to. The Riders had to show up in their jog up gear, i.e. in order to look presentable. There was a beautiful view, but not much food. Again, I am reminded why I call this fat camp. I had last seen Amy at about 10 am. I thought something was up then, but her typical stoic self said all was fine.

I arrived at the party after her by an hour or so. Her right knee was battered and bruised; surpassing the left knee that I thought had taken the brunt of Monday’s fall. A little later, things got more interesting.

This is the part where I leave you hanging in suspense as there are several things I need to attend to this evening. Bear with me. Let’s just say there were cabs, and foreign languages involved, not to mention just a little bit of confusion.

Best wishes to all.
- Greg

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dressage Days – US in Third Leading into XC (Aug 10th)

It is Monday the 10th of August. The Games started on August 8th. While the athletes finished up their course walk they quickly headed back to the Sha Tin race track to take part in the Hong Kong version of the opening ceremonies.

Providing the US Athletes with uniforms that fit can be a bit challenging, to say the least (think gymnasts versus basketball players!) Everyone’s pants were about 3 feet too long, i.e. the pants come in one length, “Shaquile O’Neil”. There are some other comments about the clothes, but, they probably wouldn’t be all that helpful in trying to find sponsors to help pay for all this.

Anyways, as Amy is racing off to Sha Tin to make her next busy appointment, I headed to the Hotel to try and catch my mother-in-law Jemi who was heading out towards the Beas River Cross-country Venue. Jemi, as many know, creates all sorts of adventures for herself and others. She came to Hong Kong after recently turning 70 years old, wow; I hope I have the gumption to do that in a few years. She is traveling with some friends of ours Ping Gonzalez, her daughter Serena, and Momi Black. By all accounts they are having fun being tourists.

Jemi arranged for me to play tour guide around the cross-country course. Given that I had only seen the course the day before and I had just walked the course twice today, I was a bit leery. You might ask “what about the fact that you can’t even ride or even have the slightest inkling of how to event in the first place”; sure, all good questions, but looking around, politics could lead one to ask them the same question, and it clearly isn’t stopping them.

We had the requisite misunderstanding and adventure meeting up with each other prior to walking the course. In a country of roughly 7 million people in the area of a postage stamp it can be quite tricky. I even had the British Event Team supporters looking for my mother-in-law. Phone communication was established, a new plan developed, confirmation that folks were standing still (and not trying to interject new solutions) and eventually all were brought together at the Fanling Train Station in the New Territories of Hong Kong. Why is this important? Two stops later and you are in the PRC! That’s China proper, folks, and trust me they have a different way of viewing visitors than your average Bear.

Mark Hart and I want to take the train to Lo Wo (the final stop of the train into China), just so we can say we did it. Of course being the big chickens, we plan to wait until after Amy’s event is complete and of course bring along the State Department Security guys phone numbers, never know when you might need friends in high places… (pictured: US eventers, show jump, and dressage teams)

As I was writing, I met Jemi and all at Fanling Train Station for the trip to Beas River Country Club in a double-decker bus. The property is owned by the very same people that are bringing you the Equestrian Events in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The Venue sponsored an open course walk from 2pm until roughly 6pm. We were met at the drop off point by all sorts of police; I noticed that the cranky Chinese Bomb Dog was replaced by two cuddly little spaniels of some sort. I am sure that the group was thinking “you were scared of those?” Again, Monty Python rears its head… “But he had big pointy teeth…”

It is an Olympic Venue, so if it is food or water and you brought it from outside, throw it away so you can buy the stuff we want to sell you (even if we really don’t have anything for you to eat or drink on site, we just don’t want any competing advertisers’ labels showing.) Jemi dutifully complied. In a way only she is able to do, she managed to get them to fill it back up for her. God bless her.

I see a trend with Chinese security and rules, it is a lot about the appearance of following the procedure versus what the actual outcome may be. This is not a dialog about Chinese politics or my thoughts on their system. We have seen a few expressions of disagreement with the Chinese process, some were allowed by the Hong Kong Police, and one clearly was not.

Now, I have to admit, I really tried to talk people out of going on this course walk. It is hot, muggy, hilly and it pours rain at the drop of a hat. I was still soaked from several hours before walking around the place. This is a short course, only eight minutes. They can be 13 or so minutes long. Doesn’t sound like much until you realize walking around the course takes about an hour of diligent forced march style moving. Get the reason I wasn’t so keen on having my 70 year old mother-in-law come to this place? The other challenge of Beas River is that it is a golf course, so it isn’t designed to be spectator friendly (nor clearly golf ball friendly either, it is literally a jungle out there!) Now having said all that, Jemi was a great sport and we took a route through the middle of the course so she could get a feel for the layout. Once that was done she took the opportunity to sit down at the second water jump and people watch for while.

The rest of us met up with the Broussards (Jerome and daughter Sara), and the Leslies (Lou and Neil) to wander around the course a bit more. The consensus is that it is going to be interesting on Monday. I would show you pictures, but it is against the Olympic copyright, and the rules saying we are not supposed to publish pictures of the “field of play” prior to the competition. I think I know why the Chinese and the IOC get along so well…

I realize that some may have noted that my blog seems to be a bit behind as though I am slacking or something. When they say that your emails and files shouldn’t be considered secure, I think they are right.

Oh, you all are probably more interested in finding out about Amy’s big day yesterday, the 9th of August, Dressage day at the Venue, than about me discussing Chinese politics and the kinds of dogs the Hong Kong police have standing by the venue; oh you’re not?, well let me continue…

Suffice it to say that the important First Horse Inspection happened while we were out on course (the Olympics still don’t get that spectators like to watch this 45 minute ritual of Eventing). One horse was “spun” and prevented from competing. This is why the riders say you are not in the Olympics until you are riding down the centerline in dressage! Another horse, sustained an injury on the last gallop a day or to before the start of the games and was not presented for the trot up. This was ridden by a former World Champion from France. With the nerve wracking complete, the riders lined up for their “Opening Ceremony” at the Jockey Club Track.

Each team selected one person to represent them with their Country’s flag. Karen O’Connor represented the USA. The humorous point came from Spain. They have a Dressage Rider who we have all dubbed the “Rock Star.” The clothes, the hair style, the swagger, and most of all—the GIRLFRIEND!!! Admittedly horse grooms filled in for some country’s flag bearers; but Spain chose Rock Star’s girlfriend to represent them. (On a side note, I would like to say it was a great choice on their part.) A chiropractor would be in hog heaven around here, there are so many people with whip-lashed necks from turning and watching her walk that the Doc would be set up for life.

Of course I missed all this; I was still trying to make my way back to the hotel to remove damp clothes, so I could pick up and deliver a minor piece of Dressage equipment to Amy at the Olympic Village, her dressage coat, you know that fancy thing with the tails and top hat. It was being pressed and wasn’t completed prior to her packing and leaving the hotel for the village, again. By the way, the Olympic Village, is really a Hotel, but at least the riders can get some food and have clothes washed. Having the clothes make it back, seems to be a challenge though.

I usually make a trip to a little place in the back of a maze that is called “Purity Cleaning” every few days. It is a little business stall with two women that work all day, 6 days a week, washing and pressing clothes. I do think that after having walked through the place, I probably will have to report some contact with Al Qaeda to the Federal Government at some point down the road.

Okay enough with my James Bond adventures, although there is a really funny story to tell in a bar some night if anyone is really interested in hearing it…

So, we leave for the horse park at five in the morning so we can see Amy ride just before 7am. It is me, Mark, the two security detail folks who received the accreditation from the Chinese just in time to actually go to the venue for the competition. We have a normal system and route in place to get to the park. We tried to accomplish it, but the police got in the way. We usually exit the train at a particular stop that allows us to take a 10 minute walk to the venue, avoiding the shuttle buses. As I said, the police got in the way with a “better plan”, i.e. telling us to get back on the damn train since this station was now closed (if you see the size of the apartment buildings surrounding this stop you would know how ludicrous that idea is. Well, 3 out of the 4 us jump back on the train before the doors close. I do have to say it is amazing how sad a cardiologist can look (i.e. Mark)! Well the train conductor took pity on him and stopped the train to let him back on. Hey, Eventing is an individual sport at its heart baby, every man for himself… Okay, not really, and we sort of felt bad, but since Mark is a great sport he got over being left behind fairly quickly.

Once we finally were able to bypass the grand plan of the Chinese government, we raced to the barns arriving just in time for the ritual of prepping Pogi to do battle with the Dressage Gods. Washed, primped, saddled, checkerboard butt, stretch the legs, whisper in his ears about how good he is and that I am entrusting Amy to him and that she thinks the world of him; you know, the usual stuff. I imagine in the days of yore it was similar to the knight riding off trailing the squires and other sundry members of the house as they went to joust.

Allyson had gotten up at three in the morning to start all the preparations for the Dressage test. Pogi had jumped a few jumps to take is mind off the process of dressage, i.e. get through this and you get to do something fun. He came back in and finished his spa treatments (lasering and magnetic blanketing). Usually, the last item is a little baby oil to make his fur glisten on his nose. He is clearly in a calm mood, the groom is happy, and the rider is quiet—all signs are positive.

She takes off for the warm up with about twenty plus minutes to go. Riding in the final warm up area with her is Clayton Fredricks from Australia on “Ben Along Time.” Due to the withdrawn horses, Amy is the 5th horse to go into the ring. The stadium lights are bright and the sun is peeking over the mountain ridge and apartments buildings in the background. It is already warm and the humidity starts to make itself felt, yet a light breeze occasionally provides a pleasant relief. We race to the stands at the end of the arena to watch the spectacle. A half-filled stadium politely watches the start of the 2008 Olympic competition as Pogi enters the ring.

Most know my history of being able to watch Amy ride, and per usual I stand in the background silently willing-on Pogi to do his best. My ability to identify shoulder-in from haunches-in is, well, nonexistent, but I can say I do not think I have ever seen Pogi be more fluid in his front end.

The little horse made us proud. He will forever be at the mercy of his breeding and the fact that because of that breeding and his mother’s ability to go first in the order, he will always get the short-end of the stick when it comes to scoring. If he had gone that evening he probably would have had at least another 5 points off his score, but I may be a bit biased. I’ll leave out the whole discussion I would love to have about the new version of the “East German” Judges that I witnessed, but hey, that’s sport and if you can’t hack it, don’t play.

Amy was so happy with her “P”. She is continually hurt that he doesn’t receive the scores that she feels he deserves. That is both from her love of Pogi and her desire to do well for the Team.

There was a quick bit check while standing in the misting fans and off Pogi went to the Barn to have all his gear removed and another bath. Allyson took care of all the immediate needs and then left him to his own so he could relax and settle down for a bit. It was a well deserved rest. A recent study has shown that horses’ body temperatures are higher after completing a dressage test than they are after cross country, and Pogi would agree.

After a bit of a rest, Pogi was back to his normal self. He loves to have his furry little butt scratched. He will follow you around his stall, backwards, until you get the hint. See the pictures.

I will end this tonight. t is now the evening of the 10th. Dressage is done. Australia is in the lead, Germany next and the US third. No one can remember a closer competition from the top to the bottom. Tomorrows test will shake things up. Amy is in the Village tonight prepping for a 0812 go in the morning. I will be leaving the City at five in the morning to get there to see her off.

Thanks to all for the emails, texts, well wishes and the like. I would also like to thank the Show Jumpers and dressage folks, who almost all are riding late tonight, yet are leaving at five as well to help assist the Eventers. There is the Olympic Team spirit.

I do not know what tomorrow will bring, what glories, tragedies or goats lay in the field for all to discover. I know that I love my wife, she loves her horse, and this Team, and its entire support staff is working their hardest to make sure that no effort is missed in this Olympic competition. At the end of the day, we should all be so lucky (no matter what the marriage counseling bills come to).

Wow, how did I get to five pages on this blog tonight…sorry.

Best wishes to all.
- Greg

Ouch and Really, Really, Really Wet (Aug 5th – Aug 9th)

It is Tuesday the 5th of August. Things are getting serious. The Team riders typically leave for the barns by 7am. They do their training, flat or jumping, have Team meetings at 8pm and start it all over.

Each day is an opportunity to make sure that the horses are acclimated to not only the heat and humidity, but other factors such as noise, the flashing of the giant jumbo-tron in the corner of the stadium, etc. Another concern is that the noisy and bright Olympic flame is going to be very close to all the action, a concern since you can’t very well practice having the flame lit if the Olympics haven’t officially started. Trust me, they are trying to figure out how to light it so that they can get the horses used to the experience. I half expect that there will be a news article describing the “miracle” of the self-igniting Olympic flame in Hong Kong. No it is not the second coming, just the Eventers overcoming another challenge…

The last few days have been hot, or as Robin Williams would say in Good Morning Vietnam: “Damn Hot”. Today was much cooler with rain from a passing Typhoon. We are at a stage 3 of 10; yeah I thought it was a 5 stage rating too, who knew… Basically it is supposed to be really windy and rainy tomorrow. Tough wearing a rain coat (especially when it isn’t as nice as the one that got left on the airplane, but I digress) when you get as wet on the inside, from humidity, as you do on the outside. The good news is that it should brush by us and keep going someplace else. It should then turn warm and muggy again. (Which, secretly, we are hoping for so our little desert rats can beat the European cart-pullers.)

Okay, so somewhere we upgraded to a stage 8 out of 10. The riders who stayed the night at the “Olympic Village” in order to get an early start were prevented from riding due to the wind and rain. Everything else shut down as well: trains, stores, etc. Sort of a snow day, but without all the fun associated. There was a bit of damage to buildings and the venue, most of it has been cleared and in the process of being repaired.

Before I get into the whole diversion of the last few days, two words: OUCH and REALLY, REALLY, REALLY WET. Okay that was five, but it serves a point, really. Today is actually now Thursday the 7th, the husbands arrived at the venue around 9AM. Our job, besides staying out of the way, is to run errands and find out all the ways one can get to and from the different venue sites. My Brother thinks I get lost because of some genetic-thing; no, I just get to go wander around looking at signs that it no way, shape, or form look like anything I ever learned in school and provide little to no help in direction. Besides, by doing this, we get to meet some really interesting people like the guy who is the handler for a really cranky Chinese Bomb dog.

Back to the whole OUCH and WET thing I was writing about… we arrived at the venue. Each time through security, it seems to be a different husband’s turn at getting the security screeners all riled up. Wednesday it was me. The husbands, on our aforementioned “errand,” went hunting for a grocery store so that the grooms (pictured: Ally) could get some food for making sandwiches and having some snacks. It is easy to want to look up in this City; after all, there are lots of big buildings and you are constantly smacked in the forehead by drops of fluid, all of which you openly pray are from the air conditioners operating on high; but to really find the hidden gems you have to look down into the buildings. They are sort of like bomb shelters hidden in the basements around here. So far there has been the Irish Pub we found, where the food is good and reasonably priced, and now the grocery store. No, this isn’t QFC or Safeway; but you can find individually wrapped whole frozen fish or seaweed-flavored potato chips. I won’t try to guess what is skinned and hanging in the meat section though.

Clearly, I have lost the direction of this posting but it is a bit like the city and the Olympic Games all wrapped into one. There is so much going on, yet nothing, so it is a bit overwhelming.

The riders are consumed with preparation and the boredom of only having one horse to take care of (sorry grooms, I mean, “ride” and not take care of). They get to go places, stay places, eat places, travel by various means (that husbands do not get to take part in) so in order to stay out of the way, and avoid the really expensive marriage counseling bill after the games, that is why the husbands usually fill the role of go-fers to be out of the line of site.

But as I was really writing about, the “Ouch” happened this morning (the 7th) while walking into the venue (I’ll tell you about my run in with security after the games) a large wasp like creature landed on my shoulder, roughly an inch and half in length. In the true spirit of the Games, I chose not to swipe at it and kill it; okay, I really didn’t want the darn thing to sting me. Instead, I chose to try and blow it off my shoulder, well it has been roughly twelve hours later and it still feels like someone has shoved a javelin into my shoulder. So, another note to self, besides the Chinese Bomb dogs being cranky, so are the really large wasps. The ice and several witch doctor cures that have been suggested to me seem to have helped reduce the swelling.

The “Really…Wet” portion came when we went to walk the cross-country course for the first time today. We were asked later by someone what they should wear to the course, we shouted in unison “a bathing suit!” Thankfully, I chose not to wear my rain coat (no, not that one, the other one), that would have been a useless effort in frustration. At some point the water does get warm after sitting next to your body long enough, really, although the riders still passionately disagree with me on this technical point. Not promoting any particular product here, but Keen sandals worked quite well; and I highly recommend the quick drying underwear, you’ll appreciate it later on the train, trust me.

I would post pictures of the cross-country course, but we are forbidden from doing that, plus a number of other things, on blogs or any other electronic communication means. Oh, that’s right if I tried to take pictures my camera probably would be a fish-bow by now.

Okay I am going to end this for now. It is August 9th, and I want to talk about the first day of Dressage. But before I go, on the 8th we went for another walk around the course. Remember when I was talking about the forced marches in England, yeah, well they followed us to Hong Kong. I guess I am going to have to start using the Bridge over the River Kwai visual, instead of Battaan. After we finished the “course walk”, it almost sneers at you in a sarcastic tone when you even say the word after trying to keep up with this group. Oh, by the way did I mention that Morgan, Mark Hart and I were trying to wheel the course and document the minute markers, while they are wandering here and there? Again I am getting ahead of myself. We measured it the first time on the 7th and came up a 160 meters long.

The course is set at 8 minutes long. The “optimum speed” is 570 meters per minute, so when you put the two together you are supposed to get a course that should be 4,560 meters in length, we got 4,720. Let me tell you the looks weren’t so peachy-keen from the Coach or the riders for that matter. Since we were drenched we called it a day. The riders had to get back to learn about being good Ambassadors for the Olympics and the USA, and Morgan, Mark and I needed to figure out how to get back home via the trains. Nothing like a bunch of white guys standing on a train in Asia, looking like drowned rats to draw attention. I’m thinking of the movie “My Cousin Vinny” where Joe Pesci is talking about how Marisa Tomei’s character needs to blend into the southern culture like he does, and she responds with “Yah, you blend…”

Okay, almost done… so needless to say we went back the first thing in the morning. Of course I had to leave 30 minutes sooner since I was taking the train up north to the cross-country site while the riders went via team van. We arrived at the same time, after my three connections. We measured the course again, and again it was pouring rain. They have had 7 inches of rain in the last three days. This time we were a hundred meters long. Basically what this is saying is that when their cross country watches starting beeping at them, they are still at least 100 meters away from the finish line, so they will start incurring time penalties for being over the optimum time of 8 minutes. As the riders are walking away the Coach asks us to wheel (measure) it one more time. This time he doesn’t want us to count the actual jumps in the distance (which can be 6 to 9 feet per jump and you have 39 jumping efforts, so it adds up.) In addition, he wanted us to measure it the shortest way possible, i.e. no horse could actually ride the line we followed. Guess what, with the wheel and without the jumps, Morgan measured the course 20 meters short; and I using the GPS including the jumps now measured it 50 meters long. In short, what I am talking about is that probably no one is going to make the optimum time, so expect everyone to be racking up time penalties on the cross country course. The incur penalties at the rate of .4 per second. So if you are ten seconds over the optimum time of 8 minutes, you will have 4 points added to your score. This is important because the lowest score is the winner!!!

Okay, I’ll talk a little more about the afternoon course walk with friends and family, and oh yeah the first day of dressage where after two riders Gina and Amy have the US in second to Australia (after their two best dressage scoring horses went!!!)

Take care. And thank you for your comments on the blog and well wishes via phone and emails. They are most appreciated, and as I walk around looking like the drowned rat in quick drying underwear, it lightens the mood a bit.

- Greg

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hong Kong Arrival: We Are All Here, Except For My Raincoat

It is Saturday the 2nd of August. The weather is pleasant today, sort of a mid-80s kind of day (temperature and humidity). We arrived yesterday afternoon after a mere eleven and half hour flight. Arrived in the concourse and were met with a plethora of people dressed in Olympic outfits to guide us through customs and accreditation. I guess I do not have to play house boy for five days like I did in Athens (this means that I have the ability to gain access to see the riders and the horses).

The riders immediately left for the Venue to check on their horses and pick up their Olympic Kit, and final bit of accreditation. I headed to the Sheraton Hotel in Kowloon, where Gina Miles’ Mother and Gina’s two children are staying as well. These two kids were amazing, considering how long the flight was, and I am not sure I would have behaved as well if it were not for the Ambien my dearest provided me. Yes, we were in the middle seats of the British Air 747, two rows up from the back of the plane.

I arrived to find an amazing view from the room over looking Hong Kong Harbor (pictured). Amy got back to the hotel from the Barns an hour or so after I first arrived. We changed into some appropriate clothes for a trip on a boat around Hong Kong Harbor and a dinner sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in a small restaurant located on another island. These were the folks responsible for completing an Olympic Equestrian venue in 3 years instead of the typical 8 years that most Olympic cities have for which to plan and build. Of course, horse racing is big around here. The Jockey Club is something like a 14 Billion Dollar business in Hong Kong, as the CEO told me, we were fortunate that we had the resources… I should say so.

Dinner was great, at least I liked it. We had three tables of about ten people each (Dressage, Eventers, the team staff, and the occasional family freeloader such as myself). Each table would receive a different course. It was a guess of what exactly some of the items were we were eating; the ones with the tentacles sticking out were a little easier to figure out. We returned back to the hotel by midnight, definitely a world wind tour from London to Hong Kong in 17 hours.

The US Team has security detail form the State Department, and while cruising the harbor a police boat was in tow. After the Athens Olympics you get used to the security so it is easy to look past; but I can say that it is clearly evident around the hotel and the city.

The next morning was a $40 dollar breakfast in the cafĂ©… won’t make that mistake again. The riders now leave earlier so that they can eat breakfast in the Hong Kong Olympic Village.

The riders were off to the barns and their horses via a US sponsored shuttle. The farrier, Steve Teichman; the Team Vet, Brendon Furlong; the Team Manager, Sara Ike and I traveled to the Venue via train. It was an easy trip and I now have my octopus card for frequent travel. (What is it with tentacled things around here?) The trip is all of 7 miles away but can take up to an hour if you do it wrong, like get off at the wrong station. Oh well, life is an adventure after all, or was that the joining the Navy…I forget.

We finally all arrived and received our barn access accreditation; again, still a lot smoother than Athens. As you enter the stable area you are directed to clean your hands with antiseptic gel, and to do the same as you leave. As you can imagine, the people who walk in and out multiple times a day have a work around for this. (USA Eventers, Dressage and HJ stalls pictured.)

The air is a bit warm and muggy, but survivable. Walking into the barns is at first very refreshing; later it is down right cold after sitting there for a while!!! The horses are usually in their light-weight sheets to keep them comfortable and happy. The place is bright and airy and the facilities seem to be first class.

As usual with a large operation, there can be a few miscommunications that happen between the staff. The Stewards walk around frequently making sure all is well. Their job is to confirm that the rules are being followed. Well, you need a lot of Stewards to do this, and some rules are different for each sport. Now couple that with multiple languages and the bureaucracy that comes from a large organization and you have the right conditions for chaos, well okay, at least minor annoyances. Yesterday the rules were no horses out of the barns between noon and two; today it is noon and three. Can’t take your horse over there; now what are you doing over here, you can only be over there…you get the picture. The grooms are great sports and taking all this in stride.

It sounds like the grooms are getting treated better in the planning process than ever before. This is of help to all; trust that the only thing worse than a cranky rider is a cranky groom; unless of course you live with the cranky rider than there is nothing worse (did I really just write that). The grooms noted that they were not living in former UN relief shelters like they did at the Pan Am Games in Brazil and certainly a step up from what I have seen them endure in prior Olympic and WEG events. Apparently the food still leaves a bit to be desired, but at least there are opportunities to actually get some food. (Again, a step up from some prior events!)

I spent a few hours helping the Team’s Stable Manger, Doug Hanum and the Team's Farrier, Steve Teichman get all their gear sorted and organized for the coming weeks (gear leaving England pictured). Doug is responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly in the barns and gets to where it is supposed to go. Some gear comes by plane and a lot comes by boat. He has to prep for the Eventing, Dressage, and Jumping competitions as well as the Para-Olympics coming up in September. A lot of work that goes unsung. He has been doing this since the ‘70s, and like all horse people is quite a character and adds a certain richness to the process.

Last night we walked up the street to have dinner in an “Italian” restaurant. The food was good, the service attentive, the cats out back active, and the occasional small little rodent running away from the active cats. The streets are bustling with activity, as only an Asian city can do. You feel both overwhelmed and serenely comfortable by the activity.

There is a lot of construction going on. The only real disconcerting thing about this is looking at what they use for scaffolding. The scaffolding is made out of bamboo, in some case 30 or 40 stories worth, all tied together with plastic twine! No OSHA here, I can tell you.

The horses are getting acclimatized well. Pogi is having great fun bucking in the warm up ring; apparently he is feeling quite well. The other guys all seem happy and are adjusting well. Lots of pampering by the grooms. McKinlaigh is probably the least happy since he got clipped yesterday by Gina. Although, once the trauma of clipping wears off he should be much happier with his new ‘do.

They are having a flat (dressage) lesson today from Sandy and Mark Phillips. (Pictured: Amy in England having lesson on Sandy's Grand Prix horse.) Tomorrow is a jumping lesson. Later in the week is some practice under the lights where they will be competing in the final show jumping rounds. The first two days they do dressage at the following HK times: 0630-0955; 1915-2240; and finally 0630-0955.

The horses, currently, travel to the cross-country site the afternoon before the start times. They ride cross country from 0800 until 1200; and will be heading back to the barns by 1400. It sounds like they will be having a police escort to block the road so the horses get priority while moving to the Beas River Equestrian Center (formerly a golf club, and eventually to be returned to its prior occupation).

The show jumping phase will be from 1915 until 2145 for the Team scores. The Individual Show Jumping phase will be from 2245 until 2350. And for those lucky enough, the medal ceremonies will be at midnight to one in the morning! So those early risers on the west coast should be okay for being able to watch the event. If you haven’t heard - NBC is going to be streaming live coverage of the Olympics, including all the Equestrian events using a new Microsoft program. So if you feel brave, go ahead and download it to watch. The streaming media will only have ambient or background sound, no commentary. A bit like watching tennis at Wimbledon with all the grunts and groans, I imagine.

The Harbor is great to watch (pictured). Watching movies like Star Wars, or Blade Runner, or similar, where there are all types (and conditions) of space vehicles traveling to and fro - I think to myself that the future could never be that way, after all look at all the same SUVs and BMWs driving on Seattle area streets. Watching the collection of boats plying the waters of Hong Kong, it is easy to see what the real future will look like in some outpost in a far corner of our Galaxy. Not really sure how some of them stay afloat.

Oh, by the way, if you are traveling on a British Air flight, and you happen to see a really nice black rain coat, can you bring it back for me? Arrrghhh.

Take care.

- Greg

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Beijing or Bust, Even in Coach

It is Wednesday the 30th of July. The world travelers are off on the start of their grand adventure (talking about the horses here). They left the quarantine site at about 5 this morning. All done without the grooms present, quite the accomplishment for a bunch of Olympic riders left on their own.

They have a stop in Dubai to refuel and then on to Hong Kong. We learned today that waiting at the airport for the horses are two sets of lorries. One set transports the horses in air conditioned luxury and the second set follows each lorry in case there is a mechanical breakdown of the first lorry.

It was back to Aston Farm where Amy had an appointment with a photographer that was freelancing for Business Week. They are doing an article on Nike. Amy has been helping design some equestrian riding boots for them. The magazine needed some pictures of her wearing and using the boots. So America’s next super models (Amy and Leyland) were put through their paces for about an hour and a half. Leyland was so over it about 5 minutes into the “shoot,” (I think his rider was over it a lot sooner than that!). Of course the biggest challenge is getting non-horse people with big camera flash equipment to move calmly around a 1,000 pound furry ADHD child. All in all, Leyland took his new found star-status in stride. Amy even commented that he was more rideable during her jump school immediately after the picture shoot. Great, Pogi is already a ham when it comes to cameras, and now there is another one in the household. I’ll tell you the story of the Nike boots later.

We received a phone call at 5 in the morning (31st) that all the horses had arrived in Hong Kong, apparently fit as fiddles… not really sure what that saying means, but nonetheless all appears well with the ponies. Another step down. Given that we are flying coach to Hong Kong, I am not sure that we will arrive in as good of condition. I guess it helps to be British and fly BA, since the Brits are flying business class to HK. I guess as Americans we should be lucky that we are not flying in the hold of the British Air flight.

We are quickly wrapping up packing and all the assorted last minute details of going. We are leaving the young Leyland in the hands of Katrine, Amy’s groom. Katrine has the completely not-so-glorious job of staying behind and keeping Leyland going so that he can compete in a 3* event in Scotland upon Amy’s return. It may be less glamorous than traveling to China, but I can say that going to the Olympics would not be feasible if there wasn’t anyone able to care for and keep Leyland in work while Amy was gone. So my thanks are with Katrine for keeping things going!

I will wrap up this short blog and say, see you soon. If you could only imagine the impatience of 4-star riders going to the Olympics, then you would understand the joy I am feeling about now…

I would like to pass on some well wishes to both Amy’s and my fathers.

Take care.

- Greg

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Englands Short, Hard Summer & Off to Hong Kong

It is Tuesday the 29th of July. Summer is over with, and the wind and the rain have returned with a vengeance.

We arrived at 0545 this morning at the quarantine site, which meant we got up at 0430 to get here. Today was the final jog up to see which horses are getting on the plane for the Olympics tomorrow morning. This is why when people ask if you are excited about going to the Olympics you give the standard speech about being honored to have been selected for the Team; however, it still a not a for gone conclusion about actually riding at the Games in Hong Kong. The priority each day is to show up at the barn (the POW camp) to make sure everyone is fuzzy side up, standing on all fours and has a cheerful disposition. While Pogi displays his cheerfulness on his face, Leyland is usually a little bit more forward with his ADHD (an up close and personal toothy love nip is his ideal hello!)

A brief catch up before I get to the who’s who on the plane note…this past weekend was brutally hot by English standards, into the 90s. It is hard enough to find ice in England when it isn’t that temperature. I had to drive an hour and half to find ice, all 8 one pound bags worth (that ices about 3 horse’s legs, once - and they typically ice up to 3 times per day depending on the need/conditions). I am digressing a bit, but this is a fascinating country from the stand point that speed limits (when you can find them posted without having already set off the speed camera – speed cameras feel a bit like the paparazzi are following you with all those flashes going off in your rearview mirrors) are in mph as are most distances on signs. Yet all conversations are in metric. So there you are driving in your car showing miles on the speedometer after being told to go 17 kilometers… Oh yeah, remembering that gas is ten plus dollars a gallon to boot!

Back to the brief catch-up: The weekend was hot, the fuses were short, and the ground was really hard. Another thing you realize about England, it once sat underneath the ocean on a really big chunk of ice so it is covered in limestone and is really hard when dried. This is important because the horses are not so fond of hard ground; their footsies get a little tender. The run through of the Olympic Dressage Test for Sandy and Mark Phillips was one for the record books. Not sure who was the most exasperated: the coaches, riders, grooms or the horses.

The next day all was well and the gifted athletes, equine and otherwise, returned to normal good humor. In celebration of that return, a hodge podge of a BBQ was conducted. “I have 2 pieces of chicken, we have 3,…well we have some salad fixin’s and oh yeah we have some wine…” so goes the sanity check BBQ. Having had the honor of being a fly on the wall to these world competition preparations for the last 10 years or so, this one is clearly being done on the shoe-string by all involved, given the price of everything these days.

When Monday arrived, so did the last gallop, and a final opportunity for the selectors to make sure they had sound horses ready to go to Hong Kong. This is one of those necessary evils, i.e. it helps with fitness, but you keep your fingers crossed since anything can happen. Hopefully the pictures (to be posted soon, finding a cable to download pics from the camera in the UK is proving more difficult than finding ice) will provide some impression of this hill we (listen to me “we”, jeez) have been using for our fitness and for that of the horses. The benefit of the hill is the increased work for the muscles and cardiovascular system without the impact on the front end of the horse. A thousand pounds at 500 to 700 meters per minute is a lot of motion to deal with.

The horses that galloped seemed to come through just fine, on good track for being ready for the Hong Kong heat. Heidi White did not gallop her horse and has made the decision to withdraw her horse from contention for going to the Olympics; Bonnie Mosser (an alternate) did the same.

Later that night the US Team selectors named Karen O’Connor as the new member of the Team. Like all ups and downs (notice the tie in to the farm – for those of you that don’t know, Upson Downs is the name of the farm we manage in Duvall, WA…), this change, like the day to day stress of trying to get to the Games, brings relief, sadness and for some, happiness. (Pictured: Pogi in a paddock enjoying some grass)

Okay, I’m back to the 0545 start time of this blog standing in the cold windy rain waiting to make sure Pogi is as interested in going to the Olympics as we are. He doesn’t disappoint; and other than the tail clamped tightly against his furry little butt to block the wind, he seems quite cheerful this morning. Apparently he is pleased that all are joining him for his morning romp at oh-brite-thirty.

In order to make sure what they were dealing with before going to Hong Kong, the Team Vets (3 of them) directed that all therapeutic care was to cease at 10pm the night before the final jog. The care prior to the cut off consists typically of lots of ice for the front legs to remove any inflammation from the gallop (or jumping); and magnetic blanket for the body to help reduce muscle fatigue and soreness and they stand on a magnetic pad for the feet to do the same.

With all that fun behind us, the next step is to get all the US gear loaded onto the lorry heading to the airport. This was the fastest onload I have seen, 15 minutes flat. Of course, there was the repetitive walk around the compound to make sure we hadn’t in fact missed something in our haste: saddles, bridles, spare shoes for the horses, feed, and yes all seemed to be there. Guess we will find out in a few days and several times zones away from being able to do anything about it if we were right or not.

Next is a race back to Aston Farm so Amy and Karen can get their intensive dressage training from Sandy on her fancy Grand Prix horses, just so that they can race back to the quarantine site in time to baby sit their horses as the grooms are heading to Hong Kong tonight. And do not think for a minute that there isn’t some apprehension on the grooms’ part at actually leaving their charges in the care of their riders! Trust me the riders don’t want to screw it up either and suffer the wrath of the Grooms! (Pictured: Allyson, Pogi's groom)

The process is that one US groom gets to fly with all the US horses. The shipping company provides professional grooms to help manage the travel of all the horses on the plane. In this case, Emma, the very experienced groom of Phillip Dutton is flying with the horses, while the others travel on ahead to make sure all is ready for the arrival of the horses on the 31st. The horses leave the quarantine site about 5 in the morning so as to make a late morning flight.

Since there are five horses traveling, and they are shipping two horses to a pallet, one gets to travel with another Team’s horse. It looks like Pogi, the world traveler, is going to have another grand adventure! The other horse is apparently the first horse to be competing for the country of China in Eventing. Of course, the horse is English, his rider, speaks fluent English as spoken at the posh school of Eton here in the UK. Can you imagine the stories they will share on that flight around the world?

So I need to make another side tracked comment. Today, a friend sent a very timely email, at least for me. It was a wish for all things to be well and to have great fun in this grand adventure and to please keep writing since it was such great entertainment. Its timeliness was important because occasionally I do silly things like read stuff on the internet. Amazing what experts we humans can consider ourselves to be at times, especially when we write things that we may feel have no consequence, at least to ourselves. I love discourse and the ability to share thoughts and feelings, god knows I am a “shades of gray” (sorry big brother) sort of person after all, but some stuff just…

Anyways, I am always humbled by friends, family and folks I have never met before who go out of their way to help, be nice, send a kind word of support, etc. So thank you, I love the emails and the comments left on the blog, I find them most cheering. Besides, as I am waiting for this darn dryer to actually dry, what else am I going to do, watch British television?

Sitting here typing away on a British keyboard is a bit like driving on the roads, just a little odd, not to mention centimeter markings on the screen. I will close for the night and send this off for Sam to post. I will let you know how the big send off for the horses goes tomorrow. Take care.

- Greg

P.S. By the way, the horses going to Hong Kong are Connaught (Phillip Dutton), Courageous Comet (Becky Holder), McKinlaugh (Gina Miles), Mandiba (Karen O'Connor) and Pogi.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bunny Rabbits with Big Vicious Teeth

It is Thursday the 24th of July. So I get two things in England now. First I know why it is the land of Watership Down, Hobbits, The Butterfly Ball, and the Grasshopper Feast (and a myriad of other stories) because it is amazing how easy it is to drift off when sitting on a hill side overlooking a valley with sheep and other livestock meandering through their daily lives. Second, I finally get why Monty Python picked the bunny rabbit as the evil monster in the Holy Grail movie. (Pictured: idlyllic life driveway to Aston Farm)

So, here I am walking across the old RAF field when up stands this rabbit (okay, to be proper “Hare”) on its hind legs looking me in the eyes and scaring the bejesus out of me. This thing stands four feet off the ground. Thankfully it was a lot faster than I was and took off galloping so I didn’t have to embarrass myself by running the other way. I have seen smaller Labradors than this thing.

I guess there is a third thing I get. Don’t start a blog if you are not prepared to continue writing the thing, because people may actually read it and get a bit perturbed if it doesn’t show up in timely fashion! Most of the challenge is that I am having some difficulty downloading the pictures to send to Sam, who is uploading all this onto the blog site for me, as well as she has a minor issue—like having a life of her own, but that is of minor consequence I am sure… (Pictured: Farrier, Capt Phillips, husband)

The other humorous challenge is the pheasants. They have been recently released out into the fields in order to grow up to be shot. While I am not a particularly gung-ho individual when it comes to hunting, there does arise in one a certain reaction to the noteworthy stupidity of these birds. I guess if you put on a hunt you wouldn’t want the birds smarter than the hunters, where would the sport be in that? They have no fear of cars or a general concept that getting run over probably would hurt. The hunting dogs go nuts because the things are easy to catch, yet they get in trouble for doing that (the game wardens are a bit cranky about their birds being collected prior to the appointed shooting date!)

I find it interesting that if a horse had a minor problem the riders and grooms would be on top of it in about 30 seconds with all sorts of very practical treatments. Now if one of them (rider or groom) did something to themselves they would hobble through it, and ask should I do anything about it? (Pictured: Pogi's groom Allyson and Dr. Gold the vet)

The weather has turned summer here: mid 80’s, fluffy clouds in the sky, generally very nice. Watching CNN and seeing the weather in Hong Kong is a bit daunting. To reduce the impact of the weather, as noted earlier, the girls have been working out: swimming, yoga, forced marches, etc. Being at the quarantine seemed a safe place to be, until I went for another walk with Amy. It is always a bad sign when you have to lift your head and look up to see the top of the hill. I always make the goofy mistake of thinking that once up the hill is enough, silly me. After the third trip up even the bunny rabbits stood around watching us, clearly we were gasping so hard that we couldn’t be considered a threat in any sense of the word.

You’d think after all this time I’d get it that Amy is an Olympic athlete. We think of bike riders, canoeists, and other athletes with mobile sports equipment as athletes, where as horse riders, well obviously it is the horse doing the work, right? Considering that the other athletes’ energy is moved directly from their bodies to causing them to propel forward, i.e. you go as fast as you can pedal yourself. With the equestrians they have to manage the energy of the horse, direct it, maintain it, and impel it forward despite any contrary thoughts of the horse, and at over a thousand pounds, there can be a lot of contrary thoughts! (Pictured: tough crowd watching Amy and Poggio)

We had a very nice dinner with the owner of the property of the quarantine site. I am not sure that the word “property” conveys the impact of 2,000 acres. He has 190 race horses in training at the site. Watching them train the horses is an amazing story in and of itself. My joke is that I can identify that it is a horse, 9 times out of 10; yet the head trainer here has 190 horses that he has to manage their daily work out based on how each horse is doing. They haven’t named each horse as of yet, but he can tell you the sire of each just by watching the horse gallop. (Pictured: Amy's groom, Katrine, at a BBQ)

I thought that the blog was in jeopardy, the adventures seemed to have been reduced to interactions with Monty Python-esque rabbits, but never fear it is England after all. So, we have returned back to the Farm, where a guest of the Team Coach has asked us for assistance, apparently the 400 year house is locked. Well after talking to the admin assistant who lives someplace else and getting help from the East European nanny, we found a skeleton key to access a door in the back of this stone building. But, of course, they kept the other key still in the lock, just slightly turned. It is amazing what a pair of small scissors can do in really old locks. Mind you, sitting in the dark trying to break in to a building that is several hundreds of years old causes one to imagine all sorts of ghosts and goblins. (Pictured: Aston Farm)

It is Saturday the 26th of July. The riders had their Olympic dressage rides scored, or more precisely, picked apart today by Sandy Phillips. Sandy is Captain Phillips’ wife and dressage coach for the Irish Event Team. (And she is very, very German despite being born in the US!) Amy has found it very instructive to take lessons from her. She still doesn’t understand all of the instruction she is receiving from Sandy, i.e. “I know I am supposed to do that, but how do I do that?” The benefit has been to understand how a dressage judge thinks while scoring a test, again what it is they are actually looking at during the test. Amy has remarked that it has been eye opening because she is learning where to give the horse a break, so as to get the most out of the next movement. (Pictured: Amy, Poggio and Sandy)

Amy and Karen (O’Connor) have ridden some of Sandy’s Grand Prix Dressage horses (basically the top level of the dressage sport), and both of them felt completely inadequate trying to get these big brutes of horse to move like they are supposed to. Captain Phillips has had great fun commenting that it is like watching a pony club lesson. The two did come away with a new appreciation for the skill and capability of the DQs. You all can ask me what DQ stands for later if you do not know… (Pictured: Poggio and Amy, oooh so fancy)

Okay I’ll end this for now and write more tomorrow and tell you all about the really hard ground that the team is practicing on…

- Greg

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Quarantine & Training with Laura Kraut

It is Tuesday the 22nd of July. The entire Team came together in quarantine for the first time yesterday. They are expecting a visit by the Chinese delegation today to determine whether the conditions meet their requirements for limiting the spread of disease. The quarantine site is near Marlborough, England.

The riders, grooms, and visitors must have separate changes of clothes for the site and traveling away from the site. In the pictures you will notice the chain link fence around the compound. It is a bit like a POW camp in the middle of this secluded British valley. I half expect guard towers, or snipers at the least, watching all the movements. No cell service; however there is Internet, go figure.
Yesterday I played gofer for the Team. I had to drive into London, about an hour and a half east of here, to pick up Laura Kraut. She is one of the World’s best show jumpers and is helping the US Team prepare for the games. She flew into Heathrow from Italy (it’s good to be a show jumper; they apparently have money in their sport!). She is busy helping the Eventers while she gets her own horse prepared for the Olympics. She has something like 15 horses in Europe at this time. (I think I'm just fine at the 3 or so that seem to inhabit my world on a consistent basis.)

Driving to Heathrow is a challenging exercise. Couple one of the world’s busiest airports, with driving on the left hand side of the road (there is a reason it is not the “right” side of the road), shifting with your left hand, traffic circles, an entire population who think they are the next Formula 1 driver yet to be discovered, and you have the makings of a headache, or heart attack.

And it never gets easier driving on the roads. The last few miles back to the quarantine site are through a windy, narrow valley. I always feel like such a ninny driving on the roads, when I get run off the road by Granny doing 60 mph in an area where I think 30 mph is just fine. In the US, the song is “Grandma got run over by the reindeer on her way home”; in this country it is Grandma with the attitude.

Breaking news… I am watching the Chinese animal health delegation wandering through the compound as I write. It is a bit disconcerting to see them in their moonsuits checking the set up. Well, they left, not sure if they were satisfied or not… Okay, I realize in the scheme of things, the Chinese animal heath delegation is not much of a breaking news item, but that should give you an indication of how exciting it is here.

The interesting challenge with this group of people is that it is a strange mix of PC and brutally honest. The stress of those on the Team combined with the stress of those waiting in the wings is palpable. All those selected to the Team know that they are not actually in the Olympics until they trot down the center line in Hong Kong during their dressage test. Until that moment anything can happen. It is a challenge for them to talk to the press about the joy of being selected, when every day is a test of their strength and patience.

Those on the reserve list have all the human emotions of wanting to be on the Team, believing they should be (these are world class competitors after all), wanting to be good supporters of those on the Team, and the same desire to keep their horses happy and sound.

It is now the 23rd of July, and Amy and the horses went galloping around the quarantine site. I chose to stay back at Aston Farm and finish this blog (thank you Sam) as well as some other necessary homework. (Allyson's home sweet home in the quarantine facility pictured above.)

I appreciate all of your support and patience with our absence. Whether it is needing answers to things in a timely fashion that don’t get answered, having to take care of a pack of wild terriers, or solving our transportation woes on short notice, your help is what makes all of this possible.

Oh, and yes, those that have offered the drinks, we’re taking you up on it!

- Greg