Monday, July 21, 2008

Gallops & Trip to London

It is Sunday the 20th of July. Yesterday was a “gallop” day. In order to continue the fitness of the horses, Amy and the other riders are taking their horses galloping every 5 days. The US Riders are extremely lucky to have the use of an amazing facility called Jackdaws Castle. This horse racing training center sits on top of a ridge that over looks a beautiful Cotswold Valley near Stow. This private facility has two all weather footing “gallops” that run up a significant hill (8% grade). One is nearly a mile long and the second is probably ¾ of a mile long.

The purpose of the hill is to increase the fitness of the horse while minimizing the impact. (She uses this theory at home on a local pipeline right of way.) The beauty of this place is the footing. They have both a grass turf and Euro-footing gallop. On this gallop, Amy and her groom Katrine (on Leyland) went up the hill three times. The first time they trotted, and the second and third time they proceeded at a canter. It is always humorous to watch Pogi at the gallops. He does not like anyone ahead of him, or really anywhere near him for that matter, when he is working. The other riders have learned to let Pogi go first, and it doesn’t make their rides any easier since most of them are riding Thoroughbreds too. Thoroughbreds are a bit like Terriers or Border Collies, they may have never actually done the job they were bred for, but it is certainly in their blood and they are eager for the game (at least initially) until they get tired.

Of course the English weather has been continuing its lovely self. Just as the riders started their gallop, the skies opened up and a short two minute drenching squall struck. As they tried to trot and canter uphill, at the same time the horses were trying to do it with their furry little butts to the wind (i.e. sideways). It has been a bit of challenge to try and convince oneself that you are preparing for the Summer Games versus, perhaps, a winter bobsled event.

At the gallops today was Amy and her two horses, Pogi and Leyland, Karen O’Connor with Mandiba and Gina Miles with the really big guy, McKinlaugh. We (me and the grooms) watched from the relative comfort of the rental car to avoid the squalls. Mark Phillips arrived just in time to watch the horses go; just making sure all are on track. It is amazing to listen to these animals work. Pogi gets to the top of the hill and quits breathing hard, then turns around with the look, "Is that all?" If he had his way, I’m sure he would jog back down to the other horses, asking them, "How you doing?" and "Shall we go do it again?" I also have no doubt that the others find it highly annoying!! God bless Pogi. (Amy and Pogi galloping below.)

Then, after all that fun, was a race back to Aston Farm to take care of the horses: icing their legs, giving them baths, wrapping their legs, lazering and magnetic blanketing their bodies—their isn’t a health spa in the world that could keep up with Pogi and Leyland’s grooms.

In a direct challenge to my normal comment of only having seen the “finest barns around the world” we visited London proper. Desi Dillingham, the head of the British Horse Society (sort of the fund raising arm of all things equestrian in England), was kind enough to be our guide Saturday evening and Sunday morning in the great city of London. The grand adventure was attended by Amy, Karen, Karen’s uber-groom Max, and I.

With the horses well taken care of, we sped off to town. I say sped because I choose not to disclose the actual speeds we traveled at in case this is being monitored by some government agency (just practicing for China). We arrived in time to make the girls’ appointments for fingers, toes, and waxes, after whizzing past Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, Notting Hill, and various other places I have only seen in movies. Okay, I did have a facial.

As I was laying there enjoying the peaceful face massage by the clearly eastern European woman, I became aware of a searingly bright light from behind my closed eye lids. It is one of those intense lights where you almost feel the atoms in your body start vibrating and moving into some sort of alignment due to that brightness. The next words I heard from whom I have christened “Olga Khrushchev, the KGB Agent”, sent shivers down my spine: “prepare for the extraction.” Just think of the best Russian accent you have ever heard, and there you go…once I quit levitating off of the table, the final face massage helped calm me down again.

From there we went on a crazy cab ride through the “circuses” of London central to get to the theatre district. We had the opportunity to go see the Lion King on stage. From there, was a Thai dinner at the typical British hour of 10:30 pm. Yad, our driver, the Kurdish refugee, returned us safely to Desi’s lovely London flat and her gigantic house cat, Soxs, around the hour of midnight. We finished the wonderful time away with a simple breakfast sitting over a canal in “Little Venice.” From there, a quick jaunt over to Paddington Station for a train ride back to the Farm. We arrived to find two happy horses with the look of “you were gone; really…did you have to come back?”

The rest of Sunday back at the Farm was relegated to preparing for sending the horses into quarantine on Monday afternoon. The rules of which, once we all figure it out, I will pass on to you.

Oh yeah, there was one more Bataan march to do this evening as well…

- Greg


T said...

Hi Greg,
I LOVE your blog!!!!!
Thank you for taking the time to write about what the horses and you guys are doing.
Keep writing, you're doing great!!!
Tell Amy we are all thinking about her and wishing her the best.
Take Care,

MOM(Sandy) said...

Hi Greg, Amy, Allyson, Katrina
Love your blog, let's me know what my daughter is up to (ALLY). Have fun and Amy and team USA go for the gold. MOM (Sandy)