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.


Anne said...

Hi Greg, Amy, Allyson, & Katrina,
I’m so excited to read about all the great fun and adventures that you are all having, and not to mention all the hard work. Greg, your blogs are amazing. Keep them coming! I love the news and you have a wonderful sense of humor and style of writing.
Let Amy know that Safari and I finished third in the CCI** in Montana. I was leading it after the dressage and x-country, but three rails in stadium dropped us back a few spots. Let her know that I had a fantastic ride x-country that she would have been proud of and we came in one second under time! I can’t wait till you all return from the Olympics (hopefully with medals!) and Amy can help me with my show jumping.
We are missing you all and wishing you the best of luck! Stay healthy, sound and cheery.
Best wishes and Good Luck!
Anne Carr

Dana said...


Thanks for the great blog updates, please continue to keep us posted! Best wishes to all of TEAM USA! I am watching, praying, and hoping from Virginia.


Jill Bogart said...

Greetings to all,

Good luck on your grand adventure to China. I hope Amy and Pogi bring back a round, shiny souvenir that hangs around her neck on a ribbon!

I'll be pulling for Amy and all the US eventers back here in Rock Island, IL (the eventing backwaters of the US!).

Best wishes and good luck. Have a great time.

Jill Bogart

Mary said...

Hi Greg !
So glad you are writing this blog as it keeps me in touch with what's happening with our Olympic eventers. Can't wait to actually watch the coverage on NBC and scream at the TV as I cheer for you all.

I am sorry for Heidi and Bonnie but I'm sure their decision was based on what's best for their horses and I hope they get another chance at it.

In the meantime...go Girls and Phillip!

Mary in western NY