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


Anonymous said...

your post may have been 5 pages but I enjoyed reading it very much. I could really use a good funny story right now so please share the one you were thinking of...and thank you for taking those great pictures! It is good to know that my own horse and an Olympic event horse have something in common...they both love a good butt scratch!

HeatherHayleyAudreyinAustralia said...

Go Amy, Go Pogie was all we could hear being screamed by Hayley 9 and Audrey 8 from Australia. We couldn't hear the commentary at all, that's why Greg's Blog is excellent in filling us in with very interesting snippets of news. Amy has inspired Hayley to go out and practise her trot to extended trot transition and then her walk to canter transition. Fantastic ride Amy and especially Poggio 2 for dealing with all the heat, drips, distractions and more, I'm sure. Amy, the girls love you and Pogie and even though we are living in Australia and are half American, we are supportiing YOU AND Pogie. Good Luck and thank you for all the hard work, your team as well. Hopefully the coverage of the Cross country will be better than the dressage. Go Greg with dealing with everyday life without a team van, but with a sense of humour and sanity.

c said...

Love this blog. Keep it up. And I feel sure the small number of comments is due to the obnoxious requirements to make it work.


Heidi said...

I love your blog! Since there has been no coverage yet of eventing on TV, it's nice to hear how things are going. I'm anxious to hear about XC because the USEA website seems to be behind with their updates. We're rooting for you from WA!

kathleen said...

Greg- you do write really well and I can only imagine what a great support you are for Amy right now. It's been really interesting to read about the journey to the Olympics from your point of view. I do hope that you get to enjoy some of your time in Hong Kong dry! It's just not fair that a guy from the PNW can travel around the world and still be plauged by rain! best wishes and love from a dressage rider in Olympia (the summer here's been great! too bad it had to happen while you're away)

dorothy said...

Good luck guys - I stopped by the Issy station and found out you were in China so now I am glued to the tv willing you on. I'm going to die when I go back to MN Weds and don't have cable any more to share my love of the sport with my kiddos!
Blessings - Dot and the mob of soon to be 10

Jessica said...

Love your 5 pages Greg! Love to hear from you guys! Great pictures from Ally! By the time that I am writing this comment I just finish watching in Oxygen the cooverage of the cross country phase of hat goes off for all and each of you! I am more proud than ever of Amy and the whole team! And, I am so glad to see that Amy and Poggy are alright! Keep it up! You guys rule! My heart, prayers and thoughts are with you guys!
Go Team USA!
Jessica Jimenez
Cashmere, Washington

Anonymous said...

loving the blog! dont worry about looking liek a drowned rat Greg, its like monsoon season over here in New England, I was drenched from head to toe, including in my paddock shoes ): anywho, anyone who wants to watch the rest of event coverage, go to cox. net to watch it streaming live/recorded.

much love-
Alyson Perry

Lissette10 said...

love your blog. i hope some equestrian mag has enough sense to ask you to write for them, they are all getting pretty dry. i hope amy and pogie are ok after yesterday. well it was yesterday for me im not sure if it was yesterday, today or tomorrow for you. the time difference makes my head spin!

genevieve said...

Hey, I stumbled upon your site while trying to find some info on how the equestrian team is doing (no TV coverage to date). It was really nice to read about how things are going and to see the photos you posted. Please tell Stephen Teichman I said "Hi" (I'm his sister). Thanks for sharing!