|My Daughter & I Playing Peek-A-Boo With Our Cameras|
The holidays are coming to an end, and that means everyone’s thoughts turn to New Year’s resolutions, turning over a new leaf, or the excitements for the year ahead. For the first time that I can remember I don’t really have a new resolution I feel a burning need to fullfil, but having just had the most wonderful holiday with my children in the relative peace and tranquillity of the Welsh valleys, enjoying the simple pleasures of family life, I probably will seek to simplify my personal life next year, if only because my professional life has been so hectic this year, and that looks set to continue throughout most of 2012.
2011 was a cracking year for me eventing wise (sadly only as a spectator). Despite some logistical hiccups I managed to get to most of the big events that I intended to in the UK plus a few abroad, and even managed to snap some golden moments for my sporting year book. 2012 brings probably the most exciting Olympics, for this sport, there has been since the games were last held in London back in 1948. It was, after all, those games that gave rise to Badminton Horse Trials, the foundation of our sport, and Great Britain is widely acknowledged as having the best eventing circuit in the world, so with the eventing elite on our doorstep what better place to enjoy Olympic Eventing!
|Chris Burton Who Led Pau CCI**** for Dressage & XC|
This year has been a truly exceptional pre-Olympic year, with an unprecedented influx of foreign riders either visiting or taking up temporary residence in the UK, giving us some of the best competition right across the broad. We’ve seen the emerging talents from countries with far less eventing infrastructure take top honours, bouncing some of the world’s best off the podium at UK events, and for me some memorable performances from Clark Johnstone, Chris Burton, Hawley Bennett-Awad, and Clark Montgomery. It shouldn’t be overlooked of course that all the top spoils went to the established eventers, and the biggest prizes were carried off by the most mature and experienced riders; Mark Todd (Badminton), Mary King (Rolex & HSBC Classics), William Fox-Pitt (Burghley & Pau).
I’m completely torn between choosing Badminton or Pau as my favourite event this year. Watching Mark Todd carry off what many would have thought an unlikely 4th win after such a long stretch away was inspirational, and with the best weather at Badminton I can remember for some years, it was hard not to love the event this year. Before Badminton Mark said NZB Land Vision was one of the best horses in the world, and it would be a crazy to discount them for gold at Greenwich if both are fit and well come July. This guy is a magician when it comes to big events – he just keeps pulling the rabbits out. I also received my first eventing commission for issue #1 of Australian magazine, Equestrian Life, which I thought was brave of them, but they turned my ramblings about Badminton into a half decent 6 page spread, so all told Badminton was truly magical.
|Mr Cruise Control | My Dream Horse Of 2011|
I visited Pau for the first time this year, and was incredibly lucky to have wonderful balmy weather, helped no doubt by an earlier than usual date in the calendar. It was +24C each day with bright blue skies in late October – real florida weather! Last year was wet to say the least apparently. The competition was incredible too, a nail biting finale for the HSBC FEI Classics™ Series with Mary King and William Fox-Pitt battling it out for $150K, plus 2 of the world’s best riders (William, and Andrew Nicholson) riding 3 horses a piece, something you don’t see too often at 4* these days. There were plenty of horses at Pau with real talent, and a fair few with presence and floating paces to match. The one that really caught my eye though was Andrew Nicholson’s Mr Cruise Control, for me this horse has it all – grace, presence, personality and buckets of talent, and I have to confess, this horse is one of the reasons I finally went to Pau.
|William Fox-Pitt | Plenty Of Choice In His 4* String|
Enough of the past, let’s take a peek at 2012. My first reaction to an Olympic year is usually “we won’t see the best of the best out at the big events”, but these days the most successful riders have so many top class 4 star horses, with so little to choose between any of them, you’re going to undoubtedly see a good number of them at Rolex, Badminton, or Luhmuhlen pre-Olympics, and Burghley post Greenwich. For any of these riders making a call on such small margins of talent between their top horses must be tough, and risky! Focus on the task, free from the distractions of teaching, or running a sideline business must help in knowing each of their horses intimately. I remember talking to Andrew Nicholson at Pau, and he struggled to name all his horses that might be qualified for a 4* or the Olympics, and William Fox-Pitt won Pau on a 4 star debutant (Oslo), took 3rd place on Lionheat, and was thereabouts on his other ride before the show jumping. Mary King, Mark Todd and a number of others also have plenty of choice too. When you’ve this many good horses in your barn how do you choose between them? flip a coin? Even after all the micro analysis that can be done, there’s got to be an element of ‘gut instinct’ surely? It’s not a call I’d relish making, but love to observe from the sidelines.
|Mr. Medicott 10th At Pau CCI**** 2011 | Sold To The US|
The other factor worth following is the ‘transfer list’ to borrow a soccer phrase. We’ve already seen plenty of upper level horses changing hands over the last few months, and Team GER was perhaps the biggest loser, with 3 of their best horses heading to the US over the last 6 months, including Mr. Medicott from Frank Osholt to Karen O’Connor, Charlie Weld from Kai Ruder to UK based American, Julian Stiller, and Andreas Dibowski’s Butts Leon to US based Thai eventer Nina Ligon. Not withstanding the rather complex rules about deadlines for transfer of ownership or for that matter, rider nationality, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear about a few more on the move. In spite of these losses I still think the Germans are going to prove hard to keep out of the top five, and of course it’s always interesting to watch horses under a new rider, I hope for their sake’s those acquiring these new rides aren’t put under the microscope in the same way the Totilas transfer was.
|Francis Whittington | On The Selectors’ Radar|
What makes the first part of the season all the more exciting [in an Olympic year] is the number of 4 star riders, on the selectors’ radar, but forced into the second string, by those with little left to prove, other than their horse’s fitness. These ‘second stringers’ make the competition all the more exciting as they are either out to prove to the selectors they have a perfectly primed horse worthy of consideration, or they’re out to pick up the prizes in the hope others are more focused on Greenwich. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few new faces from some of the less established nations heading to Rolex or Badminton for a little pre-Greenwich big event experience (Japan maybe, or Austria). It’s as much about the crowds and experience as it is about the course.
Notably Barbury CIC*** and Gatcombe Festival have both been brought forward this year to assist in preparation for the Olympics, (28-31 July). Whilst you are unlikely to see any Olympic horses run cross country at Gatcombe on 15th July, it does provide a good last minute opportunity to perform in front of a decent crowd, and Barbury will provide the terrain test at the end of June. There are a number of other events that will play a vital role in 2012 during the late spring and early summer, including Chatsworth a week after Badminton, another favourite of mine, so have a good hunt through the calendar if you’re struggling to make it to one of the main ‘warm-up’ events.
|Nicolas Touzaint | In Form & A Medal Contender|
Although it’s New Year, and the season for fortune telling, I think it’s a little too early to predict who might win medals. The Brits, Germans, and New Zealanders are running on all cylinders, but other nations have also managed to make a mark this season, and some key individuals from France, Begium, the US and Canada could easily turn over the favourites.
Australia hasn’t had the smoothest of journeys in the last few years, with a few unforeseeable disasters at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, with one horse not travelling well, and Paul Tapner’s Badminton winner, Inonothing, picking up a stifle injury, plus the more recent mishap at Blenheim that let the Japanese qualify a team for the Olympics ahead of them. All that said, I still wouldn’t bet against the Australians who continued to produce excellent individual results right throughout 2011. The new Aussie coach, Prue Barrett, is making headway.
Perhaps it’s just me (or the distractions of the holiday season), but whilst there are regular mentions of the Olympics, I haven’t really felt the buzz of “it’s nearly the Olympics” yet. After several years of looking forward to this moment, I’m itching to get caught up in the final build up, and although I’ll be spending a good deal of time over the next few months either freezing on the east coast or warming up on the west coast of America, this coming summer I’m aiming to be pretty rooted to the UK to soak up the atmosphere and general euphoria surrounding the games. It’s amazing the lengths some people will go to, to be in England for the summer next year – make sure you’re one of them, it’s going to be a corker!
Happy New Year & Go Get Your Games Face On, It’s nearly the Olympics!