2012: Wet And Wonderful

Michael Jung & Sam - London 2012 Olympics
Michael Jung & Sam - London 2012 Olympics
The Wonderful – History In The Making – The Unassailable Michael Jung Adds “Olympic Champion” To His CV
The Wet – A Common Sight All Year Despite An Official Drought

The 2012 Eventing season was ushered in with so much anticipation, and with a resoundingly great start in March, it was hard to imagine anything could slow the momentum,  prior to what would ultimately become the biggest and best Olympics the sport had ever seen. Weather patterns across the northern hemisphere caused havoc and unleashed extreme climate conditions. Whilst the US went from high, dry temperatures in the summer adversely affecting crop yields, to the flooding and devastating hurricanes along the eastern seaboard that left millions of lives in tatters or lost as far north as New York City, here in the UK mother nature threw everything she could at us as we experienced our wettest draught on record, forcing cancellation of the vast majority of events in the British calendar.

In spite of all this we built the greatest show on earth and the world’s eventing nations sent their elite riders to challenge each other for the most coveted prizes in the sport – Olympic Medals.

The weather started off very promisingly in March. I made a quick visit to Tweseldown the first week of the season, where it was chilly, but bright and dry.

Chris Burton & Holstein Park Leilani At Twesledown For An Early Season “Pipe Opener”

The Kiwis had camped their entire first squad in Britain for some months now, giving their younger members a fighting chance to compete and gain match practice against the best in the world. One of the first events in the schedule, Tweseldown, which is run over sandy soil and provides a reliable run for many seeking an easy OI warm up to kick off the season. This was exactly how the Australians set off, and I remember watching both Chris Burton (HP Leilani) and Paul Tapner (Inonothing) ride steady rounds on cross country, in stark contrast to the Kiwis who rode competitively, putting their winter training to the test.

Uncharacteristically for the time of year, warm sunshine welcomed me for my first visit to Somerley Park, fresh off the plane from a business trip to San Francisco. This last year has been a roller-coaster of  world travel with more than 4 months abroad – not as glamourous as it sounds when it’s all business meetings, presentations, office blocks, and hotels. Anyway, Somerley is a gorgeous country estate on the edge of the New Forest and I got to watch a few of the fancied Olympic horses take their first step out into competition including the incredibly talented Nereo.

Sarah Cohen & Treason – Winners of Belton CIC***

Belton is good “semi-final” in the run-up to Badminton running one of the most interesting CIC*** classes you can find, that provides the best benchmark for early season 4 star form. This year Belton management excelled itself, with a showground layout and rider line up that provided the perfect atmosphere and conditions for those preparing for Badminton & the London Olympics. The line up for Belton was a mini Olympics in it’s own right, and one of the greatest start lists you’ll find anywhere with a full compliment of British Team challengers, the German supremo Bettina Hoy, and more Aussie & Kiwi olympians than you can shake a stick at. The CIC*** was won by Sarah Cohen on the lovely looking Treason, who followed that up with 3rd at Houghton soon after, but sadly haven’t been seen out since withdrawing from Bramham after the dressage.

Pure Self Indulgence – I love this photo from Larkhill in early April

April started with the best intentions, although I remember being frozen at Larkhill on Easter weekend, but managed to capture one of my favourite photos of the year, a lovely grey against the backdrop of Salisbury plain.

The Badminton Staircase Looking Mighty Fine on Press Day

Like every year I plan work, home, travel and all manner of activities around Badminton week and any of the important related dates like the press day held in mid April. I have this theory that if the weather on Press Day is average or poor, then Badminton week itself will be  pretty special. This year we had good sunshine for the journalists’ drive round Badminton to preview the course. For the past 5 years the grass track has been groomed like a golf green and the views across the park were amazing.

Towards the end of that day as I walked the course, the clouds started to roll in and then came the rain. It seems like it never stopped raining for a month. The weekend before Badminton I made my way to through the deluge and arrived in what can only be described as a soggy deer park. The ground was saturated, but by Sunday afternoon there was the slimmest of chances that if the rain stopped for the next few days there was a chance the show could go on. No such luck!

A Very Waterlogged Badminton Is Cancelled

That evening it got worse and by morning much of the course was under water and “a river ran through it”. Badminton was cancelled!

For the first time in 25 years the event did not run due to bad weather. The news was announced first thing Monday morning and it trended on Twitter, made national TV & Radio, and the Badminton website irrecoverably fell over for the first time in my tenure, as everyone logged on to check the news for themselves.

Harriet Upton – One To Watch in 2013

It was the most spirit dampening experience. So many had worked so hard all year to bring the event about, as we do every year. Competitors, selectors, officials all had to rally with alternative plans, as Badminton had been the big “show us you’re ready for the Olympic Team” for so many, and the phones were red hot to the likes of Samaur in France and Chatsworth in the Peak District.

Samaur was almost a wash out itself, won by Chris Burton on Underdiscussion, a horse many had thought would be a better choice as his Olympic mount.

One of my favorite events to ride, Hambledon, was another to be hit by the weather and suffered abandonment part way through. I did manage to get there to watch on the first day and managed to snap a few riders inbetween the hail storms, including the young and talented Harriet Upton.

Claire Lomas – Flanked By Tim & Lucy Henman

With the cancellation of Badminton and so many other events my, and many others, attention turned to the London Marathon where Charlie Massey (AKA Charlie The Coffeeman) was running as part of his monumental fundraising efforts for Spinal Research. Londoners come out on mass to support the biggest fundraising event in the country where runners raise funds for all sorts of good causes. I went to watch and take a photo, but completely failed to spot Charlie amongst the thousands of competitors.

As importantly former eventer, Claire Lomas, who was partially paralysed in a cross country fall, set off on an astonishing challenge to walk the London Marathon in a robotic suit, it took Claire over two weeks to complete, and she was accompanied every one of those days by a plethora of celebrities from all walks of life, and in the process became something of a celebrity herself, inspiring others whilst raising over £200,000 for Spinal Research.

The rain continued to cause no end of cancellations throughout May, and I had planned to make it to Chatsworth which also suffered a late cancellation, providing yet another pot hole in the carriage way of many a rider’s road to the Olympics.

Carriage Driving At Windsor Horse Show – Small Consolation For All The Cancellations

My consolation for Chatsworth was a wonderful day in bright sunshine at Windsor Horse Show photographing my next favourite equestrian sport of carriage driving. Windsor is one of the all time top events for driving, with singles, pairs and fours scurrying round the Queen’s back yard of Windsor Castle. Anybody who is anybody on the European circuit can be found at Windsor, and the Duke Of Edinburgh, a competitive driver himself, had handed off the reins and habit this year to take a slightly less demanding role as an obstacle steward in the sport he helped create and shape over so many years.

West Coast Eventing Against The Backdrop Of San Francisco

Soon after Windsor it was time to head back across the pond to San Francisco. I had only intended (and packed) for a week long stay, which grew into a month. Luckily the bay area hotel I stay in is more like an apartment with all mod cons, and the extended visit was something of a treat in so many ways, enabling me to experience eventing ‘West Coast’ style at Woodside on the San Francisco Peninsula. It’s a completely different experience to eventing over on the east coast, both in format and atmosphere. I met some great people including Yves Sauvignon, Derek Di Grazia, and quite co-incidentally one of the founding VCs behind Siri, having been invited to the ring side evening gala where dancing on the tables rounded off the night (courtesy of Gina Miles!). 

Back in the UK they were suffering more cancellations and Bramham just scrapped through the appalling weather to provide many with that much needed run. By the end of June the rain was easing, although those events that were running experienced going on the softer side of good. Salperton in the heart of the Cotswolds produced a great competition relatively free from rain until the very end, and an opportunity to watch many of the London bound riders, and some classy advanced horses out for a competitive run in preparation for the 3 star events ahead in the calendar.

Boyd Martin

Karen O’Connor & Mr Medicott

In an unprecedented mass migration to Britain, the US Team brought their entire short list (all 11 of them) for their final selection trial at Barbury. They were the talk of the town. Boyd Martin had all three of his London candidate horses, and surprisingly ended up with Otis Barbotiere  selected for London. Phillip Dutton had brought Mystery Whisper, the talking horse of the pre-Olympics frenzy, who’s dressage score at Barbury was almost certainly hampered by an untimely downpour, but jumped nicely round show jumping and cross country to take a spot on the London bound team.  Karen O’Connor had her newly acquired ride Mr. Medicott, and rode masterfully round the Barbury cross country, particularly through the water that many had made look untidy to say the least. Sinead Halpin brought MANOIR DE CARNEVILLE who provided the US selectors with a  ‘told you so’ moment later in the year and the run of their career, when leading the Burghley field right up to the final show jumping phase at Burghley and finishing 2nd.

Sinead Halpin Left Off The London List But Ending The Year On A High With 2nd At Burghley

The new Canadian Coach, Clayton Fredericks, provided the crowd pleaser of the event with what seemed like an impossible save as his horse scrambled over the exit fence at the main water complex, something not everyone managed, including Boyd Martin with his wonder horse Neville Bardos.

Clayton Fredericks Manages What Seemed An Impossible Save At The Main Barbury Water Fence

Barbury was the start of an incredible purple patch for Andrew Nicholson who led the competition from the start on his London reserve horse, Avebury, and swept up second place on the impressive looking Quimbo.

Andrew Nicholson & Avebury Flying Round Barbury For The CIC*** Win

The Gatcombe Festival, running 3 weeks earlier than usual, to provide the British Team with some last minute ‘big atmosphere’ familiarisation, ended before it began – another victim of the weather, leaving even fewer chances for some much needed match practice on home soil.

Never one to wrap his horses in cotton wool Andrew Nicholson headed, as always planned, to the big stadium at Aachen with Nereo for a final competitive run before the Olympics. From here on in there was nothing but the Olympics to eat, sleep and talk about, nervously at first as to whether they would be rained off too, but come the end of July nothing short of a volcanic eruption was going to stop what proved to be the greatest olympic eventing we have ever seen.

Boyd Martin Gets Olympic XC Underway Against The Backdrop Of The London Skyline (Millennium Dome)

I was fortune enough to go for second day of dressage, and for cross country & show jumping. The chosen venue was the subject of much debate and criticism, and I had lamented myself over the size of the audience it could hold by comparison to other alternatives, but the views of the London skyline were magnificent and the competition itself ran supremely. The cheering and support for competitors of all nations was phenomenal, but particularly so for the home team. I sat in the pound seats at the top of the grandstand for dressage and you could feel the grandstand physically sway with all the shouting and stomping of feet as any Team GBR member entered or exited the arena.

Games Face!

Everybody, and I mean everybody, was in high spirits throughout the competition. The British supporters came out dressed in red, white and blue, the Dutch wore orange and every other nation completed the rest of the rainbow. The efforts and enthusiasm of the throng of volunteer “GamesMakers” was memorable, and for me one of the real legacies of these games.

When cross country got underway you could be on any part of the course and know where the Brits were just by the sheer roar of the crowd like a sound wave that carried horse and rider round the course. It was truly amazing!

My overwhelming memories of Cross Country were:

Karen O’Connor Thundering Out The Arena Hugging The Railings With The Biggest Smile On Her Face
Listening To The Deafening Sound Wave of Cheering As “The Event Horse” Of Our Time (Opposition Buzz) Came Past
Watching The Legendary Mark Todd Make This Combination Look Easy Where So Many Others Had Trouble (Interesting To Analyse)

As for the competition itself, the outcome was pretty much as expected – Germany Won, The Brits in second, and the Kiwis in third. It produced some great performances from young starlets, not least of which, Sara Algotsson Ostholt who won an individual silver medal and Bronze Medal winner Sandra Auffarth. I can’t help but feel a little sympathy for Andrew Nicholson who finished 4th individually. He was at the mercy of the weather and the officials who held him immediately prior to his dressage test, leaving him as he thought, just off the boil, and what he had expected to be his best performance in an olympics.

This was the only bruise on an otherwise exemplary year for the New Zealander, who went on to win Boekelo, Blenheim CIC, Burghley & Pau. Andrew’s focus has clearly tightened this year, illustrated by the passing on of certain advanced horses that might not produce the big wins, most notably Armada. Judging by his results this is paying off. He still continues to bring on young horses himself, and when I bumped into him recently cross country schooling at Boomerang Stables he was riding the most amazing little 4yo TB stallion that had been jumping for just a month, but looked like a duck in water cruising through a number of tightly strided combinations.

Highclere Horse Trials – Lost In 2012

My biggest disappointment in 2012 was the loss of Highclere Horse Trials probably to the power of TV, and the popularity of Downton Abbey which is filmed there. This was my all time favourite event to ride that is now replaced in the calendar by Wellington, which is perfectly good but no substitute for the beautiful course and surroundings of Highclere Castle. I have so many fond memories of this event, and often stop by a few photos from the event hanging on my wall to fondly recall the event.

Blenheim’s Lake Fence Reflected In Charlie’s Sunglasses

As summer rolled out, and the autumn sunshine arrived, I headed to Blenheim, an event few can match for backdrop and established rolling parkland (some of the trees here are 1200 years old), which is a joy to gallop round. The event grows year on year, attracting more and more international riders from as far afield as North America, and now runs a popular CIC for 8 & 9 year olds. I went with a good friend who has no real interest in horses or the fact that the main CCI class gave William Fox-Pitt an historic 50th three day win. At one point I left him with my camera only to return and find a dozen photos taken, not of horses, but of beautiful women! Nevertheless we enjoyed a wonderful day in the sunshine watching a number of newly established advanced horses you can expect to tackle Badminton next year. If you want to see really polished performances, Blenheim late in the year is a good one to visit.

Another highpoint of 2012 was the eventual launch of the HorseHub App. Paul Tapner and I have been working on this project for some time, and on 18th September all the hard work became an iTunes reality. We have so many authors and users to thank for making this the success it is today – thank you one and all.

Just A Few More Frosty Winter Scenes To Go!

Despite the worse year I can remember for cancellations, this been a fabulous year for the sport with plenty of historic milestones to write into the annuals of eventing and more than ever I’m looking forward to Badminton in the spring with the prospect of watching the likes of Michael Jung finally take on the regular 4 star crowd in one of the biggest events on the planet.

As I sit by the fire this last week in December looking back through all the photos I taken this year I’m reminded of how wonderfully colourful and exciting this sport is, and more importantly there are just a few short months until the eventing road show starts all over again. Time to start looking in earnest for my next horse, make room for a little more ‘me time’, and to “get involved”!

Roll On 2013!

Amateur event rider, aspiring photographer. Technologist by day.

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