WEG: Rain fails to dampen enthusiastic Kiwi eventing fans

The rain in Caen falls mainly on ... the eventing venue, making for a muddy time for all.
The rain in Caen falls mainly on … the eventing venue, making for a muddy time for all.

Finally, what we have all been waiting for, the eventing at the World Equestrian Games have begun! 

First day of dressage and it is raining.

Cutting corners doesn't do the grass any favours.
Cutting corners doesn’t do the grass any favours.

That’s the last thing the organisers or the fans wanted, the place was boggy enough as it was. We trudged through the mud making the mess just deeper and wider. A few bales of straw were thrown down in various places.

We heard the car parking was a shambles, although we got there early and our wonderful car pass that we had struggled so hard to get, gave us princess-like benefits. Other of our colleagues had to park down some country lane and walk for 35 minutes to get into the venue. We also heard of colleagues who had booked a shuttle from Caen from the stadium, hopped on and then were taken out to some carpark on the edge of Caen. Their limited French and the bus driver’s limited English did see them going back to the stadium, but no closer to the eventing. The helpful people in the main media centre managed to find someone to drive them out in a flash new Land Rover so they ended up having a lovely trip, although some hours later than they had planned.

The media centre at the eventing is a spacious (at the moment) area which even had croissants for breakfast available (at a small cost). The wifi was sporadic at the best however, which made life quite difficult for us www dependents. The best we could do is have one of us based in the centre doing the updates from the live TV and scoring there, and I went out roving, taking photos and interviewing the riders in the mixed zone.

Britain's Oliver Townend and the New Zealand bred thoroughbred, Black Tie, who finished the dressage in 21st place.
Britain’s Oliver Townend and the New Zealand bred thoroughbred, Black Tie, who finished the dressage in 21st place.

That works well, especially for the stationary one recovering from a broken leg!

There was a mixed zone all set up down by the dressage but this was abandoned for some reason and riders started their media duties at the top of the hill with the TV cameras before moving along to the other media until finally reaching us humble print media people.

For me this meant that I wanted to take photos of the New Zealand riders doing their tests, so then had to hoof it up the hill to be in the mixed zone by the time they were. It also meant that I got a couple of good shots of the grooms with their charges as they came up the same route on the other side of the fence. I love taking pictures of the grooms with their horses, they are such important people in the team and have to work so hard. Grooms that are at WEG are amongst the elite of the eventing world, for their devotion, knowledge and work ethics and dedication to their precious horse.

I did have a few funny experiences in establishing the layout of the various mixed zones, and at one point found myself right next to the practice arena, alongside Clayton Frederick warming up one of his Canadian team members.  Of course I gave Clayton the benefit of my opinion in as to what the rider should do to improve their performance – NOT!

The tickets to both days of eventing dressage had sold out more or less straight away when they went on sale. Many in New Zealand had stressed out about not having one, and made other plans to keep ourselves occupied. The friends I am travelling with had one ticket between the three of them and planned on sharing this at various times of the day.

British eventers, including Zara Phillips, left, and Oliver Townend, right, have a pow-wow.
British eventers, including Zara Phillips, left, and Oliver Townend, right, have a pow-wow.
However, again probably due to our very precious car pass, we all ended up in the venue and the friends discovered that they could all come and go into the dressage as they pleased. As the stands were never full this did not cause anyone any issues so they thoroughly enjoyed watching all the eventers do their thing, commenting that they thought the judges were a bit erratic, a bit harsh on some and generous with others! Whether the weather had put people off, or the stands were empty as the people were still in the queues for either the food stalls or the toilets, we were not sure.

The food stalls were absolutely swamped at lunchtime. From what we can gather there were about four of them and the queues were long, very long, and muddy. We have advised people to bring their own lunch and if they can, a chair to sit on as there is very little seating available especially if you want to keep your derriere out of the mud. Perhaps they are bringing in more food stalls and seating for cross-country day.

With all the beautiful bolangeries in the area, it is a simple thing to stock up on the way out to the venues and then tuck into the goodies at lunchtime, smugly avoiding all queues.

I won’t bore you with my impressions of the various dressage tests, there are other far more clever people to do that. I enjoyed watching our Kiwi riders perform on day one. Mark Todd is the most skilled ring technician you can get, he can squeeze marks out of what for many others, would potentially be a pretty average score.

They were also great in the mixed zone, giving everyone some quotable quotes. My favourite one of the day was Tim Price describing the cross country as “a beast of a thing”. Mark wryly suggested that “the French didn’t really think through what would happen if it rained”.

I also interviewed Michael Jung and am even more of a fan. While this isn’t the first time I have had the privilege of asking him some questions, I could not help but be impressed with the man. He stares right into your eyes even more intensely than Andrew Nicholson, and doesn’t waiver as he gives you a very considered answer. He is impressive, both on and off a horse.

Jonelle Price gives husband Tim a congratulatory hug after his test in Wesko.
Jonelle Price gives husband Tim a congratulatory hug after his test in Wesko.

So on day two, with four Kiwi riders, I will be up and down that hill like I am training for the new York marathon. I will soon work off anything gained from eating a beautiful three-course meal at an informal NZ supporters’ dinner on Thursday night, organised by Francis Stead and Russell Hall, owners of Clifton Promise. About 50 were expected to turn up, but there were 65. We started the meal all seated outside, but the downpour which lasted for about an hour saw the obliging restaurant staff moving us inside and upstairs. The food was great, and a couple of brave people tried the local delicacy, tripe, saying that it was actually quite nice (but I did notice they didn’t quite lick their plates clean like the rest of us who had the other offerings).

As it was a beautiful evening, we elected to walk the half hour back to our house through the streets of Caen. We discovered a beautiful city, full of bars and restaurants from which spilled out beautiful (mainly young) people, enjoying themselves. We couldn’t resist seating ourselves on the tables outside at one such establishment and were delighted when the barman arrived out with a bottle of calvados, a few glasses and proceeded to try to tip the amber liquid straight down the throat of one of our party!  His antics were hilarious and we all ended up having a fabulous nightcap and more laughs.

What a great night. What a lovely city.

Wesko and his groom head for the arena.
Wesko and his groom head for the arena.

Jane Thompson

Jane has always had a keen interest in horses, and was an active competitor in equestrian events from her early days until the late 1980s. » Read Jane's profile

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