“Oooh, it smells like Olympia!” I exclaimed last night, bursting out of the stairwell onto the balcony above the grand hall.
Well of course it smells like Olympia — it is Olympia. But I had forgotten that heady mix of the indoor centre, the surface laid down for the show, the food, the horses…
It’s a few years since I’ve been to The London International Horse Show (I loved seeing that in big lettering across the end of the arena last night, the International cleverly placed across the entrance so it still works when the gates swing open). Recently, the lure of a good value early ski holiday has pulled me away, but with Olympia late this year, I’ve managed to squeeze in both.
Last night was somehow strongly evocative of my childhood trips to the show. My Gran used to give the tickets to my Mum and I every year for our Christmas present and the three of us would make the journey — a visit to London exciting in itself — for the Saturday afternoon performance.
We’d go early, to be in time for a look round the tradestands, back in the days when they were all crammed into the corridor around the arena. And we also wanted to catch the riding club quadrille — yes, I was there when Fife won back in 1993 with their quartet of Highland ponies, as depicted in H&H’s preview in last week’s issue (13 December).
I was planning to report the quadrille on Friday morning myself this year, but have been sadly called away by attending Jane Pontifex’s funeral. I’ll be representing Horse & Hound, but it’s certainly no empty duty, for I have huge admiration for Jane — the first horse trials sub-editor at H&H, my job now.
Jane was immensely kind to me when I started at H&H, coming over to talk if I looked lost in a press room and encouraging me with tips and compliments on my recent reports. She once told me that too many reports contained only quotes and that I must always make sure to tell the story. “Imagine you are calling a friend after the event,” she advised. “Whatever you would pick out to tell them about it are the things you must make sure you include.”
Anyway, back to Olympia. Last night I was helping out with running our H&H Live service on the Reem Acra FEI World Cup dressage qualifier grand prix, supported by Horse & Hound, so I was lucky enough to witness Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (pictured) breaking the world grand prix record, with 84.447%.
Valegro could, frankly, have been doing a totally different sport to all the other horses there, so much was he in a league of his own. He has an amazing quality that I can only describe as looking as if he has been poured through his skin — he is all one piece, supple and fluid, while other horses look like a set of disparate muscles working to carry out movements.
Of course, my admiration for Valegro didn’t stop me turning to H&H dressage editor Alice Collins at the end and saying, “So, when’s the cross-country?” I’m still the eventing editor, even in winter — and arguing with other sub-editors about which of our sports is better is one of the small but ongoing pleasures of life at Horse & Hound.
Join us for H&H Live — an up-to-the-minute, interactive, written commentary — tonight during the grand prix freestyle from Olympia.
Full report on Olympia in H&H next week, on sale Friday, 28 December.