How did the Horse & Hound Olympic issue get put together?

  • The Backstreet Boys, Haribo, Brazilian junk food and plenty of caffeine were key ingredients in putting today’s Olympic eventing issue to press overnight on Tuesday 9 August, ready for the finished product to be on the shelves today (12 August).

    With a four-hour time difference between the UK and Rio de Janiro, H&H eventing editor Pippa Roome and Aimi Clark, former assistant editor of Eventing magazine, talk through the process.

    Pippa, in Rio de Janeiro:

    6am: I get up, have a shower (cold — hot water is yet to be reliably sorted out in our apartment in Deodoro Accommodation Village). Breakfast is in the food tent and then I catch the 7.05am bus to the equestrian venue. During the bus journey, I answer questions from the team in the office about the cross-country copy which I filed before I went to bed at 1.45am this morning.

    7.30am: I’m through security and at my laptop in the press office, answering emails and bouncing pdfs of some of the pages to and fro with our art editor Garry Ashton-Coulton, including confirming what the graphic showing which fences caused most problems will look like.

    8am: I watch the final horse inspection and tweet it from the H&H account. Then I head into the press office, write a web story about it and post it to H&H’s main and eventing Facebook accounts. I also send our news editor, Eleanor Jones, some quotes from William Fox-Pitt from dressage day which she can use in our magazine story about William’s remarkable comeback.

    10am: I head up to the press stand to watch the first few horses in the team jumping, marking on my course plan the striding and what colour the fences are so I can easily recognise them once I’m watching in the mixed zone later without the benefit of an aerial view.

    Once Gemma Tattersall has jumped, I head down to the mixed zone. Working alongside journalists from all over the world, as well as a reporter for the Olympic news service, I speak to riders after their rounds and add their comments to our H&H Live service. I’m also trying to mark down which fences the riders hit, but I know I have a back-up, a very rare luxury in this job — my colleague Alice Collins is watching in the stands and also taking notes.

    As the competition concludes we are waiting and waiting for Astier Nicolas, who has just clinched team gold for the French team. I become aware there is only an hour until the individual competition starts and I have to publish a web story before then, so I WhatsApp Alice and ask her to come and wait for Astier while I head into the press office.

    1pm: I write my web story about the team competition, publish it and get it up on facebook. I’m also bouncing some new quotes from William over to Eleanor and updating her that Lauren Kieffer, the American rider who fell yesterday, has sprained her thumb, but not broken anything — information gleaned from the US press attaché in the mixed zone this morning.

    Alice comes in with the news that Astier didn’t come to the mixed zone, but she got a quote from French chef d’equipe Michel Asseray, which will also be useful. I quickly type up my quotes from this morning so they are ready and to hand later.

    2pm: It’s up the stands again to get a feel for the course for the individual final decider. Once William Fox-Pitt has jumped, I head down to the mixed zone and interview him, then it’s the same routine of watching and interviewing as the competition comes to a head.

    William Fox-Pitt Rio Olympics

    William Fox-Pitt speaks to journalists after his dressage test at the Rio Olympics. The BEF’s Pippa Wade is with him, with H&H’s Pippa Roome in the green dress on the corner of the railings. Picture by Peter Nixon

    The journalists all help each other — in the morning Chris Burton and Mark Todd came in at the same time and I grabbed Burto and Mollie Bailey (Chronicle of the Horse) grabbed Toddy and then we swapped the quotes afterwards. It would be lovely to get exclusives, but that isn’t really possible at a championship, so it’s all about what you do with the material that counts.

    3.30pm: The individual competition is over and I’m back in the press office. Alice has helpfully made me a skeleton story in the back end of our website to speed things up and I speedily write my update into it.

    At the same time the riders come into the press tent for a press conference — it’s a little chaotic with microphones not working and translation for the French riders, but we get some material from it.

    4pm: I write my box about the Brazilian riders and file it — I’m aware that this is sitting on the cross-country pages of the report and the team back at home have everything for those pages apart from this. I don’t want to hold things up. Aimi Clark — our showing, veterinary and point-to-point editor who also has great eventing knowledge — is co-ordinating the pages in the office in my absence, choosing pictures and masterminding the workflow. There’s a split shift in the office today because we’re going to press through the night (it’s already 8pm there), but Aimi is certainly working more than her share of hours and I know it’s in safe hands.

    4.15pm: I email a bunch of quotes from the French team, individual winner Michael Jung and the British riders over to Eleanor. To do this, I have to work out which quotes I want to use in my report and which sit better in news. Decision time.

    5pm: I write my team showjumping copy. On the schedule I laid out before I left home I said I would file by 6pm my time (it’s already 10pm at home) and I just hit the deadline. There’s a bus back to our accommodation at 6.05pm and we decide to jump on that and carry on working back there.

    6.05pm: Bus back to our little flat — I use the journey to review the pdfs of the dressage and thrills and spills pages. Once we arrive and I’m back online, I bounce the annotated pdfs back to our subbing team —Briony Reed and Polly Bryan are on the night shift.

    6.30pm: I review a couple of news stories for Eleanor on email. Alice and I then record our Today at Rio video. For the first time, we don’t manage to nail it in one take — annoying as I’m under pressure to deliver this magazine copy, but it’s worth re-doing it as the second version is much better.

    7pm: I’m working on my individual showjumping copy and again aware that I set myself an 8pm deadline for this. I manage to file by 8.15pm.

    8.15pm: Content director Sarah Jenkins and I are bouncing emails about what’s the most efficient order to do things — I need a couple of hours of headspace to write up my copy for the opening summary pages, which is 1600 words and has to review the whole competition. It’s due by 10pm my time, which is do-able, but tight.

    We decide I should read the cross-country pages first and that if I bounce some of my fact-checking questions to the office (When did Phillip Dutton change nationality? When did France last win an individual Olympic medal), someone there can work on them while I’m writing.

    Sarah is also kindly looking after the cover while I’m away, something I usually co-ordinate, and we catch up on the latest on picture choice, lines and design.

    9.40pm: I’ve got my head well down in my copy for the summary pages, but there’s another 500 words to go and then a bit of tidying up to do. I tell the office to expect the copy at 2.30am their time, rather than 2am.

    Alice and our photographer, Peter Nixon, come back from having dinner in the food tent and bring me a pudding and various junk food from the strange little shop at our base. Peter, who has already sent over all his pictures for the magazine to Storm Johnson on the picture desk, sorts out the photos for the video and Alice starts editing that.

    10.38pm: I file my summary copy, 38 minutes later than planned. Phew. I compile the info for the last box on these pages — Alice has prepped some of it for me and Eleanor and Sarah the rest. I ping it straight to Emily Secrett, our deputy art editor.

    10.46pm: I read the showjumping and every fence pages, plus the opening news spread, sending annotated pdfs back to the office. I also see final options on the cover — happily, my choice aligns with Sarah’s, so there isn’t much to debate.

    00.08am (Wednesday): I read the scoreboard and summary pages, the last ones. The team in the office have done an amazing job — the pages look brilliant and they’ve had a very long night of it.

    1am: I check there is nothing further the team want from me and head to bed. I’m under strict instructions from Alice not to turn up at the venue before 11am the next day, so I set my alarm for my cold shower for 9am — definitely a lie-in!

    Meanwhile, Aimi is at H&H HQ in Farnborough, Hampshire…

    Patriotic cake in the office

    Patriotic cake in the office


    Normally I start at 8.30am, but today I arrive in the office later as I plan to be here all night. I start sifting through various emails from Pippa, who tells me cross-country copy has already landed and her first thoughts on who she wants to use pictures of with the summary pages. I start looking at images for the cross-country section.

    The first half of Mark Phillips’ column is already in my inbox, so I pass that on to our subs team. Sarah Jenkins is already on the case choosing dressage pictures.


    The dressage pages land on my desk for reading, so I take a temporary pause from sifting through cross-country images. I’ve also started looking for those needed for our two spreads of every fence. It’s not straightforward because we want to use a range of riders in this section so that as many are included as possible. Lucy Merrell, a freelancer helping out on our picture desk, is piecing together some sequence shots — these are a brilliant way to show the combinations, but time consuming to do.


    Mark Phillips rings to check all is OK with his column. We plan to talk again this evening, when he will add his comments after the competition has finished.


    There are hundreds of pictures to look through, which the picture desk has done a great job of narrowing down to the “best” ones. I have a list of those I need but can’t find, so get Lucy and our senior picture researcher, Bex Pattenden, on the case. I have the showjumping playing on my iPad next to my computer, but I’m trying not to let my productivity decline too much…


    The every fence pictures are ready to put on page, and art editor Garry Ashton-Coulton starts piecing together the “jigsaw puzzle”.


    I’m finally ready to do an art brief for the cross-country pages. I’m a little bit in limbo now; there is plenty still to do but nothing I can physically do myself right this moment. I make a cup of tea and grab a few Haribo from H&H’s “fat shelf”.


    Mark Phillips calls and dictates his comment about the team showjumping result. He says, “I’ll ring you back later after Michael has won”.


    The cross-country pages land on my desk for reading. I notice that two pictures need to be swapped around because these riders need to move up to the summary pages. Currently I don’t know who I’m going to put in there.


    Garry comes over to discuss the every fence spreads with myself and Sarah. He’s struggling to fit everything in because there are several sequences. We come up with a plan b — make the influential/more interesting fence pictures bigger and those that didn’t cause any problems smaller — and Garry goes away to rework the pages.


    We gather around the big screen near our kitchen area to watch the final stages of the showjumping. I’m on my second (or is it the third?) cup of tea.


    Back at my desk, I need to start typing the results on to a scoreboard. However, I realise I don’t have a log in for the Rio website — I meant to get it from Martha Terry, another of H&H’s subs who was on the day shift — before she finished earlier. I start trying to contact her.

    Aimi's desk


    Garry brings over his tweaked every fence layout. We have a few more thoughts that he goes away to work on.


    Mark Phillips calls back with his final comment. I type this as he talks.


    Website editor Carol Phillips saves my bacon and I finally have a log in for the Rio website. I print out a breakdown of the final results and start typing. I’ve moved on to coffee — and I’ve lost count of the amount of Haribo I’ve consumed.


    The remaining copy for a box on the cross-country pages comes in from Pippa. I really need to make a decision on who I want to replace those two pictures with.


    Eight hours in and I order Dominoes for the team. We’re not the healthiest lot — Haribo, Jelly Babies and a brilliant patriotic cake, baked by picture researcher Storm, is our overnight fuel.


    I run down to reception to pick up the pizza. I’m still writing the scoreboard, in between bites.


    Team showjumping copy is in raw. Using my print out of the results I mark whose pictures I want to use where, taking guidance from Pippa on who she’s leading with (the French team gold medallists or individual superstar Michael Jung?) The answer is the French, so individual silver Astier Nicolas gets the main spot.


    Storm has got a list of the missing pictures we need, and she starts chasing Peter Nixon for them. Meanwhile, subs are working on captioning the every fence pages.


    I print out the scoreboard for sub-editor Polly Bryan to read and double check — at this time of night and with the results sheet in such a small font, I want to be sure there’s no mistakes.


    I make a cup of tea. I still feel alert and awake though. The team showjumping pages arrive with me for reading.


    An email lands from Pippa: her summary copy will be in more like 2.30am, rather than the planned 2am. Either way, I’ve already sorted images for this. We’re just waiting on incidentals for the scoreboard.


    All pictures are chosen, except one for the cross-country. Storm chases Peter.


    I start thinking that I’m a little tired. Storm says the incidentals are in, so I make a shortlist before asking Emily to put them on page.


    The early hours is doing crazy things to us: we’ve just been debating whether it should be cream or jam first on a scone (I’m team Devon — cream first). Storm and Emily are singing along to the Backstreet Boys. I’m reading the individual showjumping pages.


    Summary copy lands. “Whoo-hoo” I cheer across the room. My head is feeling a bit fuzzy. The last cross-country picture is in, so those pages can be finalised.


    A final read of the scoreboard — I can see the light!


    It’s amazing how quickly time flies at this hour. I’m ready the summary pages and I realise that it will be light soon. We realise that the graphic showing how the team placings changed during the competition isn’t quite right, so Emily comes over to tweak it.


    It’s light! And, nearly 17 hours after I arrived, I can go home. I’m surprised by the amount of traffic on the M3 and roll into bed at 6.15am — 15 minutes before I would normally be getting up. I’m tired, but it’s been brilliant to be part of H&H’s Olympic press night. It all starts again next week…

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