I’ve been excited about reporting at my first World Equestrian Games (WEG) ever since I got the call-up for Tryon almost a year ago. I’ve been lucky enough to report at two fantastic championships for H&H already — the Rio Paralympics in 2016 and the Gothenburg European Championships in 2017 — but WEG is a different kettle of fish; this is the biggie. I’ve heard countless stories from previous Games — some positive, others less so — but I wanted to find out for myself what it would be like working at this enormous extravaganza of horse sport.
We’ve just hit the halfway point and it’s fair to say there’ve been more than a few surprises and plenty of emotion. Some are the sorts of things you expect you might encounter at a championship — such as Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin’s young, inexperienced horses exceeding expectations to lead the British dressage team to a brilliant bronze medal, plus individual bronze for Charlotte and Mount St John Freestyle. I was so excited I couldn’t stop myself throwing my arms around Carl in the mixed zone.
The conclusion of the team competition was the most exciting, nail-biting day of sport I’ve ever been lucky enough to report. I found myself shaking uncontrollably as the trending score for Sweden’s Patrik Kittel got closer and closer to the 78.3% he needed to deny the Brits a medal, and by the time it was confirmed at an agonising 78.2%, my heart rate was in the fat burning zone, according to my trusty Fitbit. Probably a good job really, considering the plentiful, delicious and free food we’ve been gorging on every day in the press office — another surprise, along with the three parachutists that made us all jump as they landed during the opening ceremony.
Other sources of excitement were much more unpredictable. There were many things I expected might happen at my first WEG, but a hurricane certainly wasn’t one of them. By the time we landed in North Carolina, Hurricane Florence was lurking with menace just off the US coast, and by Friday morning she had not only made landfall with catastrophic consequences, but had also adopted a highly unusual path and was hurling herself directly towards Tryon. Great.
By Friday lunchtime I reckon I had earned a promotion to Hurricane Editor. I’d downloaded a hurricane tracking app and was checking it at every opportunity, weighing up our chances of survival. Pippa and I spent a morning stocking up on hurricane essentials, during which we discovered it is easier to buy archery equipment and engagement rings in Walmart than torches, especially when every shop assistant is too enamoured by your accent to direct you to the right part of the store. We soon had a dedicated hurricane cupboard, though, filled with torches, candles, granola, tinned fruit — and a 24-pack of beer, plus wine. We were ready.
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As it was, the dressage was not so lucky. With biblical rain quite literally on the horizon the plug was pulled on the freestyle. It was a sensible decision, but there was an awful lot of disappointment for everyone involved — I for one was gutted not to see Charlotte and Carl perform once more. I was cheered up by the jokes doing the rounds on social media though, that Charlotte was the only person to ride a Freestyle that weekend…
Thoughts quickly turned to our own safety; as the rain began to fall the international press centre slammed its doors and we raced Florence home to our cosy Airbnb in Hendersonville. A strange 24 hours followed. Cooped up inside, fuelled by coffee and Oreos — following a lengthy and still unconcluded debate about whether they should live in the fridge — we furiously churned out thousands of words of magazine copy with torches at arm’s reach, prepared to be plunged into blackness at any moment. I coud add to the drama and say that Florence raged with terrifying ferocity outside, but tucked away in the mountains we somehow managed to cling to our power, and really had no more in the way of rain than on a particularly soggy autumn day in England. We were the lucky ones though — my heart goes out to all those who have lost their lives, homes and livelihoods to Florence.
By Monday, it all seemed like a dream as order was restored and we watched Ros Canter and the British eventing team crowned world champions under a blazing hot sun. But there’s still a week to go and this is Tryon, the place where, it seems, anything can happen.
Full report on the eventing from WEG in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, out Thursday 20 September, including exclusive analysis and opinion.