There can be no sports outside equestrianism which combine glamour and grit so well. Think of the elegance of dressage, the top hat and tails, contrasted to the raw physicality and sheer bravery of cross-country.
Last night at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games was all about the glamour, with a star-studded opening ceremony.
Numerous displays and performances were involved, from the athletes parading by nation to Kentucky native Wynonna Judd singing My Old Kentucky Home, the mayor and governor of Kentucky speaking, three-times heavyweight boxing world champion Muhammed Ali driving round in an open top car and the Haitian Children’s Choir singing.
That’s without even mentioning the horses — my favourites were the Friesian train (10 beautiful Friesians performing dressage in perfect sync) and Tommy Turvey. He and his sidekick were each riding a horse when two more loose ones, with no tack on at all, were released into the arena. These flew to the sides of the ridden horses as if attracted by a magnet and stayed there, the coloured one with Tommy even making mirror loops away from the ridden horse and back. Impressive.
Even the weather played ball last night, with a beautiful red sky (above left) as the sun went down after a hot but not stifling day.
Today, it’s all about the grit. I’m down at the endurance, where competition commenced with a mass start in the musky dawn at 7.30am (right).
It’s only just begun to warm up here — people dressed for another blazing day of sun are shivering — and this contest is all about practicality. There are no marks for style, pretty much anything goes dress-wise, the horses all have their numbers painted across their rumps and many have their manes plaited down, which makes sense when you are trying to keep them cool and take tack on and off quickly at vetgates.
Talking of vetgates, I’ve just watched the competitors come through the first one, and I’ve spotted the “job I would least like to do at WEG”. After their allocated time in the vetgate, each one of the 100 or so riders has to leave again on an individual countdown, often several within a minute. The person I pity is the poor woman who has to stand in front of the exit allowing each one through (below left) while another official behind her co-ordinates things in a loud voice. With the horses feisty and the riders feistier, I hope she can move quickly to avoid being run down.
This event is a marathon for all involved. The leaders are expected to finish around 7pm, but the course doesn’t close until 11.08pm; anyone who hasn’t finished by then is eliminated. I’m already worrying about when the team placings are likely to be confirmed, bearing in mind H&H goes to press on a Monday and time difference from the USA to Britain works against us.
One way or another, I’m sure we’ll work it out. Grit and glamour, gala nights and GPS (yes really, we’re watching endurance riders on telly like little numbered blobs here), H&H is at Kentucky for the long haul.
Log on later for a report on the endurance and buy H&H next week (30 September issue) for full reports on the endurance and team reining.