It’s been a busy week in quarantine. Last Wednesday, we [the team and reserves] gave all the horses an intensive jumping session over lots of different types of fences.
We expect that there will be a few walls in Hong Kong because Steve Stephens, the co-course designer, does like using them. We came up with about seven variations and also jumped a lot of fences with high pillars for wings.
At the Olympics, there are a lot of out of the ordinary jumps, so we had a few things shipped in to get the horses used to them. There were fibreglass cows, painted horses and even a couple of gorillas. There may be a panda or two in the ring, but a gorilla was the closest thing we could get hold of. Basically, we used anything to cross the T’s and dot the I’s.
Building team spirit
All of the horses jumped super and working together with each other’s horses is building up a good team spirit. It’s been great and very worthwhile.
The horses had any easy day on Thursday. Ruby [Fresh Direct Corlato] was hacked out around Towerlands and had a loose lunge in the afternoon to chill out.
The physio paid a visit to make sure everything was in order and we spent time letting Ruby get used to the “crate” she would be flying in.
Ruby walked in and out, was locked in there, fed in there and then walked back in afterwards. She went straight back in no problem and was very relaxed.
Jumping at Chester
On Friday, I went off to Chester [the British masters invitational], as did Ben [Maher] and Peter Charles [non-travelling reserve]. John and Michael [Whitaker], Nick [Skelton, travelling reserve] and Tim Gredley [non-travelling reserve] had gone to Valkenswaard.
I thought Chester was very good. There were things that did and didn’t work, but it was an upbeat and sharp show. The classes brought entertainment to the fore and it was well received by the public and riders alike.
I think there are refinements to be made and the betting will take time to take off, but the experiment was very positive and this has a future. It proved we can portray our sport in a different light.
Ben went super to win the big class, and that’s good for the team. Confidence is everything and he’ll be going off to Hong Kong with a good win under his belt. John won two classes in Valkenswaard too, which was excellent.
By time I got home it was 10pm, and I was up 6am on Saturday to be at Towerlands for 8am. We did a lot of faster work with the horses to prepare us for the tight course times in Hong Kong.
It was an early start again on Sunday [left home at 5.30am]. We had to ride early because our tack, rugs and feed was getting picked up at 2pm to be flown to Hong Kong.
We worked over some serious jumps, with complicated lines and variations. We took strides out and put extra ones in. Ruby was tremendous.
The girls [grooms] worked very hard to make sure that everything was packed. Normally, when you go to a show, your wagon is full of things. The worst case scenario is that, for example, you break a cheek piece and have to go an buy one from a saddlery trade stand. But there won’t be any saddlery stand in Hong Kong, so everything has to be sent.
Overnight, all of the horses were put on intravenous fluids to make sure they were completely hydrated before the boarded the plane the next day.
The horses fly out
At 4am yesterday morning the horses were driven to Heathrow with a police escort — just in case there were any problems on the M25. Tim Gredley and Peter Charles’s horses [Omelli and Rupert R] were also in tow and kept handy. They with within 20 minutes of being able to load, just in case one of the other horses fell and injured itself on the runaway or anything.
The loading went well and all the horses were relaxed on the aircraft.
I got a text a few hours later to say they’d landed in Milan — their refuelling stop — safely and were all eating and drinking well. Then they flew for 11 hours to Hong Kong.
I got a text this morning to say they’d all landed — that’s huge peace of mind for me.
Krysten [my groom] flew last night. She’s just text to say she’s landed and is on her way to see Ruby. At the moment, I’m just going through some final things before I fly tomorrow — Laura will be out a week later.
The Olympic challenge
During the week I’ve been studying DVDs of the Sydney and Athens Games to get a feel for the type of competition.
The Olympics are very different from a Super League competition. For a start, it’s not just on one day, it’s spread out over five.
It also became clear that if you have one bad round, you’re not out.
As a team, you need to dovetail. If one rider has a bad round, the others need to go well. But you can’t have a couple of bad rounds on the team. The other members just can’t carry 16 faults.
In the final, all previous scores are discarded, but clear rounds don’t happen very often. These are big jumps with extremely difficult lines. At Athens, one combination was jumped clear by just two horses out of 35. It’s going to be hard work.
I’m as excited as anything. I’ve been getting loads of emails, calls and texts wishing me good luck. It’s really nice. I’ve got emails and cards from people I’ve never even met. It really means a lot me, especially that riders and people involved in the sport are wishing me well.
Don’t miss H&H’s full report from the Olympic eventing in Hong Kong — on sale Friday 15 August.