Carl Hester: The Caen before the WEG storm [H&H VIP]

  • Gareth Hughes and I travelled to Caen for the World Equestrian Games (WEG) test event. There are a few aspects that make this forthcoming WEG extra special for us Brits and first of these is proximity. It is just an overnight ferry ride from Portsmouth, and then a 15min drive the other side or, alternatively, a three- to four-hour drive from Calais. This means our horses won’t arrive stressed or tired as they might have done over the long distances to Kentucky or Jerez for previous Games. The travel will make all our lives easier.

    It was surprising how few competitors turned up, although the Swedish team — riders and organisers — came on foot. It was an individual, not a team competition, but I thought more countries would have taken the chance to try it out.

    There were so many timing and logistic issues we sorted out, such as how to avoid going through the centre of Caen on busy mornings, and it was a privilege to ride there and work out what’s what.

    Certainly, the British team was represented in all aspects, and Chef de Mission Will Connell and Chef D’Equipe Dickie Waygood were there to get a handle on what to expect.

    WEG will be our last trip with Will, my favourite “head master”, who leaves us to be the director of sport at the US Equestrian Federation. Best of luck, Will, and don’t let the burgers get to you!

    The inside scoop — not!

    I had the unfortunate job of being rider representative. It’s a job I loathe, as it involves writing a full-scale report at the end of the show (rather like homework) and listening to — or dodging — complaints, such as not enough toilets, the arena not centred and the food not French enough.

    However, at least it meant I compulsorily attended a WEG briefing meeting and from that I predict this is going to be a slickly run Games. And no, I’m not giving everything away, other countries — you should have been there!

    The stadium seats 10,000 and the views from and to the arena aren’t just dramatic, they’re breathtaking. There’s a tunnel that leads from the warm-up to the main arena, so each horse will be allowed an extra minute to get to the arena to allow for the crossover between one horse finishing and the next starting.

    This potentially makes it easier for horses to be held out the back in the face of that strong noise that follows the star horses and riders. The crowds are also far enough away from the arena that they shouldn’t interfere with horses that tend to get stage fright.

    One unfortunate aspect of the test event was that spectators weren’t allowed, so perhaps the atmosphere that an enthusiastic dressage crowd can make was lacking.

    The footing we experienced was superb and will be in place now until the Games, so will be even more settled and just need a light scraping to soften the surface. Various little issues will be addressed, such as the need for more loos in the stable area. With a few rider nerves flying about during the Games, these will be much appreciated.

    The stables are excellent, although they are on Astroturf, which may cause problems for the second week if muck gets trapped under it.

    Book early for dinner

    The town of Caen is extremely attractive with some very, very good French restaurants. A word of warning, however; managers were advising booking now to ensure tables during the Games — again, over to you Will Connell!

    Though there were only 16 of us in the grand prix tour, Gareth and I managed first and second in the grand prix (pictured, above, the prize-giving on foot) and reversed the placings in the special, which ensured a nice,  friendly crossing on the way home.

    Big boots to fill

    With David Hunt stepping down as training director after many years’ service, this is one of the vacancies to the British Dressage (BD) board that members will be voting for when the ballot boxes open on 14 July.

    This post needs someone passionate about developing training systems within BD. As I see it, communication is key to this role. The training director doesn’t need to be someone you yourself would train with, nor does it need to be someone who has ridden for Team GB; it needs to be someone who can engage from grassroots to Premier League to international level. I’m tempted to think it could take several people’s experience to ensure this post is successfully filled.