Carl Hester: Hot competition, but no haute cuisine [H&H VIP]

  • Although there was great sport at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Normandy, the facilities for riders and the media were dire. The food was rubbish and took ages; we gave up after a couple of days and ventured out with the masses instead.

    The organisers refused to give accreditation to one journalist friend of mine — who had gone through the proper channels — as they had lost her emails. She ended up having to report the whole show from the sofa back at her hotel. What a fiasco.

    The sport in the arena was one of the most exciting WEG’s ever, but it was the worst for spectators.

    Reports about the hole-in-the-floor toilet facilities were eye watering. I imagine all the local pharmacies ran out of Imodium as none of my lady friends wanted to go standing up.

    Actually, it was lucky the eating facilities for the public were appalling — nobody ate anything, so that helped too.

    The British team finished as high as we could have. Even if Gareth’s score had counted instead of Michael’s, we’d still have won silver.

    A massive number of 102 horses trotted up. But what became apparent was that the test event had in no way given a realistic idea of what it would be like having so many horses and people on site.

    Combined with awful weather on the first two days, the fact that none of the arenas were flat made for tough working-in.

    It was amazing the show ended up with such a high standard given the number of withdrawals — including Totilas, Undercover and Kingsley Siro.

    We riders really missed the challenge of the head-to-head between Totilas and Valegro. When they’re both on form, the margin between them is very small, so it would’ve been an amazing finale. I hope that clash might still happen.

    The show had a record number of starters and 24 dressage teams. For us, it was job done finishing on the podium and qualifying for the Rio Olympics.

    I do wonder why eventing has six qualification spots from just 16 teams. That doesn’t seem fair.

    We’re still in the golden age of dressage in Britain, but we must look to the future. This may realistically be Gareth’s mare Nadonna’s last championships. And, although I feel I’m a contender for next year’s Europeans at Aachen, looking to Rio, it might be better for Gareth and me to step aside and allow our most promising two pairs — Henriette Andersen on Warlocks Charm and Spencer Wilton on Goodmans Supernova — to go to Aachen instead.

    Although those two horses might not peak until Rio, giving them a championship run would strengthen our hand for the Olympics.

    And it’s all about Rio: the Olympics is the pinnacle; it’s what keeps our sport in the public eye and pushes our funding needs to the forefront.

    More forward thinking

    Aachen’s show director Frank Kemperman held a riders’ meeting at WEG to put a few more ideas into the pot about how to continue to bring dressage to the public. There were 21,000 people at the WEG freestyle, but Aachen can go even bigger.

    The public scoring apps are a big hit, and the idea of having a split video screen so people could see the current horse performing the same test alongside the leader was also mooted.

    I know some will turn in their graves at this suggestion, but do we look like we’re stuck in a museum dressed in our tops hat and tails?

    In reining, in the areas where it originated, it’s the norm to see people walking down the streets wearing the gear. You wouldn’t expect to see someone in tails walking round Newent — or if I did then I’d know they’d nicked them from my wardrobe!

    Particularly for the freestyle, we should be allowed to wear short jackets and funky hats, so we look a bit less pompous.

    Team spirit

    The whole British WEG contingent stayed in the same hotel and the atmosphere was great. We crossed over with the para riders and the reiners and had such a laugh.

    To anyone who is shy or embarrassed: go and watch reining. By the end you’ll be whooping and hollering with the best of them.

    The paras won team gold but lost some individual golds. I hope it will make them come back out fighting next year with reinvigorated performances.

    Let’s just hope everyone can remember this WEG for the brilliant sport, rather than the less brilliant facilities and organisation.

    And wouldn’t it be easier to have WEG in one place for the rest of its life — somewhere like Aachen or Kentucky, or anywhere that really can handle such a big show?