Carl Hester: ‘Teamwork makes the dream work’ when preparing for an Olympics


  • British Olympic gold medallist Carl Hester on the hard work being done behind the scenes by the British team ahead of Paris

    Preparations for the Paris Games are underway at pace. As head of operations and logistics for British Equestrian (BEF), Sophie Thomas heads a small team of three with lots of support from the wider organisation.

    After visiting the venue a few weeks ago, Sophie told me the setting in the gardens of Versailles, overlooked by the spectacular palace, is amazing and reminiscent of Greenwich, the equestrian venue of London 2012. Spectator stands and some arenas are already in place. Of course, there were no crowds in Tokyo due to the pandemic, but with seating for 16,000 in Paris, I hope lots of Brits will be able to get there and support the teams. France feels more accessible.

    Paris will be Sophie’s fifth Olympics. I was fascinated to chat with her about her role and how she came into it. From a horsey family, Sophie was a member of the same Pony Club branch as William Fox-Pitt and a keen event rider before redirecting her passion for horses. She completed an equine management degree from Warwickshire College, after which she secured a job as an admin assistant to the World Class Programme and worked her way up.

    I asked Sophie to highlight the best aspect of the job. “When all our hard work comes to fruition and our athletes are on the podium at championships,” she said. “It makes the work at all hours of day and night worth it when you get to share in those amazing experiences. It’s a good day at the office when plan A comes off and plans B and C stay in the drawer!”

    And the worst? “Behind the scenes, there’s a huge amount of planning, admin and logistics involved. Chasing people for information makes us feel we’re on people’s cases all the time. Accreditation information for example – which we’ve been gathering for the past few months for Paris – really does make you feel like a nag, but we can’t change the deadlines.”

    Some of the biggest challenges Sophie and her team deal with involve the weather, which is beyond anyone’s control. When a typhoon hit Hong Kong in 2008 and the airport, one of the world’s busiest, was closed, rebooking everyone on flights back to the UK was one such challenge.

    Then there was 2018, when Hurricane Florence hit Tryon during the World Equestrian Games. It flooded the venue and caused the freestyle to be cancelled. Moving people between the accommodation and the venue was a challenge, let alone rebooking flights.

    And for Tokyo: “Covid was an off-the-scale challenge, but it all came good in the end, and it was a brilliant Games for our equestrian teams.”

    A crystal ball

    One piece of kit Sophie and the team could do with is a fully functional crystal ball – something regrettably not available at present.

    An army friend told me that they use “the seven Ps” – proper planning and preparation prevent p**s poor performance. It works here too as the team is ready to strike once selection has happened.

    British Equestrian will work with Peden Bloodstock, as they have for many years, to get horses to Paris. Four for each discipline including one reserve will travel via the tunnel in their own or shared trucks, while EHB International will take the para horses in August.

    With this being a busy time of year with summer holidays, and with not knowing who will be going, educated guesswork is in play for Sophie and team. If only they had that crystal ball!

    Since Brexit, we’re back to the old days of carnets meaning every item being shipped has to be listed and numbered. Customs officials can ask to see any random item, so it all has to come back – even if it’s broken!

    You might have seen Joe Stockdale’s recent social media post showing what it takes to get his crew to the Spanish tour. Well, amplify that for the Games and you get the idea.

    It takes teamwork to make the dream work, and whoever is selected for the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics is very fortunate to have such an incredible and dedicated operations team dotting the Is and crossing the Ts behind the scenes. Here’s to medal moments, special memories, and a successful plan A for all disciplines in Paris!

    ● Are you planning to head to Paris? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 11 April

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