H&H Olympic reporter Pippa Roome: The reality of this Covid Games *H&H Plus*

  • Pippa Roome looks ahead to Tokyo and explains why she’s changed her opinion on arena familiarisation before the dressage phase of eventing

    THERE is plenty of press coverage on the shifting, confusing requirements for a few days’ quarantine or “pseudo-quarantine”, in which “essential Games-related activities” are allowed, on arrival in Tokyo for the Olympics. But this coverage is not always put in the context of the restrictions in place throughout the Games.

    While I appreciate the potential for the event to become a Covid “super-spreader”, I wonder whether all those opposing the Olympics going ahead understand the reality of life at this Games.

    For their first 14 days after arrival in Japan, everyone is only allowed to visit agreed destinations, which are extremely limited. The list for the H&H team is simply our official accommodation, the equestrian park, the cross-country venue and the main press centre. No restaurants, no tourist areas, no shops, no public transport, no walking around the city. For the first three days, restrictions are even tighter. Masks will be worn at all times, except when eating, drinking, training, competing or sleeping and, of course, there will be strict social distancing.

    In addition, everyone entering Japan at Games time needs two certified PCR tests (one more than most international travel) before travelling and takes a test at the airport on arrival. All Games participants will be tested daily for the first three days. Testing frequency thereafter depends on how much contact you have with athletes. There are additional conditions for those coming from countries with concerning variants, including Britain.

    Alongside the endless administration involved in getting ready for a Games under such conditions, I get a little thrill every time a team announcement comes in.

    Let us hope the sport at this Olympics is top-notch – because the “experience” certainly won’t be – and that athletes are able to enjoy their victories despite the restrictions.

    The equestrian park in Tokyo during the test event. Everyone attending the Games will be limited in where they can go, particularly in their first 14 days in Japan.

    Sound reasons

    ARENA familiarisation has long been commonplace in eventing on the Continent and is becoming more so here in Britain at FEI events.

    The FEI rules state that if conditions and the timetable allow, riders and grooms may be permitted, at a time agreed by the organisers, to “walk and lead the horse on a long rein outside the boards of the competition arena”. If the dressage is on an all-weather surface, organisers may allow schooling inside and/or outside the boards.

    I used to think arena familiarisation wasn’t necessary, that riding a fit horse in a new environment was part of the test. But I’ve changed my mind. Ultimately, if familiarisation allows riders to produce better performances, then surely it’s good to raise the standard?

    The sight of a horse becoming properly upset in the arena may add excitement to a day of dressage, but it’s not really desirable for public perception of horse sport. If arena familiarisation can reduce those incidents, that’s a positive.

    Finally, if arena familiarisation means hot horses don’t need so much work to get them to a point where they can “keep a lid on it” in the arena, from a welfare point of view, it’s surely the way forward when the timetable and arena conditions allow it, accepting that with grass arenas, that may be less often.

    Fingers crossed

    I had put competing on a backburner this year until after Tokyo, with lockdown making spring preparation difficult when I don’t live near Alfie, the horse I share with my mum.

    But then enthusiasm kicked in and I entered a Pony Club event. Three days before it, I went to pop a saddle on Alfie, only to find that he had a fat, hot hindleg. You all know this story, readers – the vet, the box rest, the cold hosing, withdrawing from the event…

    It’s funny how quickly one’s attitude can fluctuate between, “I hope this isn’t serious” and, “Your timing is terrible”. At the time of writing, the jury is still out on the full diagnosis, so we wait, with fingers crossed.


    This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale date Thursday 1 July

    ● What do you think about arena familiarisation? Write to us at hhletters@futurenet.com for the chance to win a bottle of Champagne Taittinger

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