Sept 10, 2002
Greetings from Jerez. In my
spare time, I will try to give you some of the stuff you won’t
get from the regular reports. Don’t expect them every day, as if
I get too tired, I’ll just blow the project off. Feel free to
send them on to anyone you think might enjoy them.
I am really looking forward to
this event. It is something new, and that always gets me going.
Every dog is brave in his own backyard, but it takes a special
kind of horse and rider to step off the plane, take a look at
the course and say, “Hey, really big, hard jumps that no one in
the world has ever jumped before. Cool! I can hardly wait!”
There aren’t many around with that sort of attitude, but that is
what it takes.
I am met at the airport, and
led out to the Hertz lot, where I get my first clue about how my
week is going to go. Every form is filled out by hand, from the
back of a mini-van. Painstakingly. By hand. When the keys are
finally handed to me, I am assured it will be in parking space
B-4.Not a chance. First of all, there IS no B-4. And, of course,
the car closest to the spot has no resemblance to the grey
4-door jelly bean I was promised. I resort to walking down the
parking rows, punching the automatic door opener until I hear a
clicking noise. There it is, in the Avis parking lot. So I pull
out onto the Jerez road, feeling like I am dealing with my jet
lag pretty well so far.
It is a strange feeling to be
whizzing down a 4-lane high way with road signs in a foreign
language, listening to music I have stolen from the internet and
“burned “ to my own cd, which is playing in a French car,
rented in Spain, designed by Japanese, built in Portugal, and
fueled by diesel imported from Iraq, which we are preparing to
bomb the bleep out of at the earliest opportunity. I just hope
they wait until I can get home before they push the button.
Jerez is a strange mixture of
old Moorish architecture, and new cement blocks. Think El Cid
meets Leonid Brezhnev and you’ve got it. There is a perceptible
haze over the city, but not from the traffic, although there is
enough of that to go around. (and around. Traffic in the city is
mainly regulated by traffic round-a-bouts, which is like letting
rabbits be in charge of the lettuce patch, where Latin drivers
are concerned.) No, the real reason there is a haze is because
everyone smokes. Everyone. All the time. Everywhere.
The next thing you notice is
that everyone has a cell phone. All the visitors have rented
them for the duration, but don’t know how to work them, so there
is a continuous, curious series of electronic warbling tones
that spread through a group, followed by an extraordinary
St.Vitus dance performed by those who think the call might be
for them, but can’t remember if they hung the phone on their
belt, in a pocket, or wherever. Usually the call is for them.
Everybody talks on their phone. A lot.
It is hot here during the day,
but not unbearable, and the rumor is for temp’s in the low 80’s
by the weekend. The Spanish have not changed their attitude
since the last time I was here. Charming, cosmopolitan,
friendly, and totally detached from any suspicion of hustle. If
you want accreditation? One hour minimum, to produce
information that is already stored in their computer. Lost your
bag? Count on days, not hours. (Although how you can misplace a
large green Orvis body-bag escapes me). Anyway, I am not totally
stupid. I packed two day’s clothing in my backpack, just on the
off chance someone might misplace my luggage.
The stores and restaurants
open late in the morning, close for siesta, and re-open late.
The dinner hour begins at 9 pm, and if you are so bold as to
show up then, you will get the sort of smile reserved for the
simple-minded, and be told to come back “in a few moments” That
is 45 minutes, for those of you who do not speak Spanish, are
hungry, or both.
(Note to Jim: the Spanish don’t do
onion rings…those are either octopus, squid, or white,
garlic-flavored bicycle tires, fried in batter. Where did you
think you were, the Coach Stop in Middleburg?)
The stables are rudimentary,
but sufficient. 12X12, with solid sides, and a tent roof. The
electrical system works so far, but a lot of the grooms have
just unpacked their stall fans, so watch for fireworks soon,
once all those transformers get plugged in.
The biggest problem is the
bathrooms. There aren’t any. I mean none. As you can imagine,
this has caused a fair amount of comment in the Chef de Equipe’s
Only the 3DE, Dressage, and
Vaulting horses are in the compound, and it is crowded already.
The main exercise area is about the size of a large polo field,
so there is not much elbowroom. Tempers have not started to fray
yet, but it is only Tuesday, so stick around.
Anyway, Dressage is already
cranky, since for the first time in recorded memory some horses
were actually inspected and may have actually been found to be,
gasp, lame. Severe remonstrations are of course being made, so
don’t expect anyone to be eliminated just yet.
The footing is wonderful turf for the
outside areas, and pretty good sand rings for the dressage
areas. The 3DE will be on turf for both the dressage and show
jumping phases, in the smaller stadium (seats about 2500), and
the main arena is sand.
The opening ceremonies were
obviously designed by the local Chamber of Commerce. It was 55
minutes by my watch before the first horse “act” started. This
topped off several soporific speeches in 3 languages (Spanish,
Basque, and Other). As icing on the cake, the King of Spain
pronounced the WEG open in the same tone of voice that Al Gore
used to congratulate Dubya on his election. Where is P.T. Barnum
when you need him?
One can but hope that with
their usual unerring instinct the FEI once again bollixed up
their TV contract, so that the sporting world was spared this
latest edition of FEI-induced 18th Century razzle-dazzle
knowledgeable crowd seems to be on hand, since the biggest
applause of the evening went to the artillery team that broke
its singletree after the first turn of the drill ride, but
persevered. The army sergeant reminded me of Ben-Hur, as he went
shooting out the front of the gun carriage. He plowed a bit of a
furrow in the sand, but no harm done.
should pick up a bit tomorrow, when the eventers walk the X-C
course and have their vet exam. The rumor before the teams got
here was that the 3DE would be a dressage competition, but the
few who have snuck out for a peek at the course have come back
looking a little green around the gills, so rumor is once again
a toss-up for the title of “most harassed-looking “, between
Mark Todd in his new role as coach of the Kiwi’s, trying to deal
with Blythe Tait and Andrew Nicholson, and Wayne Roycroft. Wayne
is caught in between getting his defending Olympic gold
medalists ready to run, and dealing with a mind-set at the FEI
Bureau that has basically thrown the future of Eventing to the
joke heard in the competitor’s bar has Wayne Roycroft
complaining about discrimination to William Shatner that there
are whites, blacks, orientals, and others shown on Star Trek,
but no eventers. “But Wayne”, says Shatner, “Star Trek is set in
buzz in the administrative offices is that the Basque
separatists are planning something explosive for Saturday, so
the horses will go out to the X-C area in several armed
convoys. Welcome to the wonderful world of sport in the 21st
Century…more as it occurs to me.
Greetings from Jerez. This little missive
may be shorter, as I think I broke my propeller today. This
morning we had an interminable meeting where not much was
decided, and then piled into buses for the 45-minute ride to the
Cross Country site.
Anyone who thought this was
going to be a dressage competition has had their consciousness
elevated. On the ride home on the bus, several of the western
European riders looked as if they had just seen Elvis!
This is a true
4-star course. It is big, square, built over much more
undulating terrain than we had been led to believe, and asks the
right questions, without the endless repetition of narrow jumps
that has been the recent norm. Mike Tucker, the course designer,
has a keen eye for rising and falling ground, and he has made
good use of it. In addition, he knows what horses feel like when
they get tired, and there are plenty of places, especially in
the second half of the course, where riders on tired horses had
better go the long way around the situation.
Roads and tracks are on packed
gravel, which is going to be quite stinging for the horses, and
is causing some concern. The steeplechase and X-C tracks are
turf, on a prepared surface, so it will be a bit firm but level
and with a bit of give in it.
The weather was
in the high 80’s by the time we got there, so with their usual
attention to detail, the organizing committee made sure that
there was neither food nor water for at least a 25 mile radius.
I suppose it makes sense, when you remember that there are no
porta-pottys there either.
We made it back in
time for the vet check, where all the horses looked really well.
My official reason for being here is to coach the Canadian team.
The protocol at the Vet check is for the coach to walk up to the
side of the jogging lane as his first team horse is presented.
You stand there alone while the Ground Jury inspects your team,
so it is a quick interval of peace and seclusion during an
otherwise busy time. It was a poignant moment for me, to think I
was standing where my father had stood, at the Helsinki
Olympics, 50 years ago this summer. I know Dad and Mom are
watching. I hope they enjoy the show.
Sept 12, 2002
Greetings from Jerez. The
first day of 3DE dressage is over and went well. The judging is
a bit biased towards “halos”, but no more than normal and in
many cases has actually been fairly perceptive. I know you can
get all that stuff from the internet, so I will skip that and
cut to the chase.
Most of the rider’s morale has
started to improve, as they have now seen the X-C course for the
second time and it now appears difficult, but no longer
impossible. There are so many imponderables (heat, footing,
shadows on the jumps, etc) that most of the riders are basically
saying “The hell with it, I’m just going to go!” which is the
right frame of mind, anyway.
reminds me a bit of the hill country north of San Antonio, with
mesquite, pirul, eucalyptus, and cork trees in abundance, set in
large brown fields. The native grasses are dry and sere at this
time of year, so there is a strange juxtaposition of bright
green turf on the galloping lanes, and dead, brown gramma grass.
There is a metaphor in there for the interaction of mankind with
his environment, but I am too jet-lagged to figure it out.
Speaking of jet lag, it is a
real problem over here, as we all work 18 hour days, and wind up
skipping every other meal. By now no one is hitting on all their
cylinders. There is a Macdonald’s just around the corner, but I
haven’t figured out how to say “super size it” in Spanish, yet.
As if missed meals weren’t bad enough, throw in the normal
propensity of the horse world to imbibe, and the possibilities
for confusion and misunderstanding are endless. The organizing
committee has basically thrown up their hands, knocked the top
off a bottle of sherry, and given up making any sense of this
For example, the
saga of the porta pottys continues. The stable compound was
rocked about mid-morning by an explosion of some consequence.
The first diagnosis was a terrorist bomb set off by the Basque
Separatists, but further investigation revealed that it was a
methane explosion, set off by someone sneaking a cigarette in
the only operational porta-potty on the grounds. That will teach
him to 1) quit smoking and 2) avoid the lentil soup in the
competitor’s tent. There is a rumor going around that the
Croatian 3DE team (yes, I’m serious, would I kid about about the
Croatians riding at speed over 4 foot high fences set in
concrete?) has filled a spare stall with kitty litter, but I am
afraid to ask.
The organizing committee has
made everything as complicated as possible. At the World
Championships, there will be a lot of competitors, right? They
will all need food at some point. Are you with me so far? So,
the competitor’s food tent is as far as humanly possible from
the stables. We’re talking a half a mile here, folks. But get
this…when you get there, there is no door that will allow you
into the food tent. Oh, nooooo, too simple.
You have to climb over two
security fences, basically break out of the secure competitor’s
compound, and come around to the door on the public side of the
fence. Once there, you will be, of course, hassled at the door
if you do not have the correct credentials and meal tickets. It
is indeed surreal to see the Spanish security guards helping a
little old lady break through the fence, and then smile as you
climb over the fence, back into the secure area, after a lunch
of mystery meat and unwashed fruit. If the turista ever strikes
the World Equestrian Games, the Basques are going to be put to
Now, let me see, what else? Oh,
yes, note to Jim: that blue circle thingy? The one with the red
line across it? That does not mean “reserved for jet-lagged
Canadian coach.” It means “no parking…period.”
So now you understand how it was today
that I met “La Gura” (“the hook”) But at the same time, how else
would I have been exposed to the one element of this country
that works with a frightening, Teutonic efficiency? There were
some nice motorcycle storm troopers near my late, lamented
parking place, who knew all about the grey Hertz 4-door jelly
bean that had been subjected to La Gura. “Go to this address,
bring lawyers, guns, and money’, they said with an evil glint in
their eyes. “But, but,” I expostulated in my schoolboy Spanish,
“what about la siesta?”
“Oh, no problemo,
senor, eeees always abierta” they chuckled. So, off I went in a
taxi, clutching my passport and a handful of Euros. When I
arrived at the appointed location, I was swept into a cement
cubicle, where a Gilda Radner look-alike with coke bottle lenses
checked my passport, looked me up in the computer, took my 57
euros, stamped my papers, printed my receipt, handed me my keys,
and pointed out my car, all in the space of a minute and a half.
If the WEG organizing committee had Gilda running this circus,
you can bet there would be enough porta-pottys, by God! And, she
would be standing in there to make sure you washed your hands,
Anyway, no harm, no foul. It is
late here, and I have to sleep fast, to catch up. More later.
Sept 13, 2002
Jerez. With all the complaining I have been doing, we should not
lose sight of the fact that there are some wonderful sights here
for a horse lover. The first impression I got was how much the
quality of the horses improves, each time I come to one of these
The eventers are
truly athletic movers, most of them look fit, and they are very
sound. This is a tribute to 2 things: 1) training methods have
improved over the last few years: more and more coaches can
produce these creatures in top condition, and 2) the increasing
use of intra-articular injections to control arthritic
conditions. A side effect of #2 is that the average age of the
horses has been going up for the last 10 years. 16 and 17
year-olds are no longer the exception, if not yet the rule.
Grand Prix dressage horses here this week are built on a
lighter, more athletic frame, and the riding has improved across
the board. There is a refreshing lack of the horrible
kicking-and-pulling that used to be the norm, and these horses
don’t just walk, trot, and canter, they DANCE! The fad of
pulling their head down between their knees seems to be dying
out (thank God!), and the riders have their horses more “up” in
front, with the poll truly the highest point of the horse’s
body. Thus they can show an increased lightness, some
extravagant forward motion, and especially some passage and
piaffe that will take your breath away.
for my money the cutest horses here are the vaulters. They are
mostly enormous Belgians, Percherons, or mixed draft horses, and
probably average 1500 pounds. Their sole job is to canter
counter-clockwise in a 20 meter circle for hours on end, while
these waifs in spandex we call “vaulters” practice their
gyrations. They have enormous, placid eyes, loppy great ears,
and the world’s sweetest attitude towards the children who swarm
over, under, and around them. Their backs are quite flat, which
I suppose is a comfort when one is about to do a triple salkow,
or whatever it is that they do during their routines.
endurance and drivers are not in evidence, and the show jumpers
have not arrived yet, as they all go during the second week.
yes, here is a verbatim transcript from the event athlete’s
press conference last night, after the first day’s dressage
scores were posted, with Phillip Dutton in the lead with a 33
Q: Phillip, you
are listed as an individual, not as a member of the Australian
Why is that?
(dead-pan) You’ll have to ask the selectors.
Q: When did you
find out that you had come all this way to be an individual at
the WEG, after winning 2 Olympic gold team medals, in 96 and
A: (dead pan) Last
Q: Did they give
you any reason why you were left off the team?
A: (dead pan) They
said my dressage wasn’t good enough.
The background to
this is that this time the Australian Gold-Medal machine might
have let its hubris outstrip its horsemanship. They announced
last winter that anyone who did not score lower than 50 in the
dressage tests this spring would not be considered for the team.
They forgot that horses are not machines, and are paying the
price now for looking at the scoreboard rather than the horses.
It is not the first time selectors have picked the wrong rider,
and anyway there is a long hot way to go to the medal ceremony
on Sunday. But the rest of us are having a good laugh at the
Aussies right now.
I haven’t really
gotten attuned to the rhythm of life here, since I keep such
strange hours. But the one thing I do like is that the Spanish
are very family oriented. They might go out to dinner at 11 pm,
but the whole kit and caboodle comes along…stumpy, ancient
grannies in black lace, Duennas for the children, Nannies for
the infants, sullen faced teenagers (that part is universal, for
sure), Aunts and Uncles, the full catastrophe.
The streets of
Jerez are full of horse drawn carriages, much like Central Park.
The horses all have bells on their harness, which lends a
slightly unusual background noise to the usual grumble of city
traffic, rather like hearing Christmas carols on the 4th
of July. Now, where you have horses, you have horse…well, you
catch my drift.
I know, I know, I
promised no more bathroom humor. But you do have to wonder about
a culture that has one porta-potty for the entire stable area,
but employs an army of sanitary workers to go around after the
horses and make sure no horse apple is left unpicked. I mean
that sucker barely hits the ground before the Spanish Siamese
twins, Hose-A and Hose-B, are there with brooms and shovels. I
thought about hiring them to follow me around, but I can’t
figure out how to say that in Spanish without either getting
beat up, or propositioned. Anyway, I had to leave most of my
Euros with Gilda yesterday, to get my car out of jail, so I
would not be able to afford it.
Sept 14, 2002
Greetings from Jerez. Not much to say
tonight, not because nothing went on today, but because I am
pretty much brain-dead. I mentioned earlier the insane hours
people work here, and it is catching up with me.
The course was every bit as difficult
as we had thought it would be. The distressing thing is that
most of the riders went out on course as if they were going to
jump all the fast ways and make the time. And this over a very
difficult course in unusually warm conditions. There have been
some articles recently to the effect that we are currently
producing good riders, but not good horsemen. That argument got
a shot in the arm today. Even though the FEI has dumbed down the
physical demands of the Speed and Endurance test, it is still
the complete test of horse and rider, and has to be taken
When I walk a 4-star course with
people, I make the point that the extra 30 seconds on the
steeplechase phase is the longest 30 seconds of their lives.
That is why the speed around a championship course is harder to
make than the speed around a 3 star course, and the jumps seem
harder. Same required speed, same height, same spread, but
harder to do, because of the extra length of the steeplechase.
It should not take an equestrian genius to figure that out. Add
this into an equation that already features unusually warm
temperatures and you have the makings of a really difficult
event. When that sort of scenario presents itself, caution, not
careless abandon is the order of the day. Unfortunately, caution
was in short supply. Far too many riders over estimated their,
and their horse’s, capabilities today.
There were too many riders who did
not take into account the extra difficulty of a championship,
and they and their horses got caught out. There is only so much
the officials, technical delegates, and designers can do to
protect the image of the sport. The rest is up to the riders,
and the many of these riders were a little short of horsemanship
This is not to
take away from the riders who went well. As usual, when they got
it right, they looked as if they were doing another sport than
the rest of the world. Kim Severson Vinoski (she tells me she
will go back to her maiden name after this season), Phillip
Dutton, John Williams, William Fox-Pitt, and Jean Teulere come
to mind. Sort of like the nursery school rhyme…when she was
good, she was very good, and when she was bad, she was horrible.
The good news is that the
horses seem pretty good in the barn tonight, and are not as
jarred as I had expected.
There must be something in the
air…even the internet is experiencing bad Fung Shui tonight, so
it will probably be Sunday night before you get this…sorry about
I need my beauty
rest, and I am going to get some. More later.
Sept 15, 2002
Greetings from Jerez. There is
no tension like the tension in the rider’s faces on Sunday
morning, before the final Vet. Inspection. They all hate it,
because it is the only part of the competition where they do not
control the outcome. They all know the purpose is correct, they
do not want to do away with it, they do not want to change it or
lower the standard of care somehow, they just hate it.
The ground jury set a good
standard, I thought. They did not expect your horse to be
clinically sound, but if your horse had a hitch in his getalong,
leave him in the stall.
There was a small but highly
knowledgeable crowd gathered to watch. If someone there in that
crowd sneezed, the whole eventing world would catch cold. The
sport is becoming increasingly professional. This does not just
mean prize money, but rather all the support that goes with a
professional sports franchise. Most of the successful teams
bring their own farriers, vets, equine physiotherapists, and
some even bring human physical experts…credit Dr Craig Ferrell,
the USOC Doctor for the US team, for helping Amy Tryon to get
through the final day, after a crashing fall on Saturday.
But with all that, the eventing
world is still a group of good sports. When a horse trots away
from the jury and shows the results of its exertions, a susurrus
of concern goes through the competitors and support staff
gathered to watch. Imprecations are muttered, rosaries are
touched, and invidious comparisons are made that so-and-so “was
worse than that and they let HIM through.” Then a roar as the
announcer says “accepted”. I watched an Australian, an
Englishman, and an American while a horse from a fourth nation
was presented and was a little rough around the edges. From the
body language, you would not have been able to tell which was
which, and they all jumped and pumped their fists when the horse
What made me notice this was
yesterday during the cross country, while I was watching the
television in the tent in the vet-box. If you are a real fan,
and you are granted one wish, get a ticket that will allow you
to sit in the competitor’s tent during a 4-star team
championship, with a clear view of the TV screen. The comments
are rare, pungent, funny, and usually right on the button. But
there is no edge to the chatter…most of the people in the tent
have, at one time or another, been out there, so they know what
they are watching.
No matter who is
on course, the entire group in the tent is on their side. Let a
horse start to get behind the rider’s leg, and you have never
seen such body language and elbow waving, or heard such a
cacophony of cluckings, growlings, and “gaaawoooonnnn’s” in your
life. These people just like to see good horses ridden well.
They don’t look at the flag cloths.
championships are a little like a heavyweight boxing match. We
are in the closing rounds now, every one is tired, the momentum
has changed back and forth a couple of times, and the final bell
just rang. The title will go to the rider, and the team, that
reaches down into themselves a little deeper, and finds the
strength and the confidence to do their best for one more day.
The administrative staff has done all the planning, coaches and
trainers have done all they can do, and family and friends are
off in the corners, nervously pacing, because they can’t do
Now it is up to
the riders, and, of course, the horses. That’s the way it should
Sept 16, 2002
Greetings from Jerez, and
points west. Some of this is written on my way back to the land
of Coca-Cola, suspended 37,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean in
an aluminum tube that was built by low-cost suppliers. Plus,
there is a very ethnic looking fellow two rows back, with a
diaper on his head, and some very funky track shoes. Hard to
catch up on your power naps, with that on your mind.
Also, some of this is late, due to
computer difficulties beyond my control. The Luddites had a
point. They definitely had a point.
I am still laughing to myself
about the early Veterinarian’s meeting this morning. Remember
how I told you that jet lag makes people act weird? Remember how
many horses are on the grounds, who are through with their
competition? All you need to do to ship your horses home is to
get the vet papers for your horses and you are good to go. See
where I am going with this?
Now, one would think the
Organizing Committee would have prepared for the torrent of
paperwork. Well, one would think wrong. All the vets and
managers coming to the head health paper honcho’s office were
probably prepared for a bit of a wait, but “maybe tomorrow “ was
most definitely not acceptable.
Stress makes people do strange
things. I mean, what would you have bet that it would be the
Swiss vet who would snap? Yup, totally lost his neutrality. At
the same time, it was instructive how effective a negotiating
tactic it is to pound the living daylights out of a wall right
behind the head health paper honcho’s head with a chair, while
screaming “Gottfordammurung, mit schnitzel” or some such. I
suppose it was the sincerity with which this sentiment was
delivered that had such a transformational effect on the
process. The Swiss got their papers in a heart beat.
Jim Wolf, the
director of Eventing for the USET, takes a more subtle approach
to this sort of thing. He hired a very large, very
thuggish-looking man to come into the office with him, and stand
with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face, right behind Jim.
Then Jim leans over and hisses that this guy is Jim’s assistant,
and he is going to sit on the health paper honcho’s face until
he stops breathing, or he produces the health papers, whichever
comes first. Efficiency is such a marvelous thing, don’t you
You know all about
the winners and losers by now, especially the US team’s Gold
Medal, so let’s talk about some of the other stuff. Jim Wolf is
even more superstitious than I am. He had 50 bottles of
champagne put on ice Saturday evening, then locked it up, and
wouldn’t let anyone see it until after the medal ceremony. Huh?
Oh yeah, and had to buy another 20, before the night was over.
That tent was rocking.
Favorite views of the evening?
Either Karen O’Connor getting William Fox-Pitt’s autograph on
her, uuuhhh, lower back. Way lower back. Or, Mark Phillips,
obviously in a good mood, signing autographs on young ladies’
bosoms. You shoulda been there.
Everyone is pleased by the
results, even if their teams or riders did not do as well as
they might have hoped. The teams involved in the medals are the
real thing. The three individuals are good riders who have all
paid some serious dues and finally caught lightning in a bottle.
All in all, the winners validated the competition.
The atmosphere in the stands
during the show jumping was the same as in the cross country
tent, which is to say, enthusiastic and supportive. It was a
tough, fair show jumping course, with some good questions, and
two interesting option lines involving short and long routes. If
you took the easier and lower, but longer, lines you were going
to get some time faults. Those lines were why there were so many
time faults, and partly why double-clears were in such short
The designers have figured out that
4-Star horses are tired on Sunday afternoons, and thus they do
not come off the ground with the same snap as on Saturday
morning. Plus, they do not jump as clean as they did at their
last horse trials. In addition to all this eventers do not ride
show jumping well if they feel hurried. So, if the designer can
make them hurry a little, well, it can look like “Bowling For
Dollars” out there.
The outcome of this sub-plot
was that there were a lot of jump and time faults, which
materially affected the outcome, but it was fair, and it was the
same for everybody. The people in the competitor’s stands knew
this, and were really doing their best to cluck, groan, and
elbow-flap everyone into a clean round. When it worked, they
erupted, and when it didn’t work, they turned away as the rider
walked out the walkway, not in disgust but in sympathy, and left
the riders who had disastrous rounds alone with their grief.
An NFL coach, the late George
Allen, said “Every time you lose, you die a little.” The looks
on those unfortunates’ faces told you they were dying inside,
and there was nothing anyone could say or do to make it better.
While we are quoting famous coaches, one of my favorites is by
Bert de Nemethy, who said, “A good feeling after the round is
better than any ribbon.”
What he did not
say, but could have, is that there is no feeling worse than
letting your horse and your self down by not riding up to your
potential. The hard part is not that you had a bad round. The
hard part is that you did not ride as well as you are capable of
riding. Take it from me, that is the part that goes through your
mind 50 years later, and makes you sick at your stomach all over
The first big
competition I ever won, I didn’t win, some one else actually
caught a glimpse
of his face as I stepped up to get the trophy, and realized that
when you win something big, and you are standing on a victory
podium, you are standing on the ruins of someone else’s dreams.
It was never the same for me again.
But what was the
same was the spirit at the party. It was a relief to me to know
that loud talk, red faces, and public drunkenness are still a
part of the eventing scene. I can call to mind several who
scored a triple, on that basis. I did not quite get myself to
that condition, because I had such an early flight on Lufthansa,
of which more in a moment. But I did have enough
champagne that I decided that I had better skip the finals of
the Grand Prix Dressage. It did not start until 9 that night and
was not over until after 11:30 pm. I told you about those brutal
hours? That’s what I mean. But I heard there wasn’t an empty
seat in the house, and the town was still rocking when I drove
through the streets early the next morning.
You gotta love Spain. This is a
different culture for sure. Where else do you know of that has a
24 hour Flamenco TV channel? Sort of Latin MTV. Have you ever
seen a flamenco performance? What happens is that some old guys
sing, prance, and gyrate around, while several ladies watch in
stunned adoration and amazement, and indulge in some serious
syncopated hand-clapping. One thing you have to say, nobody
claps on the back beat in Spain. I mean, these people know how
I do like the fact that in Spain, youth
is only a prelude to maturity, not a desirable condition. There
aren’t many young flamenco singers or dancers. These guys are
50’s and 60’s and they haven’t seen their toes for a good 20
years. If you are slender in Spain, it just means you are not
prosperous, not that you are fashionable. And the ladies, well,
they are busmatic, and they have the white lace and low
necklines to prove it. The guitar music sounds like something
out of a spaghetti western, and the singing has a strange
resemblance to the singing at a Navajo rain dance I went to as a
child. It is a little hard for someone from Upperville, Va., by
way of Milford, Kansas, to appreciate.
But these guys go at it. The songs go
on for quite some time (unrequited love, like everything else in
this country, takes a while.) The rhythms are sinuous, and they
mostly sing without a microphone, so they really have to project
their voices. When they are done water is pouring off them, and
the ladies’ mascara has long since given up and headed south.
Hard to see how they keep their shapes, with all that exercise,
but they manage.
I suppose I should not be too hard on
flamenco. We would get the same reaction from the Spanish if we
put B.B. King and Muddy Waters up there. It is a cultural thing,
and not all these things translate very well. Sometimes, after a
couple of “all-purpose dark browns”, my mean streak starts to
surface, and I ask one of my unsuspecting English friends to
explain cricket to me. Can’t be done. See what I mean about
culture? But that’s ok, because we can’t explain American
football to them either. You gotta go with what you know.
I can’t say flamenco was my favorite.
What were my favorite parts? It would be a toss-up between that
Spanish army guy, getting Ben-Hur’ed out of his chariot during
the opening ceremonies, when his single tree broke, and Karen
O’Connor, getting her, ahem, lower back autographed at the
But my real favorite was being able
to spend so much time surrounded by wonderful horses. Just
wonderful, big-moving, sound, fabulous horses, everywhere you
looked. That was the best part.
the usual “alarum and excursions” I arrived safely (somewhat to
my bleary eyed surprise) at Dulles, only to find, you guessed
it, no bag. Yup, lost it again. The Head Lufthansa Baggage-Nazi
behind the counter took my details, and noticed that they had
lost my bag on the way out as well. He was nice enough to
apologize profusely for the inconvenience.
worry”, I said, “I’m getting used to it.”
So I’m home
safely. I hope you had as much fun reading these little missives
as I did writing them. See you soon.