James C Wofford

12/27/04

 

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Jerez World Championships 2002

 

 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 meetings.

            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 

A fairly 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. 

            Things 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 probably wrong.

            It is 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 IOC wolves.

            Latest 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 the future!”

            The 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.

 

Sept 11.2002

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.

The terrain 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 circus.

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 shame.

            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, too!

            Anyway, no harm, no foul. It is late here, and I have to sleep fast, to catch up. More later.        

                       

Sept 13, 2002

Greetings from 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 things.

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.

            The 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.

            But 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.

            The endurance and drivers are not in evidence, and the show jumpers have not arrived yet, as they all go during the second week.

            Oh, 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 and change:

 

Q: Phillip, you are listed as an individual, not as a member of the Australian team.                                                         Why is that?  

A: Dutton: (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 2000?

A: (dead pan) Last night.

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 seriously.

        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 today.

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 that.

 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 was accepted.

            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. 

4 star 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 anything.

 Now it is up to the riders, and, of course, the horses. That’s the way it should be.

 

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 think?  

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 supply.

    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 again.

The first big competition I ever won, I didn’t win, some one else actually lost. I

 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 to clap.

    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 competitor’s party.

        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.

 

    Anyway, after 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.

     “Not to 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.

 

 

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