September 30, 2010 — Wow. Just wow. 24 hours of this? Heaven.
Since the last time we talked, I have watched Edward Gal and Moorlands Totilas get a dressage gold medal by defying the laws of gravity, and Tim McCutcheon and Gunners Special Nite win a reining gold medal by spinning like a bleeping top, nailing his stop, pausing for what seemed like a half-hour for his horse to catch his breath and his thoughts. then take off lickety-split for some sliding stops that looked like they might run into the wall. but stopped just in time. and square, too! Did I tell you about the 20,000 hysterical fans? Oh yeah, and the fans were stomping the floor until the new arena was vibrating, waving their national flags and shrieking and whistling, too! Grand Prix dressage horses or eventers would never make it in this in this arena. they would take one look at this scene and be flat out for Somerselse.
My day started at the eventing vet check Wednesday morning. This is one of my favorite parts of a big time event. It takes place early in the morning, up above the infield. Usually there is a mist coming out of the infield on the race course, and if you look closely you can see Might Tango thundering down to the finish of the 1978 World Championships, or Mike Plumb warming up, or Winsome Adante showing his disdain for massive fences, or hey, isn’t that. ? They are all there, if you look into the mist and wait for a minute.
The crowd at the vet check is usually small, but they know what they are watching, and when a horse makes the turn and comes back down the lane like twinkle-toes, there is an appreciative murmur from the crowd. Or if a horse jogs out a bit knit-one-purl-two, a susurrus runs through the crowd, then a big roar when the announcer says “Ol’ Peg-leg.accepted.” Pretty sporting, considering that the way horses work, that horse might get well by Sunday afternoon and help some other country kick you into a lower place. Doesn’t bother this bunch a bit. they love horses and they want them to get through and get going.
Selena O’Hanlon passed the jog easily with Colombo. When I saw her mother, Morag, right after that, I reminded her that the first time I saw Selena, some 15 years ago now, all pigtails and braces, I told her to stick with her riding, because someday she was going to light up the world stage. Having a big mouth and strong opinions pays off sometimes, because when you are right, you are really right. I am thrilled for her, and for all the Canadians.
Speaking of Canadians, I got to the eventing dressage early Thursday morning, because I wanted to watch David O’Connor, now the Canadian coach, do the test ride on Rocket. Nobody has done more for the horse world than David, and. I don’t know. I just wanted to be there, to sort of tip my hat when he went into the arena. Will Rogers said, “We can’t all be heroes, but we can stand on the curb and cheer as they go by.” Like that.
Still, you would have to admit that David does not have the sylph-like figure that he was sporting 10 years ago, when he won his Olympic gold medal in Sydney. Watching him canter around the arena, I was watching the gold buttons on his tailcoat, which were working under pressure. I got to thinking about that blue jeans TV ad, where the button breaks loose and wreaks havoc all over the place. “Holy cow,” I thought, “if one of those buttons busts loose, it could take out a Jumbotron!” But no harm, no foul, and the crowd was doing the wave when David walked out. Not bad at 8:45 in the morning.
But wait–it got better. The thing you have to remember is that this is a world competition. So people come from all around the world to ride here, and they wear their national colors and their team uniforms, and their supporters raise a ruckus when their riders come into the arena. Our annual Rolex has a pretty good atmosphere, but it is hard to top this. About 10 minutes before your team rider goes, a flock. I mean a flock of golf carts comes flying up Nina Bonnie Avenue flying their national colors (If you ever meet Mrs. Bonnie, tell her “thank you.” We would not have a Kentucky Horse Park without her). They come screeching up to the arena, park all over the “no golf carts” signs, yank out any number of national flags, and go hot-footing it into the athlete and groom’s section.
They hold their breath for the whole dressage test and then cut loose when their guy comes out, hooting and hollering and waving their flags when the score is announced. Doesn’t matter if the score is low or high, they are here to celebrate. Next thing you know, they all hop back into their golf carts and head back to the stables. Of course, the time schedule has been posted for a couple of days, and things run on time around here. This means that the next team is coming up the other way on the avenue, and the mother of all golf cart traffic jams ensues.
KHP is closed to vehicular traffic, which means there are more golf carts and mountain bikes than you can take a stick to. and all in motion at the same time. There are Kentucky State Police all over the place, but they seem to have been instructed not to step in unless there are broken bones or blood involved. So far, so good, but I’m telling you I look both ways before crossing the avenue. Watch this space, because there is no way people can keep driving like this without a major golf-cart fender-bender.
And I’ll bet that when it happens. the KSP will be there to issue a DUI. What do you think the crowd is doing while all this international caterwauling is going on? You got it. booze. I have seen any number of friends and students here in the crowd, and most of them started on the bloodies when they got here this morning, and by now they are having a good, but really good time.
The ones that are going to be in real trouble switched over from the bloodies to some bourbon concoction about mid-day. I tasted one. it is dark brown, and has some other sweet liqueur involved, some powdered sugar, a sprig of mint, and a couple of pretty meek looking ice cubes. It tastes like spearmint. and kicks like a mule. I thought about having a couple, on the basis that it would at least give me an excuse for acting like a boob, but I did not want to pay the piper tomorrow, so I passed on the experience. I did get the all-time best hat from the 2010 WEG. It merely says “Just Add Bourbon.” I think that is going to be the motto of the 2010 WEG.
While everybody is adding bourbon, I don’t know what else to add, except, oh yeah: They announced at the opening ceremonies that there would be 10,000 volunteers here for the two weeks of the WEG, working behind the scenes to make everything happen. I have been to Olympics since 1948 and World Championships since 1966. I can tell you that I have never. never. met a more cheerful, friendly and downright helpful group of people in my life. From the traffic guys that guide us in early in the morning to the ticket-takers late at night, they have been great. If you are on the grounds, tell them “thanks” for me. They are not getting paid for this. they are doing it for the same reason you and I are here. because they love horses. And I love writing this blog, but I’m going to have to sleep fast, if I’m going to be ready for tomorrow. More later.
Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Jim Wofford has represented the U.S. in eventing at three Olympics and two World Championships; he has won the U.S. National Championship five times on five different horses. As a coach, he has had at least one student on every U.S. Olympic, World Championship and Pan American team since 1978. He is a regular columnist for Practical Horseman magazine.
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