WEG Postcard: Jumping Warm-Up

September 17, 2002–I was going to tell you a little about Jerez de la Frontera, the scene of the World Equestrian Games, and I will, later in this postcard. But a couple of other things have come up in the meantime.

Two horses died in the endurance event yesterday, something I didn’t find out until this morning.

Sir Fire, a 9-year-old gelding ridden by Anna Maxenchs Serra of Spain, died after completing the course. Floyd, another 9-year-old gelding ridden by Nik Isahak Wan Abdullah of Malaysia, succumbed on the fourth loop of the course. An ambulance reached him in 15 minutes, we’re told. What we weren’t told was the exact cause of death.

When I asked that question, the only answer I got was “distress.” An attempt to reach the proper FEI (international equestrian federation) official for more details was unsuccessful. We had to clear out of the press room early last night; there was a big WEG party in town, for, ironically, the media. I didn’t go; I was working. But maybe I should have. I’ll bet I could have tracked down the right guy there.

The organizers took pains to say that because of yesterday’s rain and mud, the minimum speed on the 100-mile course was reduced from 13 to 10 kilometers/hour, and the hold time for gates 1 and 2 was increased from 30 to 40 minutes.

However, Valerie Kanavy, a two-time world champion from the U.S., doesn’t think that’s enough. Val, who dropped out early on the first leg yesterday when her mount lost a shoe, wants to see no leg of the endurance set at more than 20 miles, with 17 miles preferable. Two legs yesterday were 25 miles.

She’s also in favor of more vet checks. The Europeans aren’t, she explained to me, because they think it gives too many opportunities for politics to enter the equation and have their horses pulled even when they’re sound. She sympathizes, having seen it happen, and says riders need to have confidence they can get a fair shake on their trot-ups.

Now the second piece of news, which may or may not be relevant Wednesday. Peter Wylde, who placed second in the WEG show jumping selection trials, did not start in today’s warm-up.

His mare, Fein Cera, had jogged yesterday and passed the vet check, but when she came out of her stall this morning, according to U.S. team leader Sally Ike, she wasn’t right. Later on, however, Fein Cera appeared to be more herself and even did some training over fences.

If a horse needs to be replaced for veterinary reasons, the U.S. can do it within an hour of the start of the class Wednesday afternoon, so long as the proper FEI official approves. So we have to see what happens with Fein Cera. Meanwhile, Laura Kraut–originally the second alternate with Anthem–is standing by. The first alternate, Beezie Madden, replaced the top-ranked horse in the selection trials, Kroon Gravin, after the mare had a hoof problem and was withdrawn by her rider, Molly Ashe. Kroon Gravin won the American Invitational back-to-back in 2001 and 2002. Fein Cera is also distinguished, having been the only horse on the U.S. team to score double-clear in the Nations’ Cup at Donaueschingen, Germany, the warm-up for the WEG. This mare would be a hard one to lose for the WEG effort.

Oh, we had a chance to chat with Jordan’s Princess Haya, daughter of the late King Hussein. She’s competing in these games on a former Swiss team horse, King Cavalier.

Someone asked her if she felt pressure because she’s a celebrity. “I don’t think I’m a famous person and my life is quite simple,” she told us. Uh-huh.

At any rate, she’s quite beautiful and charming, with much of her appeal stemming from the fact that she’s so genuine.

She did think it was good that an Arab (person, not horse) had won the endurance yesterday. She would like to see more success from the Middle East, Asia and Southeast Asia in equestrian sports, and she believes the FEI should offer more help in that direction.

“I’m aware of the pressure the IOC (International Olympic Committee) has put on the FEI, and I don’t think the FEI has made it easier. I’ve seen no visible effort. Everyone accepts, even Americans, that the sport is in Europe.”

Okay, back to Jerez, though it seems a little anticlimactic after all of the above. I stole time for a short tour of the city today since all I’d seen in my days here was the stadium; the cross-country/endurance/driving marathon site at Garrapilos, and my hotel about an hour away over a road that doesn’t offer much in the way of scenery. Nope, this isn’t a pleasure trip, but I though I was entitled to a quick look at some landmarks.

The most impressive one I saw was Alcazar (which translates as fortress.) It was built during the Arab occupation of the area, and was the residence of caliphs. It’s huge, with many battlements and a mosque that was converted to a church. After the Christians reconquered the city for the final time at the end of the 15th century, they made a lot of changes to Alcazar. But its basic beauty survives, along with exotic gardens, making it quite a monument.

Jerez is most famous for two things: its sherry industry and its Spanish horses, which are showcased at the Royal College of Equestrian Art. That’s just like the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, but with purebred Spanish horses.

I was hoping to sneak away there for an hour tomorrow, but it seems unlikely, between covering driving dressage, the first leg of show jumping and reining. The WEG offers so much, but sometimes it’s hard to do it all and still take in the sights (or get any sleep). But I’ve seen plenty of the horses’ performances in the main arena.

I’ll be quick about the sherry–if it’s your drink, you’d be fascinated by all the bodegas where barrel upon barrel of the stuff is aged. It’s not my drink, however, so I’ll just say the bodegas are attractive and nice to tour if you come.

Sherry is seen a lot around the WEG, in hospitality tents and in people’s hands. The WEG obviously is a place to showcase local products, and no one’s doing it better than ANCCE, the Associacion National des Criadores de Caballos de Pura Raza Espanola. They’ve put on some fantastic shows here to demonstrate the beauty and versatility of this stunning breed, which I’m told also has a good mind.

The horses do “high school airs” where they leap in the air and kick out, both ground-driven and with riders in the saddle. One of the high points for me was the exhibition where six horses rear up simultaneously, standing in a row.

In some ways, the shows put on by these horses are better than the competition itself. It’s pure entertainment that would appeal to everyone. I only wish you could be here to see it too. Hopefully, these postcards can give you a little flavor of what it’s like, and maybe you can plan your own trip here someday.

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