August 26, 2006 — Greetings from Aachen. They do it every time. Just when you learn the traffic pattern, they change it. We got to the grounds early this morning to find that none of the TV crews could get onto the grounds with their trucks and equipment. The gates we usually used are suddenly part of the galloping track for the cross-country. No worries… We disassembled part of the security fence, cut our way into the compound and were on the air before security figured out we were not part of the grounds crew. They yelled at us for a minute, but we smiled, waved and said, “Have a nice day!” in English. I don’t care what your mother says, sometimes it helps not to understand a second language.
We were a little foggy anyway, as last night we had stayed late here at the production truck. When we finally closed up shop for the night, we wandered down the main street of the show grounds and found there has been a major party going on every night. Rock bands, disco lights, champagne bars next to the sushi, next to the crepes, next to the pizza next to the beer garden–and all of them packed. We grabbed some eminently forgettable grub, had some local beer and finally called it a night. We did notice that the girls here are (warning–contains deleted material–the Net Nanny is watching).
We are getting kind of punchy now, as the hours are long and the meals are irregular, so I want to share something we think is hysterical.
So this English boat goes on the radio and says “I say, my good chap, mayday, mayday, we are sinking! We are sinking!”
And the German Coast Guard comes back and says, “Vot are you sinking about?”
Ahh, you had to be there.
You know all about the results by now, so I can go to the color commentary. The first thing I noticed is how fast things can come unraveled at this level. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have either. If you snooze, you lose. The list of people this course bit in the (this is your last warning –The Net Nanny) reads like a who’s who of the horse world. Take it from the top:
- Jean Teulure – 2002 World Champion
- Andrew Hoy – has two legs on the Rolex Grand Slam
- Kim Severson – 3-time winner at Rolex, individual Olympic silver, 2002 WEG team gold 2002 WEG, etc.
- Karen O’Connor – multiple medals, multiple Rolex wins
- Ingrid Klimke – second at Badminton 2006
- Andrew Nicholson – maybe the best athlete in the saddle in the world.
- Phillip Dutton – see above
- William Fox Pitt – ah, but is he lucky?
When you look at this list, you would not have bet that all of them would have a glance-off today. None of them fell, none of them had a really bad fence, they just… missed.
And the margin that they missed by is so heartbreakingly small that I promise you they are all thinking right now, “How did that happen? All I did was (insert excuse) for a split-second and the next thing I knew, I was past the flag!” Muhammad Ali sure knows a thing or something, when he says the will must be stronger than the skill. There was a big gap between riders seeing their stride, and riders making that stride happen. What’s that line I use? There are riders who make it happen, there are riders who watch it happen, and there are riders who wonder “what happened?” There was a lot of #3 going on today.
On the other hand, I saw some neat stuff. I love good riding, and I don’t much care where they come from. Horse lovers don’t look at the flag on your saddlecloth. Zara Phillips deserves her place right now, on top of the world… She made a couple of rookie mistakes, but she has a fabulous horse, and Toy Town gets it and was there for her when she needed him.
If you hang around this sport long enough, sometimes the eventing gods pat you on the head, and say, “Here, kid, we’re going to make it up to you for all the bad feng shui you have had to deal with for all these years. You never gave up, and you never quit, so Bettina, we are gonna give you another chance. Don’t blow it this time!” I hope she doesn’t.
Second chances don’t usually happen in sport, or in life for that matter. I went into the show jumping arena in the 1968 Mexico Olympics with a chance at an individual gold medal. I slipped, fell on a turn, and wound up sixth. It was a long time before my second chance came. But during that long time, I made sure that I never, but never, ever took anything for granted.
We have taken some of our great riders for granted, and they won’t be operating at this level for much longer, so you need to watch them when you get the chance because their window of opportunity is closing.
Who else caught my eye today? Clayton Fredericks, for sure. He’s been knocking on the door for awhile now, and he blew their doors off today. He rides in a lovely rhythm, and his horse gets to the jumps in balance and in a good package.
I have never seen Sharon Hunt ride before, and it was a treat today. She thinks under pressure and is a nice mixture of modern accuracy and old-fashioned git-‘er-done. She also is the first rider I have seen since the legendary Lucinda Green who understands the art of showing the whip without using the whip. Sweet piece of riding, Sharon.
Joe Meyer, from New Zealand, is no Blyth Tait yet, but he is the same shape of rider, and he gets it. Who else?
Daisy Dick, from England, is a good new rider at this level. Her eye still gets longer than her stride, but I’ll take that over some putz that goes down to a jump with hands like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some horse, too.
You probably won’t see him again as he comes from Poland, and they don’t have much in the way of owners there or big time eventing, but this kid has the stuff. At the start of World War II, in September of 1939, the Polish Cavalry defending Warsaw charged German Panzer tanks, armed only with lances. I’ll bet his grandfather was involved. Brave kid with a future in the sport if he can seize it. My pick for the “who-dat” award would be Pawel Spisak. Don’t get me wrong, Pawel stunk up the joint today, but that’s what rookies do. He’ll get over it. His horse isn’t worth the powder to blow him up, but I’m just sayin’…
It was a good day for the sport. The weather cooperated, the footing held up, the course got a good result without being punishing (only three horse falls, I think, plus a couple more involuntary flying dismounts), and the jump penalties were spread out around the course. A big crowd was on hand, and they are still having a good time… I can hear them rocking the show grounds behind the production truck as I finish today’s section. Haben sie ein bier, bitte? See, if I drink enough scotch, English is my second language.
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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WEG 2006 Diary: Jim Wofford