Today started off positively royally, and I mean that in the literal sense. When Colby and I stepped out of the USEF/USET House, we noticed the heightened security immediately. Yesterday there was plenty of bag-checking, ticket-inspecting and metal-dectating to go around, but today there were cops on motorbikes littered around one of the side entrances to the park. Then we saw a black Range Rover with a police escort and casually slowed our walking down enough to catch a glimpse of Princess Anne stepping out of the back seat. Ah, that makes sense, given that her daughter, Zara Phillips would be competing in just about an hour.
Zara put in a lovely ride under equally lovely weather, as did Team USA’s first rider, Will Coleman. In fact, fellow four-star-eventer, Allison Springer, noted it was one of the best tests she’s ever seen him ride – Go Will! Go Twizz!
Unfortunately, our fun in the sun ended shortly after Will’s test, as ominous clouds started rolling in. The cloud cover was so intense that at one point, Colby looked up from her phone and exclaimed, “My gosh, it’s like they’re Harry Potter clouds in here!” We got a few sprinkles here and there, but it was all very manageable in a sort of “shrug your shoulders and say something British like, ‘stiff upper lip, old chap’ sort of way.” In fact, it was almost charming laughing with the Londoners in front of me as I exclaimed, “How do you all pull off not having the absolute frizziest hair?!” But the charm didn’t last long as the sky positively opened up during British rider Tina Cook’s test. All but the absolute die-hard British fans headed for the hills (or in this case, the hallways of the stadium), though it was doubtful we were better off there. The entire stadium is pretty much an open-air structure, and the floors beneath the bleachers aren’t sealed, so the rain easily made its way in. But the rain was nothing compared to the brilliant strikes of lightning (nothing like being in a giant metal structure during a lightning storm!) and the sky-splitting crack, followed by the soul-shaking rumble of the thunder. If you want to hear more about our adventures in and around the stadium, check out today’s View from the Stands post!
In typical London fashion, the rain promptly stopped, the clouds disappeared and a brilliant, hot sun took their place. We didn’t want to waste the good weather, especially because we didn’t know how long it would last, so we ducked out of the stadium and met up with Team SmartPak rider Allison Springer. Allison took us on a walk through tomorrow’s cross country course, breaking down some of the toughest questions on the course in that very matter-of-fact way that only a seasoned four-star eventer can (for those of you who aren’t familiar, Allison took 2nd and was the top US rider at this year’s Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event). But one eventer’s insight isn’t quite enough, so I’m going to pitch it over to Colby to give her perspective as a Training-level eventer:
“We took advantage of a break in the weather to head out to the cross-country course for the first time. OK, full-disclosure, not exactly the ‘first’ time. We spent about 45 minutes this morning aimlessly trying to find the start box where Team SmartPak rider, Allison Springer, was joining us for a tour. We did eventually find it, but all wanted to see Zara ride, so quickly hoofed-it down the hill to the stadium. Our second attempt was much more successful! Allison spent some time giving us the rider’s perspective on some of the key questions asked by this course. We eventers (guilty as charged) called cross country jumps ‘questions’…sounds much better than ‘oh sh*t I need to jump THAT?!’ While the Olympic course isn’t huge, which surprisingly could be a disadvantage for some of the more seasoned 4-star horses (who need a little backing off to perform their best), it does have some significant elevation changes and some tricky turning elements. Riders need to choose their lines and pacing carefully to make sure they set their horses up well for each jump and have a shot at making the time. The leaf pit and moon jump heading into London were two of the more spectacular elements that I am looking forward to seeing the riders navigate tomorrow. Despite the differences in height and technicality, I am always struck by the consistent desire eventers of all levels share to do their homework on the coursewalk so that they can best set their horses up for success and safely cross the finish. Here’s hoping for clean and fast, but first and foremost safe rides tomorrow.”
Want more from the course? Check out our video with Allison on our YouTube channel.
We wrapped things with Allison just in time to book it back down to the stadium to catch Phillip Dutton’s strong ride aboard the spectacular Mystery Whisper. I have to tell you, that horse is something else. Handsome, steady and built to perform. And Phillip is the consummate pro, putting in a lovely test and earning a Team USA-leading 44.1. We watched a few more rides, including the always impressive Michael Jung, and enjoyed a couple of minutes sitting and soaking up the spectacular sun. But the rest was short-lived (and so was the sun!).
Upon leaving the stadium, we caught up with the USEF Network team over at the athletes residence, to put together Day 2 of our Live from London broadcast. We set up our makeshift studio in the back of the restaurant within the facility, hanging up a USA Olympics flag and rigging up the cameras and mics. With the big bank of windows just behind the camera, it quickly turned into a Today Show-type scene, with passersby doing double-takes, then shyly sneaking back to get a second glimpse at “someone famous” (little did they know it was just me!). Pretty soon we did have some actual famous people filling the seats, as Phillip, Boyd and Tiana all came in to catch up with us. We were even lucky enough to score some time with Eventing Team Farrier, the brilliant Steve Teichman, and even a special guest appearance from the newest Team SmartPak rider, Steffen Peters! Head on over to the USEF Network and keep your eye out for the broadcast.
As if all that wasn’t enough, we headed back to the house (stopping to refuel with a Starbucks, of course!) and promptly got to work uploading all the day’s photos and videos. Then we grabbed a quick bite to eat with Allison at a lovely local place on the Thames. As Colby and I headed home, we took part in a traditional British equestrian activity – fox-hunting! Don’t worry, we didn’t actual hunt the fox, but we did stalk him a little so we could snap a photo. I’ve decided his name is Pendleton Grey, because I think that sounds positively British.
And with that, my friends, I bid you good morrow. See you again after cross country!