Horse Water Ballet
Colby: So, shifting gears (and equestrian pursuits), today the Olympic Grand Prix dressage competition got underway in Greenwich. And we kicked the day off with a proper celebration: Sarah wore the human-sized foam finger outfit (yes, that’s a thing…don’t believe me, please see our YouTube channel).
Sarah: the security guards were all about the foam finger suit, offering up smiles, laughter and high-fives all around. I did manage to set off the metal detector, thanks to my tall boot zippers and the mic pack, so they gave me a very thorough wanding, but once they were satisfied that I was just a weird American and not a terrorist, they happily let me through. So, the lesson of the day is: you can’t bring a water bottle into the venue, but a foam finger suit is a-OK.
Colby: Along with our friends from USEF, we then proceeded to spread joy to the fans by handing out “Dressage is #1” foam fingers and encouraging the crowds to cheer for Jan and Rafalca. We created what can best be described as a scene, but it was really fun and we met some great people from all over the world.
Sarah: You would not believe how fast these things went. We literally couldn’t pull them out of the box all the way before there were three eager pairs of hands on each one. I loved how many people got really excited about it – and not just kids. 20-something guys, 60-year-old grandmas, literally everyone wanted to get in on the fun. And what fun it was. I’ve never posed for so many pictures in my whole life. It’s really weird to think that I’m now going to be tagged as “weird foam finger girl” on about a thousand different Facebook pages. And today was only Day 1 of Dressage!
Colby: After jettisoning the foam finger, so as not to incite an Olympic riot by blocking people’s view of the competition, we settled into our seats. The weather has been a recurrent theme and if you were here you would know why. We enjoyed a few beautiful rides in the sun, including leader and hometown-favorite Hester’s gorgeous ride.
Then, ominous dark clouds rolled in and the skies opened up like I’ve frankly never seen before. The rain drops were the size of golfballs. Many went scurrying into the bowels of the stadium, but most people stuck it out. It rained so hard and so fast that we were immediately soaked to the bone and there was really no point in retreating. Steffen and Shannon Peters clearly reached the same conclusion and stuck it out in the downpour watching the competition next to us.
The weather was certainly a factor for some riders, including Canada’s David Marcus whose horse, Capital, did not want to play the game which unfortunately led to them being excused after a number of bucks and (unplanned) airs above the ground.
Then, as suddenly as it started, the clouds parted and the sun came out. Sarah and I came out of our huddles, pulled out our phones and started tweeting again. Thankfully, our camera is waterproof, so we didn’t go completely dark during the deluge and got some great pics, which we are happy to share with you.
Sarah: So. Much. Rain. At times the rain was so insane that it was actually funny. I think the weirdest part was that we didn’t really try to do anything to make it better. I mean, I zipped up my raincoat, but I didn’t run for cover or anything. I think Colby had a great point in that it was such an instantaneous soaking that running really wouldn’t have done us any good. But it was a very weird feeling to just sit there and accept the pouring down rain and the soaking wet clothes as my new life. It kind of felt like being that horse that stands in the corner of the field in the midst of a downpour, even though the shed sits empty mere feet away. After sitting through it, I gotta tell you, there’s something wrong with that horse.
As for the actual competition, to say that the Brits came out strong would be such a tremendous understatement. Of the 26 pairs that competed today, the Team GB riders went 1 and 2 atop the leaderboard, which is beyond impressive. After Hester’s #1 ride, he joked with the media that he was worried his horse Uthopia might be deaf, given the fact that the horse is just 11 years old, has never competed in a stadium and literally didn’t bat an eye (or an ear) at the very boisterous hometown crowd.
Team USA only saw one rider, Jan Ebeling, go today, as Tina, Steffen and Adrienne are all slated for tomorrow. Jan put in a test that he was very happy with. The portions of the ride that he’s been focusing on (passage, piaffe and halt) all came out beautifully. They had a small bauble in the canter pirouette, but nothing drastic, and they put in a solid score of 70.243 to get the US off to a very respectable start. We caught up with Jan and several other members of the Team USA crew during the USEF Network shoot tonight, so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for that.
The dismissal of the Canadian pair Colby mentioned above is noteworthy because now Team Canada is down to two riders, and thus eliminated from the Team portion of the competition, which you hate to see happen.
The final noteworthy portion of the competition was witnessing the 71-year-old Hiroshi Hoketsu put in a lovely test about the very sweet-seeming horse, Whisper.
In a quick post-ride interview, Hoketsu spoke about the difference between the games now and his first Olympics an astounding 48 years ago. The biggest thing he noted was the quality of the horses and the training. That really got me thinking how much we’re really working to improve the way that we breed, train and care for these magnificent animals, and, as a result, we’re elevating the sport to a whole other level. And as I reflect on that thought now, sitting in my bedroom staring out at the deconstructed cross country course, I feel incredibly proud and honored to be a part of the small role that SmartPak plays in making the world a better place for horses and their riders.
Miss the rides and want a play-by-play? You got it!