With just 6 weeks to go until Greenwich becomes the focus of lifelong hopes and dreams, the eventing world is poised and ready to showcase the talent and the partnership between horse and rider that make it such a special sport. The normal ups and downs of eventing are magnified in the build up to the Games, a bruised foot and a withdrawal from a one day would normally be an inconvenience, but when you are trying to follow a strict game-plan that has already been severely disrupted by the British weather, it becomes an absolute nightmare scenario.
So many different combinations and so many different strategies come together. Riders like Andrew Nicholson and William Fox-Pitt have guaranteed team spots, a choice of top class horses and the relative luxury of not having to chase points and prizes to impress selectors but, also have the extreme pressure to do well for their nations. They also, by nature of their large strings of horses, are more likely to get injured themselves. Not that Mr Nicholson has ever let this bother him in the past; at the last Games in Beijing he sent Lord Killinghurst off on a plane, then rode seven horses around Gatcombe Championships including one “Mustjump” Impala who had a distinctly dodgy cross country record with previous rider Ruth Edge!
The British Assemble their “Dream Team”
The Brits have their dream team in place after Bramham. William Fox-Pitt, Piggy French, Zara Phillips, Mary King and Tina Cook. Perhaps the surprise is that William is only listed with Lionheart (and not Burghley and Rolex winner Parklane Hawk) whilst Piggy is listed with Jakarta and the more inexperienced DHI Topper. Nicola Wilson was bound to be surprised by her omission but the selectors have access to far more information than we do…. Much fancied Laura Collet crashed out of contention in Saumur and crowd favorite Pippa Funnell has had a unfortunate run of niggling injuries and bad luck that have left her ruled her out this time.
Composed Kiwis Set to Fly
The Kiwi’s have had a very structured campaign since the world equestrian games.
They began by shifting their entire elite squad to the UK and since then have had numerous training days with showjumping coach Luis Alvarez and dressage test riding with such 5 star luminaries as Stephen Clarke and Isobel Wessels. Bramham was very nearly a kiwi whitewash and with Nereo and Lenamore and Avebury in the top 5 they have a strong hand.
All their squad riders have now become familiar faces on the one day circuit as well as at the big Internationals.
Aussies are full of Bounce
The Australians have always had a double-sided approach to team selection – they have riders based permanently here in the UK and then they have riders like Shane Rose and Stuart Tinney who have rarely left Australia to gain selection. Shane did once re route from Aachen WEG in 2006 for a very successful 3rd place at Burghley with All Luck. So far Stuart’s forays into the UK scene however, have not been as successful as much as dramatic, such as his exit from the lake at Badminton which involved a fence into the crowd, a disabled gentleman in a wheel chair and some serious steering issues.
Melbourne is the Aussie based riders final selection trial whilst the UK based riders who were frustrated by the cancellation of Badminton and Chatsworth headed to Bramham and Luhmuhlen to catch the right eyes. Chris Burton is on a winning roll and Sam Griffiths did himself no harm at Bramham either although his 3 rails on Happy Times could be a worry…..
Canadians Could be Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
The Canadians have also been preparing since their great performance at WEG and have been shipping combinations over to the UK for Badmintons and Burghleys ever since. They had their final selection trial at Bromont in Canada which was something of a disaster and means their team is mostly what’s left and includes Jessica Phoenix who is currently having her collar bone operated on and another rider who had a run out on her good horse and eliminated on her 2 star horse for error of course! Its going to be a tough call to get a medal me thinks..
Due to Canada’s budget constraints running Barbury CIC*** as a final trial is not an option as it would involve 3 extra weeks away and about $25,000 more to fund. This sees them heading for Gatcombe as a final trial and a tonne more pressure for the squad who are thousands of miles from home and in a new base with their precious horses. Most of them are now familiar faces at Catherine Burrell’s Maizey Manor Farm in Wiltshire, which should at least make the job a bit easier. Chef d’Equippe Graham Thom is always adept at keeping everyone on track and happy plus, with a coach like David O’Connor, there’s no shortage of advice and experience.
Bettina returns to Luhmuhlen
The German’s tend to keep themselves to themselves but with the man who wins almost every event he enters Michael Jung leading the pack, they have a strong chance of success.
Bettina Hoy is on the B list and has based in the UK this spring to give herself the best chance with Lanfranco. Unfortunately they have been thwarted by prepping for Badminton and Chatsworth for no runs and then a corn that meant no start at Houghton – so now it’s a return to her homeland and a new plan for Lanfranco who looks sure to miss out on London as she is only taking young horse Designer to Luhmuhlen for the CIC***.
USA Ooze Class
The USA have their entire squad based in America but most are familiar with the UK scene having made many a raid on the 4 stars here. They have also orchestrated a rider raid on Australia and have snapped up cross country legends Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin from the Southern hemisphere. This is a huge boost to team USA and a huge loss to Australia – those two boys could ride a donkey around Greenwich and still pull off a prize.
The 11 that have been named on the list are flying to the UK next week (although Tiana Coudray has been here for a year already) and it did come as a surprise to many that Will Faudree was left off the squad when he was 2nd and 4th at the final trial and yet Marilyn Little-Meredith who only did dressage is in ahead of him. As expected Dutton and Martin have 4 horses on the plane but surprise additions like Alison Springer who, to much astonishment, rode the spooky Arthur clear across country at Rolex are going to be under allot of pressure at Barbury. Always up there after dressage Arthur has been running all over Europe with the result mostly being crushing disappointment – but when he’s good he’s good enough for 2nd at Rolex…
The Irish are Fighting Fit
The Irish have been so busy chasing FEI points in order to qualify individuals it is amazing that they have any horses left to run in London. They have four spots now with a fifth looking just possible – they need a fair bit of luck to get it.
Camilla Speirs has almost single handedly earnt more points than buying a TV with a Tesco Clubcard and Sam Watson has Bushman on great form.
Esib Power, Mark Kyle, Geoff Curran and Aoife Clarke battled it out at Tatterstalls last weekend and since they all went well there seems even more for the selectors to think about. With the Irish filling 8 of the top 10 slots it really would not have made matters any easier for Ginny Elliot apart from Portesize Just a Jiff who with yet another win must have secured Camilla’s spot for sure.
And then there are those like Jamaica’s Sam Albert who qualified through FEI points and placing’s, a system so complicated that Steven Hawkings would struggle to understand it. Personally, I was lost when I read somewhere it’s the Northern American spot but, there I was thinking that Jamaica was much further South! Anyway, having got the slot she then just had to get a qualifying score at CCI and CIC***.
Horse A then gets injured and Horse B is not up to the challenge so she leases Horse C and heads off to Ireland in February her first run on him which, just happens to be a CCI*** ! Hats off for guts and bravery, with no team support, no funding and no team structure to follow, just good old-fashioned seat of the pants stuff. Now having attained the CIC*** score (if you think that is odd after the CCI*** score then you are not alone) she is assured of a place. That is if Sam and her horse is sound. Only another 6 weeks to keep him and her safe, no worries then!
So with 6 weeks to go there are really very many roads that lead to London, some on the team superhighway and some on those back lanes that have twisty turns but, they will all front up at the end of July by one route or another.
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