Thursday, August 21, 2008

Summer Was Put on Hold for Two Weeks!

Sunday Morning Olympics
Originally uploaded by xbluegoox
Sure the sun was out, but it was night-time in Hong Kong and that meant time spent indoors, biting fingernails...and trying to find out which television channel the equestrian sports were on (if they ever did get shown).

For those with updated computers and browsers, live-streaming on the Internet was the answer.

See Any Place You Remember?

The steps to a footbridge in Hong Kong chronicle the locations and dates of past Olympics. Guess what's on the top step!

Typhoon Nuri Hurtles Toward Hong Kong as Jumping Concludes

Maybe they should turn the jumping finals into a speed round? If a jumpoff for today's individual show jumping is required, it could be a test just to keep the rails up without a horse anywhere near!

The reason? Typhoon Nuri is speeding toward Hong Kong and is expected within hours. It will pack winds of over 100 miles per hour and will certainly wreak havoc with the departure schedule from the airport.

Olympic officials estimate that the jumping will be able to be completed...just in the nick of time.

Typhoon Nuri killed four people in the Philippines this week.

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The Golden Rider Returns to a Hero's Welcome in Germany

Will winning the Olympic gold medal in eventing change German dentist Hinrich Romeike? German RTL Regional Television covered his triumphant return home, with some nice footage of his friends and family watching his Hong Kong performances on a tv in his dental clinic and a glimpse of his horse, Marius, at home in his stable.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Olympic Experiences: British Dressage Rider Reveals Pre-Games Surgery

They say that competing in the international arena builds character. And sometimes, it turns out, your strength of character can prepare you for the international arena.

To prove that point, after yesterday's individual dressage freestyle, the press was silent when they heard a touching story that none had imagined was transpiring over the past few weeks at the Hong Kong equestrian encampment.

Emma Hindle of the British dressage team revealed last night that her Olympic appearance was little short of miraculous.

"Two weeks before I came here I had an operation for a tumor," she explained to the stunned assembled press. "I could only ride in walk when I arrived in Hong Kong and Lancet was brilliant! Usually he's difficult when you are getting on and off him, but he seemed to know I wasn't well and he just stood there for me for a change."

Emma, who lives and trains in Germany, only discovered the presence of two ovarian cysts during a team check-up and was advised to undergo surgery right away, Olympics or no Olympics. But, she shared, with extraordinary support from the British team she still made her Olympic appearance.

"I had lots of help with my horse. People kept saying 'we believe in you, you can do it'. But it took a huge effort from the team and a lot of physiotherapy and work in the gym to get me going again," Hindle pointed out.

"Everyone was so positive and so kind, I'm really proud of my horse and proud of my friends. When you are sick you find out who your real friends are, and many of my rivals turned into my best friends," she said.

One of her greatest supporters was Princess Nathalie Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein who, last Saturday, helped Denmark to team bronze. "She rode Lancet every day (for me). She lives four hours away from me and she's a really good friend," the rider pointed out, and one of Emma's other great supports was her Irish groom, Niamh Meehan, who stayed with her at the hospital and who was there when the rider was informed that she had been selected for the British team.

Emma ended up finishing seventh in the individual and was also the highest scoring British rider in the team dressage competition.

British team leader Will O'Connell confided that the initial tumor was 8 centimeters long. "During a routine pre-selection medical, it was suggested she went for further tests," he said. "They found a tumor in her ladies region which measured about eight centimetres. The Monday after Rotterdam she went in for an operation to remove said tumor and with the help of family, friends and the support staff set about getting ready in just a matter of weeks for the Games. Some six weeks to the day, she cantered up the centerline here.

"Emma’s achievement is what being an Olympian is all about – conquering adversity to produce a series of personal bests is an inspiration to any athlete. She has been quick to praise her back up team and the doctor Peter Whitehead and Physio Andy Thomas for the work they have done to make her recovery a fast one but also to her family and friends for their help and support."

Thanks to the FEI and Will O'Connell of Team GBR for help with this report.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

How Horsey is Hong Kong? Just Check Your Coke Can!

Coke in HongKong
Originally uploaded by womblue

Horses show up even on the bar code for a can of Coke during the Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong. How much do you think one of these would bring on eBay?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Aussie Hero Hayley Saddles Up at the Last Minute for the Ride of Her Life

Australian dressage rider Hayley Beresford's Olympic performances have had people from many countries cheering for her! (Equestrian Federation of Australia photo)

If you're looking for a hero among the dressage princes and princesses assembled in Hong Kong, here's one you can look up to.

Opening the action today was Australia's Hayley Beresford who, long before she ever arrived in Hong Kong this summer, had already climbed a mountain of Olympic proportions. The 30-year old rider was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago but, with typical toughness and determination, she hardly missed a day in the saddle throughout the intensive treatment that saw her win her battle back to good health.

Hayley came to Hong Kong with her 11-year old Brazilian-bred Lusitano stallion Relampago do Retiro. As if that Brazil-Portugal-Australia connection isn't international enough, consider this: Hayley lives in Germany, where she trains with the current gold medal leader, Isabell Werth.

Asked if she had advice for struggling amateur riders at home, Hayley quipped, "You have to go through the ups and downs and believe in yourself …or go home!"

Hayley had missed today's Grand Prix Special qualifier by one place, but when Hunter Douglas Sunrise became lame, the Dutch team withdrew him, so one place opened up...and Hayley passaged through on very short notice.

She is now in 19th place, improving on her position from the team competition, although not good enough for her to advance to the freestyle on Tuesday.

No one cheering for her in Australia, Portugal, Brazil and Germany feels the least bit disappointed. This rider had something for everyone, on many levels.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Hero of Horses: Orlov Trotter Balagur Goes from Circus, to the OLYMPICS!

If this horse could talk....(Photo from Reuters News Agency)

Someone, quick! Call Disney! Here's a horse worthy of their next animal film!

He was bred to be a trotter, but didn't make it as a racehorse. He's performed in the circus ring. He's been a police horse. But a dressage rider spotted him in a parade and thought he might make a good dressage prospect.

Meet Balagur, currently in fifth place in the individual dressage competition and within striking distance of a medal that he so richly deserves. Ridden by Russia's Alexandra Korelova, the pair were the early leaders in today's event.

Many people will be watching the finals on Tuesday just because of this horse.

The Russian dressage horse Balagur is the only Orlov Trotter in the Olympics. Orlov Trotters are usually thought of as carriage horses. They're not supposed to be in the Olympics.

Balagur and Alexandra were trained in Germany by George and Monica Theodorescu.

And this is his second Olympics!

Click here for an excellent background article on Balagur and the Orlov Trotter breed.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

"Wir Sind die Goldenen Reiters!" The Germans Were Singing Loud Last Night!

Hinrich Romeike (center, with medals) and Ingrid Klimke (red shirt) and the German eventing team were singing, "Hey, hey, hey...we are the golden riders" at their victory party after winning the gold medal. The German dressage magazine St. Georg has a little collection of photos (of which this is one) from the party. You'll feel like you are there...and wonder a bit about what's on Mark Todd's buttocks! Click here to check out their party shots.

© 2008 by Fran Jurga, WorldRides and All rights reserved.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Great Cheverell: A Cluster of Big Pins on the Olympic World Map

One little town in Wiltshire, England can claim that almost one percent of its residents are Olympic athletes!

What might really throw you, though, is that they are there representing three different countries!

Great Cheverell, population 588, may have more horses than people. It is the home of Lucinda and Clayton Fredericks, who won the silver team medal in eventing...for Australia. Their training center, called Rosegarth, is home to 30 horses that they or their students are training.

One of the Fredericks' students is Alex Hua Tian, the first eventing competitor ever from China; he is a student at Eton College.

Great Cheverell is also the home of British dressage team rider Jane Gregory who rode yesterday in the team dressage.

© 2008 by Fran Jurga, WorldRides and All rights reserved.

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WorldRides Video: The YouTube Olympics

Riding the giant 17hh British-bred Miners Frolic, Team GBR's Tina Cook won the individual bronze medal in eventing on Tuesday, and was part of the British team's bronze medal win. This eventing veteran may have won on the merits of her athletic ability and her experience and her horse's fitness and talent but after watching this little video, you may believe, as I do, that Tina has something else going for her.

The townspeople of Findon, England--and a few four-legged residents as well--patched together a video good luck message to Tina and sent it via YouTube to their favorite local Olympian.

Guess what? It worked!

Guess what else? We all get to watch it, too!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Target: Tomorrow!

Willeke assists defending gold medal holder Anky Van Grunsven as she schools alone in the dark. Anky's teammates have scored highly in today's competition, but The Diva and Salinero don't do their grand prix for the team dressage medal until tomorrow. The Dutch press is reporting the dressage scores frenetically, the country is on edge...and dressed in orange, of course. Will history repeat iself? Willeke hopes so. The groom has become elevated to a national celebrity's status back home. And it's legitimate: the young girl is responsible for an excitable and extremely fit equine athlete with all the potential in the world. Photo courtesy of Anky, whose media machine is amazing. I've never seen an athlete do such a great job of staying in touch with her fans. I think she wants my job!

Cheer for Hiroshi? Everyone Will!

In a few hours, one of the equestrian games' best stories will trot into the main arena and the stands will erupt in cheers.

Hoketsu Hiroshi, the 67-year-old dressage rider from Japan, will be making his Olympic comeback 44 years after his first participation in the Olympics in Tokyo back in 1964. Previously a competitor in show jumping, Hoketsu now trains and competes in dressage. The Japanese rider won five national championships between 1988 and 1992 and qualified for the Olympics in Seoul before having to drop out when his horse failed the quarantine exam.

But let's hear it for second chances. If a German dentist can win the gold medal in eventing, how about a retired Japanese pharmaceutical company director medalling in dressage?

A source of inspiration for retirees (and anyone who is young at heart), Hoketsu will have to look to London and beyond if he wants to pass the record for oldest Olympian -- Oscar Swahn competed in the 1920 Olympics in Belgium at the age of 72.

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British Show Jumper Lame, Withdrawn from Competition

Portofino 63 will not have many fond memories of the Hong Kong equestrian games.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) and the British Olympic Equestrian Team have decided to withdraw her for veterinary reasons.

Ridden by Michael Whitaker, Portofino is bothered by a lameness problem. The team veterinarian has carried out an extensive investigation but as yet has been unable to target the source of the problem.

Portofino 63, a 16.3hh, 14-year-old bay Dutch mare, was sound during pre-export quarantine in the UK and on arrival in Hong Kong but has developed a problem in the last 48 hours. It has been decided in the horse’s best interests to withdraw her before the Horse Inspection for show jumping, which takes place tomorrow morning.

Portofino was bought from the United States specifically with an eye to representing Great Britain in FEI-level competition.

The reserve horse, Russel, ridden by Nick Skelton, now comes into the squad of four. Owned by Lisa Hales, Russel is a 16.2hh gray Holsteiner stallion.

The Hinrich Manuever: How Many Gold Fillings in Two Gold Medals? Ask Hinrich!

Germany's Hinrich Romeike is a dentist who trains his horse at night after work.

A gold medal. Now there's something you can sink your teeth into!

Two gold medals? All in an evening's work for the night rider from Germany.

Tonight's show jumping finals for the eventing at Hong Kong were held under the lights, so Hinrich Romeike and his horse Marius felt right at home.

The story of the 2008 Olympic gold individual medal is all the more extraordinary for the fact that Hinrich, who lives in Schleswig Holstein, is only an amateur. By day his time is spent in his dental clinic attending to his many patients so his riding is restricted to after-hours.

"I ride after work, about 6 or 6:30 p.m." he explained, "I'm lucky because I have a few horses and I have a great groom to help me." So how does a part-time 44-year-old rider manage to beat some of the greatest professionals in his sport in the world? "I don't know the answer to that" Hinrich replied, "I just do it."

He knows he has been gifted in his partnership with the magnificent gray Holsteiner, Marius. "He is the one who did it today, I didn't ride well. My horse never makes a mistake, but I make many... today however not too many!" he added. And he was thinking about his family and friends back in Germany.

"Tonight they are in my surgery with a big flat-screen TV watching this all happening and they will be drinking champagne--so why are we sitting here drinking water?" he quipped to the delight of his listeners.

The double gold medal winner is a charming man whose story can be taken to heart by many, many amateur riders. Well done, Hinrich!

Thanks to the FEI for assistance with this post.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Meet the Riders: Alex Hua Tian Rides for China

As his website says, he is "1 in 1.3 billion": China's only three-day event rider. Alex Hua Tian speaks English with a Chinese accent...or is it the other way around? The Eton College student rode the German-bred Chicco to a personal-best dressage score in Hong Kong  on Saturday. He is the youngest competitor in the equestrian events, and is the first Chinese national to ever compete in eventing at any Olympics. Alex trains with Lucinda and Clayton Fredericks  of the Australian team at their farm in England. Together, they have the world map covered! Unfortunately, it looks like Alex has been eliminated on cross-country today. We're still waiting for details.(Kit Houghton photo, courtesy of FEI)

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Cultural "Whoops" in Hong Kong: Judges' Huts Get a Paint Job

Anky had plenty of time to look around the arena while she schooled Salinero in the rain last week.

Dutch dressage diva Anky van Grunsven sent home an email to her Dutch fans that says a lot.

As previously reported, Anky has been out in the pouring rain and scorching sun to school Salinero in the main arena. She has written home about the scary video screen, the misery of riding outside during a typhoon, and through it all, she makes it clear that she OWNS that arena. Salinero's hooves will know every inch of it by the time the grand prix begins on Wednesday.

So today, Anky would be the one who would notice that, now that the eventing dressage has ended, the grounds crews are at work in the arena, and they are doing something odd. They are painting the roofs of the judges' huts. (They are hardly huts, more like gazebos.)

So she tells the story: The roofs on the huts were all a handsome, equestrian-ish green. But in Chinese custom, a green roof on a house means that the woman of the house is guilty of adultery.

As we say in America, "Who'd have thunk it?"

Apparently, you just don't paint even a gazebo with a green roof. So out came the crews with paint cans.

The roofs are now gold.

I wonder what that means.

Salinero has two days to get used to the new color.

Belgian Medal Hopes: Why Karin Donckers in Second Place Is So Special

Karin Donckers rode beautifully to hold second place at the end of eventing dressage. (FEI/Kit Houghton photo)

Belgium? In second place? In Eventing?

Nestled between Australian and German high-powered team efforts lies Karin Donckers, the individual rider in eventing for Belgium. You may remember Karin's spectacular fifth place finish at the 2007 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. Ahead of her were Clayton Fredericks on Ben Along Time and Philip Dutton on Connaught. Both of those pairs are behind her today.

Most Americans couldn't find Belgium on a map of Europe. Maybe they know about Belgian chocolate. Or Belgian draft horses. Or they remember their World War II history and the Battle of the Bulge. Modern-day European politics are centered in Belgium; the capital city of Brussels is the seat of the European Union's government. I suppose that, yes, the sprouts come from there, too!

But what does this tiny country mean in the big picture of international equestrianism?

Belgium has a long history of high performance results. Squashed between Holland and Germany as it is, how could it not be a hot bed of top riders? Olympics gold medal winner Rodrigo Pessoa, who rides for his native Brazil, has his training center in Belgium. There must be a reason!

Let's look back in Olympic history: The nation’s riders won two of the four gold medals awarded when equestrian events were held for the first time during the second Olympic Games in Paris in 1900. The medals were awarded in the categories of jumping, long jump and high jump. Wouldn't you love to see THAT on videotape?

In 1920, when the Games were held on home soil in Antwerp, Belgian riders had their best-ever medal tally---two golds, a silver and two bronzes. By this time, the equestrian program had been expanded to include Dressage, Eventing and Vaulting. (vaulting was on the program for the first and only time, like the high jump and the long jump were in 1900).

More recently, the country has encountered harder times, and its riders have not been on the medal rostrum since the 1976 Games in Montreal, when they won a team bronze and an individual bronze.

But the Belgian equestrian fraternity is not disheartened. “We have been regular competitors at the Games, and while we haven’t been able to win a medal since Montreal we have gone close several times,” said Belgian official Mr Ingmar De Vos.

“We may have finished just out of the medals, but we have been competitive, recording two fourths in Athens, a fourth in Sydney and a fourth in Barcelona,” he stressed.

Mr De Vos, Secretary General of the Belgian Equestrian Federation and leader of the Olympic equestrian team, said that while Belgium has not been able to qualify for the team events in Hong Kong, he is is optimistic the country’s top riders can qualify for the individual events in all three disciplines, and be medal prospects.

He said among these riders are Jos Lansink, the current world champion in Jumping; Karin Donckers, who has a good record in Eventing; and Jeroen Devroe, who has been impressive in Dressage.

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Dressage Horse Vet Inspection at Sha Tin

The horses that will compete in the Dressage competition of the Olympic Games later this week took their turn to trot before the Ground Jury and veterinary officials on Sunday at Sha Tin in Hong Kong.

A total of 54 were presented, and while some made a low-key appearance, others took full advantage of the opportunity to turn on the style and flash those fetlocks to maximum effect.

Sweden's Solos Carex, which will be competed by Tinne Silfven, was asked to trot-up twice but was subsequently passed while Daniel Pinto's Notavel, one of the three Lusitanos representing Portugal, was sent to the holding box but passed following further examination.

Brazil's Rogerio Clementino had a more anxious time, however, when his stallion, Nilo Vo, was unsound behind and the Ground Jury decided to ask for the horse to be re-presented tomorrow.

Meanwhile the German horses were wowing the spectators and enjoying every minute of it while Japan's Rambo, which will be ridden by Yuko Kitai, was feeling so good he ran almost all the way back to the stable yard with his handler in tow.

Korea's Cinque Cento really strutted his stuff for Junsang Choi, drawing gasps of delight from the sidelines, and of course Anky Van Grunsven's Salinero was ever the consummate professional, pointing those toes with distinction although handler Sjef Janssen led him away still performing passage because Salinero seemed to be so disappointed that his moment in the limelight was far too short.

There was an intake of breath when the Russian giant, Wat a Feeling, took his turn.  His size alone makes him stand out from the crowd so rider Tatiana Miloserdova should have no difficulty in attracting attention in her test.

And from the American line-up the lovely Brentina remained a lady as always for Debbie McDonald while Steffen Peters' Ravel, one of the most talked-about horses prior to these Games, behaved sweetly and obediently.

While Rogerio must wait to discover his fate, and that of the three-strong Brazilian team, following tomorrow's re-inspection, the Spanish team has already been hit by the withdrawal of Beatriz Ferrer Salat and Faberge (see previous article on the WorldRides blog) so Spain will now be represented by two individuals – Jordi Domingo (Prestige) and Juan Manuel Munoz (Fuego XII).

The remainder of the Dressage horses now have a further two days to continue their build-up before they enter the ring on Wednesday evening for the Grand Prix, which will decide the team medals after it is completed on Thursday. The best 25 riders qualify for the Grand Prix Special, which will take place on Saturday 16 August. The best 15 after the Grand Prix Special qualify for the Grand Prix Freestyle (Musical Kür) which will decide the individual medals on Tuesday 19 August.

Thanks to Malina and the FEI for help with this post.

Event Horses Move to New Base Camp Across the Island to Run Cross-Country

Germany's Andreas Dibowski received a congratulatory hug from teammate Ingrid Klimke after his dressage test put him in 11th place...and the German team within striking distance of the Australians. (Hong Kong Jockey Club photo)

After yesterday's end of the dressage phase, the Eventing horses were transported to Beas River, located some 40 minutes away from the core Olympic equestrian venue at Sha Tin. This was done in a fantastic blitz operation during which the loading, transport and unloading took just over one hour.

Attired in their best travel boots to protect them from injuries during transportation, the 68 horses travelled in 11 huge horse vans escorted by 13 support vehicles. The unusual convoy was escorted by the police who ensured a clear road to avoid that these Very Very Important Passengers be held in any way.

The horses were unloaded from the lorries within seven minutes after their arrival on site and were immediately installed in temporary climatised stables to spend a comfortable night before Cross Country.

As I write this, it is late at night in Hong Kong and the horses are (hopefully) fast asleep. We are waiting for reports on temperature and humidity indices for Monday's highly technical cross-country run (which will technically be on Sunday night, USA time).

This might be a good time for everyone to hold his or her breath. Hold it for about the next 12 hours. The course at Beas River is highly, highly, highly technical, which means that it is not a "galloping" course at all. Some people describe it as show-jumping over natural obstacles on uneven ground. The horses will be required to collect and re-collect continuously throughout the course and the riders will need to remember a long list of optional routes that might (or might not) spare their horses but jeopardize their times.

Germany is nipping at Australia's lead now, and they are ready to attack on cross-country, thanks to Ingrid Klimke's stellar dressage test that put her in third place overall.

Klimke's teammate Andreas Dibowski told the FEI, "It will be a bit like an eight-minute jump-off!" he said, referring to the speed and frequency with which the fences will come up tomorrow. "There is no time to recover if something goes wrong so you need to give it 150% concentration but the German team position has improved, it's really looking good, and we are feeling very confident," he added.

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WorldRides Video: Rolex Commercial

We interrupt this blog to bring you the Rolex commercial! While this Rolex commercial is not directly linked to these Olympics games in Hong Kong, this one will take your breath away!

Don't forget to watch the re-cap of the cross-country phase of the eventing tonight (Monday) on the Oxygen network (cable access required) from 6-8 p.m. Eastern time!

I won't talk about the standings in X-C until after that, other than to say that the Swedish horse did suffer a hairline fracture and will be sent to surgery back at Sha Tin. The horses have all been moved back there to prepare for the show jumping finals tomorrow.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Paris Weeps: Touziant Withdraws from Olympic Eventing Before Dressage

Galan de Sauvagere and Nicolas Touziant. I already had them pencilled in on my medal list. Touziant (shown at left) has been all but unbeatable in world-class company for the past year, including a win at Badminton. But today we learned that France's "heavy medal" individual eventing favorites withdrew in the warm-up because of his horse's hind leg lameness.
According to USEF's Joanie Morris, a despondent Touziant didn’t have a diagnosis, but his explanation involved an accident in the stables during a thunderstorm that took its time materializing. The French team was in shock and made the decision to withdraw him in the horse’s best interest.

I was not planning to write about Touziant for a couple of days, figuring that he would be neck and neck with the Fredericks after cross-country. I wasn't expecting this sort of news.

Olivia Robinson of the FEI shared this information:

"Thierry Touzaint, uncle of Nicolas and also French team trainer, explained that the 14 year old gelding had taken fright while standing in his stable during the thunderstorm that rolled over Hong Kong early yesterday morning.  'He fell over but got up again and we didn't think there was much wrong with him but later in the day he began to go lame and today it was much worse,' Thierry explained. 

"Yesterday Nicolas rode him and was concerned about his condition but, in the hope that he would improve and without any clear understanding of what was wrong with him even after veterinary inspection, he persisted again today but had to admit defeat.  'He just wasn't right - we think perhaps he has injured his stifle or it could be a tendon but as yet we are not certain,' Thierry explained.

"This was devastating news for the defending Olympic champions but Didier Dhennin and Ismene du Temple registered a good score of 42.80 yesterday and currently lies tenth while, although reduced to just a three-man side, Eric Vigeanel (Coronado Prior) and Jean Renaud Adde (Haston D'Elpegere) could keep them in the game if they can produce something special tomorrow morning. "

Galan de Sauvegere could be loosely translated to "elegance of the wild man" or, to make a linguistical leap of idioms, "the noble savage". The gray's Olympics hopes have been dashed at an Olympics game that we were told had only heat and humidity to worry horses. No one was expecting a typhoon!

Sorry, Nicholas, for your hardship. Thanks for taking care of your horse.

Here's a video slide montage of the French team, now minus both Galan de Sauvagere and Espoir de la Mare. There will be no dramatic defense of the Athens gold medal. The captions are in French but I am sure you will figure out what they say!

Some insight into the remaining French riders, who took home the gold medal at Athens in 2004, is shown here via the French English-language channel, France24. The video was made before the team left for Hong Kong, but it has some good insight into the team and some great behind-the-scenes footage.

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Meet the Riders: Mary King of Team GBR Eventing in Top Ten Going into Cross-Country

Mary King is an anchor of experience and talent for the British eventing team.

Great Britain's Mary King began riding in her fifth Olympic Games eventing competition when she entered that dressage arena today. That's as many as Andrew Nicholson and Mark Todd. It's one more than Karen O'Connor. Mary is without a doubt one of the world's leading event riders and also one of the most consistent. If you need any more proof, look at the leaderboard after two days of dressage: Mary is in ninth place overall, she was one of the very last riders to go, and she's the only Brit in the Top Ten.

This woman doesn't like to stay home. She made the team and helped Britain win the European eventing championship in not letting on that she was five months pregnant!!

I'd like to ask you to go to the web site of the web site of the British newspaper, The Independent, and read a terrific interview with Mary King by the journalist Brian Viner. 

It's not often you see such a piece in a newspaper about an equestrian--or any sports figure, really. This is more like a magazine feature and it is very well written. Mary comes through with flying colors, much as she will probably do tomorrow when she goes cross-country with Call Again Cavalier.

CLICK HERE to read this four-star article about one of the sport's great heroes. Cheer for Mary King!

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Eventing Inspection Recap: Parkmore Ed's Girth Gall Stops Hearts, Then Gets the Nod

There was disappointment for Chile's Ricardo Stangher and Brazil's Fabricio Salgado when their horses – Literal and Butterfly – failed to pass the first veterinary inspection for Eventing horses at the Olympic core venue at Sha Tin in Hong Kong this afternoon.

There was also a nervous moment for British fans when William Fox-Pitt's ride, Parkmore Ed, was dispatched to the holding area for closer examination. A noticeable girth gall had attracted the Ground Jury's attention but, after some deliberation, Technical Delegate Giuseppe Della Chiesa, Ground Jury President Martin Plewa and Jury Members Marilyn Payne and Christian Landolt declared the 15-year old Irish-bred gelding fit for action along with the other 69 horses from 24 nations.

In an interview with the British newspaper The Independent, Fox-Pitt's teammate Mary King detailed how the British eventing team horses were rugged up in fleece while in quarantine to accelerate their sweating and recovery response time. She said that they would be using extra-fine blades to clip the horses. The problem with that is, of course, that the thin coat of hair has a tough job not becoming inflamed when martingales, breast plates and girths chafe on the tender skin.

A girth gall is complicated by the limitations faced by the vet team in treating the problem, since many standard medications and topical products contain banned substances, such as salycilic acid. A girth gall is more challenging on an event horse, which has to go up and down hills and stretch its front legs out to land over banked obstacles. The horse can't be thinking about a nagging sore behind its elbow, it can only be thinking about its balance and stride.

There was a real buzz of excitement in the air as the riders turned out smartly, many in specially-designed national uniforms, for this critical stage of the Eventing discipline but a hush descended when Fox-Pitt was asked to take his horse to the veterinarian in the holding box.

Parkmore Ed did not appear lame so there was great interest as onlookers debated what might be amiss. However the veterinary officials and Ground Jury were simply attending to the most important element of equestrian sport -- the welfare of the horse -- and having noted the wound were keen to ensure that it would not be a cause of discomfort to the equestrian athlete over the next few crucial days of Olympic competition.

Fox-Pitt explained afterwards that the gall had occurred following training a few days ago and that he had avoided riding Parkmore Ed more than was absolutely necessary over the past few days in order to allow the skin condition to heal.

According to the official report from Team GBR, the irritation is on the horse's belly and is what is called a hematoma, or blister. Fox-Pitt conferred with Jenny Hall (the Team Vet) and Yogi Breisner (the Team Manager) and then with the ground jury, who did not ask to have the horse trotted again.

Fox-Pitt commented, “What a relief! He has been so fit, sound and well all week and we hadn’t questioned the swelling at all as it isn’t affecting him.”

There was an emotional moment for American rider Karen O'Connor also as she trotted-up the nine year old gelding Mandiba who earned a place on the US squad following the late withdrawal of Heidi White's team contender Northern Spy. Karen's hugely popular little pony, Theodore O'Connor, died tragically recently and was thus denied the opportunity to display his undeniable brilliance at Olympic level. But, as fate would have it, his rider has found her way to Hong Kong by other means and she will be sure to honor Teddy's memory with a good result despite Mandiba's relative inexperience.

Many of the horses were in "look at me!" mode this afternoon as they pricked their ears and extended their stride before the officials and spectators, and the riders will be hoping that this same magical quality will be on display when they ride into the arena to execute their dressage tests over the next two days.

Dressage begins in the state-of-the-art arena in Sha Tin tomorrow and continues on Sunday before the Eventing action moves to Beas River in the New Territories area, about 30 minutes away, for the cross-country phase on Monday. The medals will then be decided by the two final rounds of Jumping – one for team medals and one for the individual honours – on Tuesday night.

Thanks to the FEI communications office for information in this post.

Today's the Day: Let the Games Begin!

Feast your eyes!

If you had ever told me when I got out of college that part of my job description as a horse-specialist journalist would include watch Chinese television, and (try to) read Chinese newspapers...I would never have believed you.

Is there anything in the "world" you would rather do for the next two weeks? Yes, the horse sports are exciting, but in the bigger picture, history is happening right in front of us, along with sports and culture!

I hope you will all stick with me for the next few weeks, and then on into the Paralympic Games' equestrian events, which will also be held in Hong Kong. But take my advice, and don't just stick to US sources of news on the Games. Wander around the web and read the reactions and interpretation from the press in other nations. Hopefully there will not be any big political stories, but even the way the Games are reported can tell you so much about the fact that the world is still a very, very big place...and we don't all think alike. 

But maybe we can all enjoy the sport of the Games, regardless of how we interpret them.

Let the Games begin! The opening ceremony will be on NBC (cable not needed) tonight!

Arena Screen May Be Daunting Object for Horses in Dressage

It's too hot to train outside, but Anky van Grunsven is doing it anyway. The Dutch diva of dressage writes home that she is pleased that her horse and the other Dutch dressage horses have not shied at the huge video screen. But she knows that it is important to get her horse accustomed to the thing.

"I.P.S Salinero did not look at all at the big screen," Anky writes enthusiastically to her fans. "The main arena is quite impressive, especially while the big screen is turned on but all Dutch horses were brave and trained very well."

Anky is no shrinking violet. Even in the face of a typhoon, she schooled outside last night, as the storm subsided. "I rode in the rain but I had a lot of space as the other riders trained inside!" Anky wrote.

The Dutch horses were among the first to arrive, and the other horses may still be getting used to the heat in Hong Kong. "Inside" means the huge indoor arena that is designed just for schooling and pre-event warmup. It is massive...and air-conditioned.

Misting stations have been set up around the stable area so the horses can cool off as needed.

Eventers will begin dressage competition in the big outdoor arena, with the screen, on Saturday.

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Athens Bronze Medalist Beatriz Ferrer-Salat Withdraws Faberge from Dressage in Hong Kong

Fabergé - Galoppwechsel
Originally uploaded by HopiNethou
More bad news from Hong Kong: The rain in Spain is laced with pain. Make that pain in the leg. Faberge's leg, to be exact. The lovely dressage mount of Spaniard Beatriz Ferrer-Salat has gone lame. She withdrew on Thursday, leaving the Spanish riders short one team member. Apparently, they will now compete as individuals.

WorldRides Video: Eventers Ostholt, Fox-Pitt and O'Connor on Chinese TV

All thumbs are up as world-class eventers Frank Ostholt (Germany), William Fox-Pitt (Great Britain) and Karen O'Connor (USA) share confidence and enthusiasm with CCTV. In the next few weeks you will see lots of clips from CCTV on this blog; it is the English-language international television network, roughly like our CNN or MSNBC.

Thanks to "OlympicHeroes" friends for their help with this video.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

FIT TO COMPETE? First Vet Inspection for Eventers in Hong Kong in a Few Hours!

The inspection begins at 16.00hrs (4:00 p.m.) local time in Hong Kong on Friday. That's means it will be happening before most of us in the USA are even up on Friday morning.

Let's hope they are all sound.

Horse are grouped for inspection by nation, and the order of go is as follows:

Belarus, New Zealand, Poland, Canada, Denmark, Russia, Czech Republic, Chile, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Austria, USA, Australia, Ireland, China, Sweden, Japan, Jamaica, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Switzerland, Brazil and France.

Briton Lucinda Fredericks will ride for Australia beside her husband, Clayton, who really is Australian. Lucinda (shown here) will ride her spectacularly athletic mare, Headley Brittanica. The couple lives in England. (Photo from

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Video: The Adidas Olympic Commercial

The Olympics are as great or even greater for its commercials than the Super Bowl. Over the next few days I will be sharing with you some of the best Olympics commercials of the 2008 Games, as I get them in an uploadable version.

Here's the official commercial for Adidas.

So what do you think? Which one will be your favorite? Are you holding out to see if the Budweiser Clydesdales have an Olympic commercial? (I hope they do, too.) Use the comment button at the bottom of this post window to leave your opinions! Thanks!

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French Eventing Team Loses "Hope": Espoir de la Mare Withdrawn From Olympics with Ligament Injury

Espoir de la Mare ("Hope of the Sea") has been withdrawn from the Olympics

Oh, mon dieu. Zut! Pas mal! And all those other French euphemisms we learned in school. Another top horse and rider combination has been forced to withdraw from the Olympics.

French event rider Jean Teulere won't be trotting his horse up for the ground jury tomorrow when the vet inspection begins for the Olympic eventing competition.

Espoir de la Mare had aggravated an old ligament injury back home in France but was believed to be recovered so he made trip, the FEI reported today. French Chef d'Euipe Thierry Touzaint said that the leg flared up again last weekend during a gallop. He said that the injury is not major and that the horse will probably compete again. 

Teulere and Espoir won the individual gold medal at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain in 2002, along with team gold and individual fourth at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

The French team will now be Eric Vigeanel and Coronado Prior, Nicolas Touzaint with Galan de Sauvagere, Jean Renaud Adde with Haston D'Elpegere and Didier Dhennin with Ismene du Temple.

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WorldRides Video: Equine Airlift Unloads Precious Horses in Hong Kong

This narrationless video was spliced together by the Hong Kong Jockey Club so you can all see how the horses are off-loaded from the cargo "stall" containers and immediately transferred to waiting air-conditioned horse vans.

The footage was shot on one of the first flights and shows the Dutch dressage team horses arriving. (You know that, from reading this blog, because you can see the orange t-shirts!)

The process is still going on! The man in the blue shirt and khaki pants is Martin Atock, the transport mastermind for airlift managers Peden Bloodstock. I wonder if Martin has been kicked yet...

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tropical Storm Kammuri News: Sheik Mohammed Takes in Stranded Olympic Horses When Flight is Grounded!

Australian dressage and eventing teams met in their stable aisle at the equestrian center in Hong Kong. Their show jumping teammates are stranded in Dubai during the tropical storm. (EFA photo by Russ Withers)

Australian newspapers are hot tonight with news that the flight carrying the Aussie and Saudi Arabian jumping team horses from Amsterdam was waylaid in Dubai. The papers tell us that ten horses are aboard the flight. A second flight, which contained the US team horses, was aborted in Amsterdam. We have no word yet how the delay was handled there.

A friendly barn for the night was provided by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who also just happens to be the husband of International Equestrian Federation (FEI) president Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein.

But it was all in "Plan B" of the international equine airlift organizers at Peden Bloodstock, the flight managers. One reason the US horses flew to Hong Kong via European quarantine was that no horse-friendly stopover could be found in the North Pacific. (Alaska just wouldn't do. Dubai, on the other hand, halfway between Europe and Southeast Asia, and with lots of quarantine and equine transport experienceis ideal.)

Meanwhile, back in Hong Kong, storm force warnings of level 8 have been sounded.

Perhaps of more concern is that the eventers already in Hong Kong had to cancel training because of the high winds. The vet check is on Friday, so all the teams are following training regimens very carefully but the bad weather forced them to stay locked inside their stables.

Bad weather is common this time of year in Hong Kong and extra days have been blocked on the schedule to allow for makeup sessions.

The Spaniards, Germans and Dutch were the first to arrive in Hong Kong.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Here Come the Kiwis!

New Zealand is a force to be reckoned with any international equestrian sporting event. The Kiwis ride with gusto...and can be counted on to enjoy the after-hours and still be on their toes the next morning. Their horses are sure-footed and robust. And they have the world's most winningest eventing hero back on their squad: Mr Mark Todd.

So when the New Zealand van rolled into the stable zone to deliver eventing horses shipped from England, it did turn a few heads.

The New Zealand Equestrian Sports agency reports: "The trip for the horses from the tarmac at the airport to the stables took a total of 90 minutes and was a very efficent process. Once on the air conditioned trucks belonging to the HK Jockey Club, the convory of trucks was police escorted to the stables in Sha Tin. Up to 10 police on motor bikes lead the way, with further police vehicles folllowing behind to ensure no other traffic over took the horse trucks."

Eventing Team Vet Mike Shepherd, who travelled with the horses, was very happy with the flight and the condition of the horses when they arrived. After some routine vet checks, all five horses were given a clean bill of health.

New Zealand had sent ten horses into quarantine at Manton Estate in Marlborough, England under the supervision of team manager (and Olympic veteran) Blyth Tait.

New Zealand's show jumpers are now in quarantine in Aachen, Germany with team manager Greg Best and will ship to Hong Kong at a later date, since the show jumping is the last of the three disciplines.

Here come the Kiwis! The air-conditioned horse van approaches the stable area en route from the airport.

Lordkillinghurst is lead off the truck by team vet Mike Shepherd

Caroline Powell's Lenamore is lead off the Truck by Groom Gill Ford, with a friendly escort by Peden Bloodstock's (and international Olympic equine airlift mastermind) Martin Atock.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sing Along with the German Olympic Equestrian Teams!

The Olympic equestrian events are the heart and soul of German equestrianism. The nation has a stellar record of gold medals won in the three disciplines, and the embarrassment of having to surrender a gold medal because of a disqualification when a rider made an error entering the jumping course of the eventing in 2004.

Consider this: Germany is favored to win individual or team medals in all three disciplines. In dressage and show jumping, people wonder idly only about the metal of the medals, not the "if" factor.

Drumming up support for the well-organized and well-funded German team is not too hard to do, but the Germans went a few extra strides in the national pride department for this year's Olympics in Hong Kong.

At the Aachen World Equestrian Festival last month, the German Equestrian Federation released a music video of an official "team song". They found an ally in German rock star Joachim Witt, and resurrected his popular 1980s rock anthem "Goldenen Reiter", an ode to the beautiful golden equestrian statue in Dresden, Germany. Witt changed the words to apply to national pride in German riders who are "golden (medal) riders" for Hong Kong.

When it came time to record the voice track, the German riders were invited to the studio where they donned headphones and sang along with the very catchy chorus. Of course the entire process was filmed.

"You want us to sing?"  The riders seem a bit shy in the studio.

Most members of the German teams gathered in a Hamburg music studio this spring to make the video and record the song. The riders and coaches, from left to right: Marco Kutscher, Hans-Heinrich Engemann, Coach Hans Melzer, Dirk Schrade, Hinrich Romeike, Carola Koppelmann, Heike Kemmer, Nadine Capellmann, Klaus Husenbeth, German rock star Joachim Witt, Coach Holger Schmezer, Monica Theodorescu, Beeke Kaack, Bettina Hoy, Frank Ostholt and Andreas Dibowski. Yes, the biggest stars--Isabel Werth and the Beerbaums--were not there, although they are the stars of the video!

The German Federation has set up a separate web site for the song and the video, which is very much worth a click. You can also purchase the cd-rom. CLICK HERE to activate the video window.  (Sorry, I wasn't able to figure out how to embed code to mount the video right here in the blog.) The official web site for the song and video is

Be sure to turn the sound up on your computer! And don't worry about not understanding the words in German; they are basically saying "We are the golden riders and we are going to the Olympics to bring home the gold medals and glory for Germany. Look out, world!"

Look carefully at these German faces. You will be seeing a lot of them as the Games begin! Will they be golden riders in Hong Kong?

Thanks to the German Equestrian Federation for the great photos!

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Netherlands: Orange-You-Glad About Anky?

You know, when I saw that music video for the German team, I immediately thought: Next week, just watch, dressage diva Anky van Grunsven will have a hip-hop song on MTV. So far, no performances from the Germans' archrivals in dressage and showjumping, the always-orange Dutch. But the Olympics has officially not even begun!

Anky did share this poster, which apparently is adorning walls all over Holland, as well as Salinero's empty stall at home in Erp, Holland. The Telegraaf is advertising that it has all the news from Beijing (and presumably, Hong Kong). "Hup, Salinero, Hup" parodies Anky speaking to her #1 grand prix mount, Salinero.

And the orange? Well...everything in Holland is orange, especially when the country's honor is at stake in international sporting events.

You can always pick the Dutch team supporters out of the crowd...they're orange!

Here's a little Dutch television news video of the US show jumping team in quarantine in Europe at the facility of Roel Koopmans. If you don't speak Dutch, just wait for Authentic and Beezie Madden to come on screen, or catch some glimpses of Laura Kraut's Cedric. Roel seems to be very entertained by his American guests; I hope he remembers that these women are defending the gold medal won by the US team at Athens in 2004!

The U.S. team will be traveling to Hong Kong to participate in the show jumping events that commence on August 15 and run to the end of the Games.

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Friday, August 1, 2008

French Dressage Rider Withdraws Her Horse from Olympic Team

The European web site is reporting that French rider Karen Tebar has withdrawn her Hanoverian mare Falada from their place on the French Olympic dressage team. The withdrawal was announced from French quarantine headquarters in Aachen, Germany.

Click here to read the story.

As you have surely read in the main news section of, the US dressage team also had a withdrawal. First alternate Leslie Morse withdrew Kingston and was replaced by Michael Barisone on Neruda. The US eventing team also lost a key horse and rider combination when Heidi White and Northern Spy withdrew.

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