On 29 July, I was witness to history being made. I was lucky enough to have tickets to see day 2 of the Eventing dressage phase at Greenwich Park, and the day delivered all the excitement and emotion that it promised.
The arena looked immaculate and impressive, with a London Cityscape backdrop that served as a reminder of the work and dedication that went into transforming Greenwich Park into the polished eventing venue that we saw before us.
There was a real buzz in the air, and the atmosphere was electric, almost tangible. When the action got under way, all the spectators did a great job of containing their applause and appreciation until the competitors gave their final salute, and promptly burst into rapturous applause and cheers for the performance they just witnessed. It gave me goosebumps every time!
The home crowd didn’t have to wait long for ‘one of their own’, as Zara Phillips and High Kingdom entered the arena as about the 3rd competitor. You could hear a pin drop as we watched on, and although there was a flying change that didn’t quite go to plan, they produced a solid test to earn a score of 46.1.
I was very much looking forward to seeing the mighty 19 year old Lenamore ridden by Caroline Powell, and he still looked every inch the eventer. The atmosphere may have got to him slightly as his test was not quite what we’ve come to expect from him, but the crowd was appreciative and Lenamore left with an abundance of energy as the applause fired him up.
The next Brit was Tina Cook and Miners Frolic, who had the unfortunate task of riding their test in the middle of a rather large storm! She was not deterred though, and produced a magnificent, polished test to earn them a richly deserved 42. Miners Frolic, or Henry as he is known, was an absolute saint to keep his concentration under such circumstances.
Michael Jung had performed a strong but not mistake free test, but such was the standard of the Ger
man team’s dressage that remarkably his 40.60 would be their discard score! Unsurprisingly, they are top dog in the team standings after the dressage.
The familiar Wiltshire based Aussie representative Lucinda Fredericks was a popular competitor, and her 40.00 did the Aussie medal chances no harm at all. Husband Clayton wasn’t far behind either, as he and Bendigo notched up a further 40.40 to pile the pressure on. The Aussies will go into the cross country phase handily placed in second.
William Fox-Pitt, incidentally the World Number 1, came much later in proceedings, with all hopes resting on him and the aptly named Lionheart to ensure we enter the next phase with half a chance. His tall, lithe figure was instantly recognisable as he entered the arena, and I held my breath as I watched on. It certainly looked a strong effort, and he was rewarded with a PB of 44.10 on a horse who is competing at his first championships. That will do nicely! He ensured that Team GB will enter the second phase in a respectable bronze medal position; although with 2 phases of the three to go we all know that’s liable to change!
The last rider of the day was the evergreen, once retired from international eventing Mark Todd. The Kiwi didn’t disappoint and nursed NZB Campino around in a near faultless test to finish on an impressive 39.10 -something the New Zealanders desperately needed after disappointing results for both Caroline Powell and Andrew Nicholson; the latter of which created a stir when ‘disgusted’ with organisers who held him back due to a sudden downpour and thunderstorm. Many of you will know that at this level, warm-ups are often honed down to the last second, and Nicholson claimed that the delay had caused his mount Nereo to go flat. He may have had a point, and Nereo’s canter work was disappointing, notably when it came to a flying change that could only score 4’s from the judges. As always though, the safety of horse and rider must come first.
A special mention must go to the surprise hero, Yoshiaki Oiwa who ended up topping the tables for Japan. His magnificent performance earned a 38.1 which could not be matched by the top event riders in the world. Yoshi is an experienced rider having competed at many top level competitions, but even he was shocked with just how well his mare Noonday De Conde went on the day, reporting that she always felt relaxed. He was understandably delighted with the result, and the crowd showed him the respect he deserved after such a fault free demonstration of horsemanship.
During the down time I was able to walk the much talked about cross country course, and if my instincts are right this will be far from a dressage competition! Once again the London cityscape was a breathtaking backdrop, and I was shocked at just how undulating the course is. I was out of breath walking it, and I don’t think the images can really prepare you for just how steep some parts are. One thing is for sure, they will need to be well studded up and in complete control if they are to ride the course without mishap. I think there will be lots of drama, and for all those there watching, you are in for a treat!
The whole day was really something to be proud of; even the frequent downpours couldn’t dampen the spirits! Good luck to all competitors today, and an extra special good luck to the Team GB horses and riders. To anyone who is lucky enough to spectate at the equestrian games, or even be a part of it, I hope you feel as privileged as I do to have been there to witness it.
If you're confused by the title of this article, it relates to a completely ignorant and inaccurate report from Bryony Gordon of the Telegraph; her report was very different to mine and you can see what she says here.