Pedal power

For Christmas (2013, I should note), I bought my Dad a track cycling experience at London’s velodrome.  Yes, that velodrome, the one where Team GB’s cycling contingent ensured that the cycling team as a whole would have come tenth in the Games medal table by themselves if they were competing as a country (bumping Australia down to eleventh).  As part of London 2012’s legacy programme (which we all know I love), the velodrome was built as a permanent facility, and slated to re-open in Spring 2014 as part of the Olympic Park’s redevelopment.  The velodrome and aquatics centre did indeed open on time, and as well as playing host to the regular training of elite athletes such as Tom Daley, members of the public can book sessions for their own moment of glory.

Predictably, velodrome sessions are very popular – many clubs book sessions and attend as groups – so Dad struggled (also because he can be indecisive) to get his day booked.  After prodding him into it on a few occasions, he finally managed to find time in his hectic schedule, and off he went to live out his Chris Hoy fantasies.

As just a little more background, I bought this gift as cycling is one of Dad’s favourite Olympic sports: he, like many other Brits in recent years, has become fascinated with both track and road cycling, and enjoys watching the annual events which take place between Games.  In terms of his own level of activity, Dad’s in his 50s and, during the summer months, plays tennis at least once (if not twice) per week, cycling to and from the courts in our village as his warm up.  He’s never cycled indoors on a track before, so the whole experience was completely new.  As I sadly wasn’t available to tag along and watch on the day, I posed him a few questions regarding his session…

What were your expectations of the day?
My expectations were to have a bit of a trundle around the very boards and circuit that were graced by all of the Olympians in 2012.  There are not very many venues where this can be done!  I was reminded of a friend who, many years ago, was trying to persuade me about the virtues of golf by telling me it is one of the few sports were you can literally follow in the footsteps of the top players.  I will never play football at Old Trafford or tennis at Wimbledon but I have cycled on the same track as the heroes and heroines of London 2012


approaching the venue: a little quieter than during Games time!


What was the coaching like as a participant?  Did the coaches help you to get what you wanted out of the experience?
The coaching and direction was very clear and straightforward.  It was kept to simple basics (which was good for a novice like me but I don’t know how it was for more experienced riders).  It was indoor track cycling 101 which I thought was effective and the right level to pitch it.  I got the impression that after watching us for a couple of laps the coach figured out the level of my ability (and, presumably everybody else’s) and tailored his instructions accordingly as I went past him

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watching from the stands


What was the highlight?
The highlight was achieving the little personal goal that I set for myself of doing a lap on the blue line and then managing to keep going until the end of the session!  It was also great to be in the centre of the velodrome and to experience it from that perspective as well as just being able to cycle on the track

How was the atmosphere of the venue?
It was fairly low-key and came across as a regular working day at the velodrome for the employees.  In that sense, it was all quite functional
[note from Becky: I suspect this will be pretty different when the World Championships are held next year!]

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being in the middle of the track: one of Dad’s highlights


As a British taxpayer, do you think that this venue adds value to our country’s experience of hosting an Olympic Games?
Yes I do.  It is the legacy in action and, when I was there, the velodrome was publicising what is available to cyclists indoors and outdoors
[as well as track cycling experiences, the facility offers visitors sessions on the outdoor mountain biking track] as well as forthcoming events such as the World Indoors Track Championships next year.  This is only happening because London hosted the Games.  The cycling facilities are available to everyone who can pedal a bike so I think it is a great asset

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Dad was in awe of these guys, this shows the real angle of the track (also pictured, the blue line he conquered)


Thinking back to Berlin… do you think people will be following in your tyre tracks 75 years from now?
This is a very good question.  I find it hard to imagine unless there is a commitment to investment and up-keep over the next 75 years because improvements in technology and materials will inevitably happen which means that a sporting venue cannot stand still.  As we saw in Berlin, the running track is not the same as the one that Jesse Owens ran on in 1936 and I am sure that the other facilities have been improved over the years (with the exception of the outdoor swimming pools!)

So there you have it: legacy in action for the everyperson.  Almost three years post-Games and venues are open, busy, providing people with gainful employment.  Visitors can enjoy being part of something they helped to fund, we haven’t been left with enormous facilities that there’s no use for.  LOCOG’s aim for London 2012 was to, “Inspire a generation”.  If this doesn’t meet and possibly even go one better than that, I don’t know what would.


Sucking eggs

As it’s (almost) the middle of winter, there’s a lot of blustering advice going around the horse community at the moment whereby some are criticising others for moaning.  I’m tempted to join in, because it is frustrating as a non-horse owner to sit and watch those who whinge about “having” to “find time” to go and “do the horse” in the dark/wet/cold/mud/before work/after the school run/prior to microwaving dinner.  I can’t promise that won’t one day be me.  And yes, it’s awful if you’re having a less than ideal time of it – your horse might have thrown a shoe and the farrier’s too busy to come straight away, meaning you can’t ride, but your horse still poos and needs his rug changing; your beloved equine might have a more serious injury, which requires walking in-hand to get some exercise or, worse, mean box rest.  You probably curse the day anyone invited you to ride as a small child, rendering you helplessly hooked on this furry drug, and leaving you in the current situation of financial ruin with an inability to feel your extremities.  But something makes you do it.

And here’s what I’ve learned: focus on the positive.  I’m not sure if this is a story which can be told, it may be something which requires living, but I’m going to try.  I’ve been through some dark times with my riding, and there may be more to come.  But even the bad times haven’t made me want to give up.  I still want nothing more than to be with a horse and, ultimately, clamber into the saddle.  I am happier around horses, whether I’m mucking out a box, attempting to get matted mud out of a mane or dragging water buckets around with wet legs (though that situation is much improved since my discovery that ski pants are the way forward).

But here’s the thing: this is your time.  It’s play, rather than work, and should be enjoyed.  We pour a phenomenal amount of money, time and effort into our horses, so it’s even more important that we enjoy them than we enjoy our work (and we know how I feel about the importance of feeling positively about our jobs, too).  But to give a pictorial (and festively-themed) representation of why we should cherish this time, I’m going to give you some examples from the past, present and future.

The ghost of ponies past
I was That girl: the one who got really excited when she spotted a horsebox on the motorway.  The child who didn’t want to do any sport other than riding.  The one who scoured TV listings and memorised event schedules in order to watch the quarterly 15 minutes of equestrianism on TV.  The girl who, when finally given the opportunity, cherished time with her loaned pony, and got to do exactly what she wanted – try a hand at showing off in the ring.  These aren’t from Burghley or Badminton or Hickstead or Olympia, like the ones from my dreams, but nobody’s taking them away from me.  My past is made of pastel ribbons, and I loved almost every minute.

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The ghost of horses future
I’m not clever enough in the right way to have made this image, I saw it on Facebook a while ago, and fell in love with it.  My body has grown up, but it still has that shadow of The Dream attached.  Whatever shape yours takes – and mine has many, actually – keep it in mind with every step you take.


The ghost of horses present
This is the kind of thing which you often hear professionals say when they’re quizzed on why they do certain things that they do, but this relates beautifully to the everyman/woman too.  I’m a huge advocate of doing things for yourself, but sometimes it’s worth bearing in mind that you’re also always being watched.  Give someone something to look up to.  Show them that life is fun and worthwhile.  Be the one to demonstrate the possibilities by having them yourself (that’s a win-win).


With all of that taken on board, if you’re still struggling to find the impetus to go and pat your pony and tell him how much you love him and can’t wait to take him on the first glorious hack during Spring, take Pat Parelli’s advice: buy a motorbike.

The tree of life

My Mum started it.  I was young and impressionable, and we were on a painful cycling holiday in Germany when she took us to a Christmas decoration shop.  It was the middle of the summer, horribly hot with more bugs in the air than I knew the names for.  But we came away with a couple of festive souvenirs, neither of which I could identify now, though the seed had been planted.

My Christmas decorating tactics when at university mainly involved tinsel.  I’ve never been a big fan of the stuff on trees, but when you live in a flat or house which is mainly corridors and banisters, it begins to make sense.  As one housemate once put it, “it looks like Christmas threw up in here” – I was delighted that, at the time, we lived in an enormous house, which I’d decided could “handle” a huge amount of glittery strings.

I’ve never really had my own tree, as I’ve chosen instead to wait until I’m back at the family home (which I’ve managed for every Christmas) to really enjoy a traditional tree (I do own a three-foot baby pink tree, bought mainly as it was incredibly cheap).  My family aren’t allowed to decorate the tree without me, and if I live away, I make time to return a few weeks prior to Christmas in order to put the tree up.  Because I, too, have started something: I’m building a collection of ornaments.  The pace has picked up since I’ve begun travelling more for pleasure – I now ensure that I don’t return home from a significant trip without a new decoration for my future trees.  Until I get my own home and family, they’ll hang on my parents’ tree, to remind me where I’ve been.  These are their stories…

London 2012 ornaments
When I first saw these at Spirit of Christmas in 2012, I didn’t know whether to fall in love or be appalled.  I didn’t think they could possibly be genuine, as I couldn’t imagine LOCOG licensing such a product… but they did, and they were.  I snapped up two of London 2012’s mascots for the trees of my future – one is in traditional Beefeater dress, the other is (of course) an ice-skating Santa.  When I posted a photo of them on Instagram, a friend who was similarly mourning the loss of the Olympics was desperate to know where I got them, and when I gave her the name of the supplier, immediately bought a set online.  2014 will see Wenlock and Mandeville grace our tree for the third time, as their manufacturers enjoy a prime spot in Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas shop.  Olympic legacy via Christmas decorations – something LOCOG should be proud of.

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The ruby slipper
Of all the things available to stare at in Washington DC, one which I couldn’t possibly miss was the ruby slippers at the Museum of American History.  The Wizard of Oz is still one of my favourite movies, so in 2013 I duly made my pilgrimage to see the famous shoes.  Sadly, they don’t make them big enough for my Yeti-sized trotters, but the Smithsonian do sell ruby slipper ornaments, and my collection immediately expanded.

Festive lobster
Amongst the weird and wonderful everythings of New Orleans, I spied something so perfect that I laughed out loud.  As well as proudly proclaiming it’s birthplace, this piece involves an appropriately-attired lobster playing the saxophone.  Of course.  But it also pays homage to one of the best pieces of dialogue in The Best Christmas Movie ever.

Viva Las Christmas
Another destination on my 2013 road trip, another certainty of finding glitzy tat.  There was a selection of typical options in Las Vegas, but rather than choose my favourite one, I selected the one which best commemorated my first visit – the hotel my friend and I stayed in is represented here, and a small piece of the Strip occupies a branch on my tree.

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Wreathed lighthouse
Ptown, Cape Cod, isn’t really about subtlety, so there’s a certain irony in the simplicity of this piece.  Eva and I spent two lovely days on and around the Cape this summer, and once we reached the end of our trek, she enjoyed Ptown as much as I did.  My criteria for decorations isn’t that they must be tacky – it’s that they should represent the place they’re from, as well as being obviously festive (so it’s not enough that an ornament is able to hang from a tree, it must also be clearly Christmassy).  The wreath is key here, otherwise it’d just be a (admittedly lovely) porcelain lighthouse.

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The one which didn’t make it
“Wouldn’t it be great,” Eva and I said, perhaps a little tipsily, “if, when we’re in Hawaii, we find a Christmas decoration which marries Hawaii and Christmas?  Something like, I don’t know, Santa in a grass skirt?”  Well, of course somebody had already thought of that.  I delighted in scrolling through the Santa’s Pen website whilst we waited at an airport for a flight.  When we made it to the store in Honolulu, I was agog at the choice, and eventually plumped for Santa, in said grass skirt, enjoying a drink in a hammock.  The sales assistant wrote “Mele Kalikimaka” (Merry Christmas) on it for me… and I promptly lost my purchase, but only realised the night before we were due to leave.  After the shop had closed.  And we left before it opened.  And they don’t ship internationally.  Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to cover it, but at least I have an excuse for a second visit to Oahu someday…


Spoilt for choice
Berlin was bound to be tough: Germany is famously festive, with Christmas markets galore if you travel in November.  We went in October, and in the major cities, you’re always going to find it a little tricky to find something more unique and less mass-produced.  So I compromised, and made a trip to the highly-commercial Kathe Wohlfahrt.  I spent a long time selecting my ornaments, and came away with just two, both of which appealed to my horsey side.  The girl on the hobby horse is unpopular in our house already, but I couldn’t resist this miniature mirror into my childhood.  And the little deer-at-the-manger scene is simple but beautifully detailed – hopefully you can see the tiny strands of hay in the feeder.  Along with the lighthouse, they will make their debut on the tree in 2014.

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I’m not sure how many more ornaments I’ll get the chance to buy over the years, but I enjoy having an eclectic and non-matchy tree: whenever I see a shot of a tree on Facebook or Instagram, where the poor thing has been swathed in traditional glitzy baubles and trussed up with ribbons (why?!  Ribbons are for gifts!), I shake my head, turn to look at my traveller’s tree, and look forward to sharing the stories even more.  Because “I went to Homebase and picked out things which were on three for two” just isn’t interesting.

Rubbing shoulders

Meeting “celebrities” can be a funny experience – and not always the haha type of funny.  Sometimes, they’re no more interesting than the average person, but other meetings can provide the type of experience we dream of.  I’ve bumped into famous people from various backgrounds in all sorts of situations (fortunately never in too compromising a position, unlike an event manager friend!), and am relieved to report that I’ve never suffered rudeness.

Unlike my previous visit to Your Horse Live, I wasn’t seeking anyone out (back in 2012, I knew Mary King would be in attendance, and I wanted to get my copy of her book signed), but my friend and I managed to spot quite a few celebs.  Whilst we were browsing the trade stands, I’d already pointed out Your Horse’s Jay Halim, plus Pippa and William Funnell.  My friend chalked up her first win with an unexpected appearance by Mary King (and her lovely mum).  I was just browsing a stand when my friend made her next spot and pointed me in the direction of Lee Pearson, who was happily chatting away to the staff on a nearby stand, three London 2012 medals casually displayed in front of him.

Lee spotted us grinning at him and called us over.  I handed my phone to my friend, needing no further invitation to tell him how great I think he is.  I told him that my friends and I had seen him ride in London (I think the silver medal he had with him at the show is the one we saw him win) and how much we’d enjoyed it.  He seemed pleased to hear my stories, as I babbled about how it had been amazing value, and I’d attended with two non-horsey friends (one of whom is now his biggest fan) who both thoroughly enjoyed the day.  We talked about the fantastic atmosphere (interestingly, he said that the crowd waving frantically as instructed by organisers actually freaked the horses out more than applause, as they’re used to applause at that level, though he too appreciated the sentiment and atmosphere) and how a small child near me had asked when Lee entered the arena if he was “the one from Come Dine With Me”, and I praised Lee for achieving in that moment something which very few sportspeople manage – transcending his sport.

I always said that I’d never wear a medal unless I won it myself, but Lee all but put the ribbon around my neck.  He urged, “Go on, pick any.  I can wear them naked at home if I want to!  You might never get the chance again, it doesn’t bother me”.

So of course, I chose the gold one, knelt next to him and posed.  By this time, our conversation has drawn some other fans in and I had to be persuaded to leave.  Lee, thank you for your generosity, and all the best to you and the British Para-Dressage team for many years to come.

Wordless Wednesday – teaser

I left something out of my Your Horse Live recap last week – a celeb spotting.  My friend actually spotted this guy, but I’m the one who barged over for a chat and a photo.

Lee Pearson is an incredibly successful British para-dressage rider, and someone I’ve admired for a long time… for many reasons, all of which I’ll go into tomorrow.  I’ve always felt weird about people wearing or even touching athletes’ hard-won medals, but Lee pretty much put the medal on me himself, so I went ahead and did it.

Full story tomorrow, but for now, here’s a picture of me wearing something that you can’t buy

Your-Horse-Live-2014 stoneleigh equestrian paradressage paralympian medalist Lee-PearsonCheck back tomorrow for the full story around this picture – I’ll share what we chatted about and more!



How to do it

Regular readers of my blog will know that my favourite L word is Legacyevent legacy, to be precise.  Events aren’t just about what happens in the moment, they expire, and it’s a challenge to see not just how long you can make it last (though given that I’m the queen of stretching birthdays out for two weeks, my love for event legacy is unsurprising), but how much of a positive impact the ripples can have on their surroundings, and for how long.

Olympic Games are notoriously poor at producing good legacies, which is why the IOC has become a huge fan of the event industry’s favourite buzz word – these mega-events take seven years of pre-production (and that’s just from the moment of winning the bid, there are at least three years prior to that devoted to pitching and bidding and schmoozing), only to expire within four weeks of competition.  By that point, a city is often left with brand new Olympic-quality facilities which it sometimes has no idea what to do with.  It’s not just the competition venues, it’s the athlete housing and media capabilities.  So things have to change.

Legacies haven’t always looked like they do today, with tree-lined parks which are home to affordable housing for local people, and world-class facilities which will train the stars of the future whilst providing entertainment and a place for residents to keep fit.  Occasionally, a legacy is accidental or, at least, something which could’ve been completely different.

On my recent trip to Berlin, I visited the Olympiastadion, the venue which hosted the 2006 football World Cup final, but which is also infamous for holding the 1936 Olympics.  Where, hindsight keenly showed us, Hitler oversaw the building of what would become an enormous rally ground.  What he probably didn’t predict is that, almost 80 years later on a windy Tuesday in October, the park would be full of people wandering around clutching personal electronic devices and being guided around the park via GPS in a variety of languages.  This, dear readers, is a legacy many events may only dream of.

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For it is not – yet, one might argue – the fate of any other Olympic Games.  London’s legacy is foetal by comparison, but those in charge should learn from Berlin.  The Olympiastadion has pulled off an incredible feat, arguably thanks to input from the Brits themselves.  When Berlin was divided post-WW2, the stadium was part of the British sector, and was duly preserved.  Between foreign occupation, the Cold War and a divided state, the park could easily have fallen into ruin.  Instead, it has not only survived, but thrived.

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My family and I chose to take the fairly new multimedia guided tours, which was €3 per person on top of the park entry fee.  Don’t tell those who run the stadium, but they could be charging twice that – many other tour operators do.  We were each given a smartphone-type device (they’re GPS enabled – you can click on each part of the tour as you get to it, but the map guides you around and is set to autoplay when you reach the relevant section) and headphones (which, my Dad remarked, have the added bonus of keeping your ears warm) before departing on our tour.  There are two versions – 65 minutes or 100 minutes, and we chose the latter.

We were given a wealth of information on our tour, beginning with the stadium’s original history as a horse racing venue.  You’re then sped up to it’s predominant current use as a football stadium, where the events pro in me drooled at the brilliantly-designed lighting system which creates no shadows on the pitch.  Then the real reason I’d insisted on a visit began, and we were taken around the park, with the opportunity to see the list of gold medal winners from the 1936 games, the site which bore the Olympic flame, and many other things.

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As I walked around the park, there was an incredible example of legacy at every turn: alongside the rally ground, which is still used as a polo field (polo was an Olympic sport in 1936, and one which Team GB won a medal in!), there is a small field with practice cross country fences (this part of the park wasn’t explained, but I could see that it wasn’t big enough to have been the actual course – a rider was using it, though!).  Across a small road, there were also at least two outdoor sand schools, both of which were in use, presumably by either visiting riders or those who keep horses nearby.

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Further walking led to a small outdoor pool where swimming practice was taking place – yes, outdoors in October!  There’s a reason the team in question – a local water polo club – are incredibly successful… Also training on the day were various levels of age group football players, making use of smaller pitches within the park.  When I reached the final stop on the tour – the original Olympic swimming and diving pools – my guide informed me that the pool is available for members of the public to use in summer months, almost 80 years post-Games!  Many Olympic pools since have fallen out of use less than eight years post-Games, never mind eight decades later.

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The tour involves a lot of walking, and the park is very different to the images we are shown of how the delivery agencies hope for London’s Olympic park to look (it’s very austere, lacking in decorative flora and fauna – although, this makes it very low-maintenance – but I think that’s a subtle awareness from the German’s that their park is unique, that it is also an eerie reminder of Nazism, as well as a place of sporting significance), but it is an incredible experience.  Many people remember only the negatives in Germany’s history, but the present is very much positive, with a venue which was built to last seeing sustained use.  It’s certainly a place which I would be proud to see my tax dollars funding in the present day.

As I crossed from the pool to the stadium, multimedia device in hand, to meet up with my family, I wondered how many people could be wandering around London’s Olympic park eight decades from now, what they might be clutching and how their experience could be.  I hope that there is something good to see, that the facilities are open for business, that we have built it and people will come.

My favourite word

I’m sad to say that the World Equestrian Games (WEG) passed me by.  They took place in France recently, and I’m choosing to blame being in a different time zone without access to TV (plus little access to the Internet) for my inability to keep up.  When I found out four years ago that the 2014 championships would be taking place in France, I was keen to attend, but my plans changed over time, and I found myself in the US for the summer instead.

But the equestrian and event manager in me feel the need to catch up now.  One of the few things I heard about as the event was taking place was the apparent Team GB debacle that was the show jumping competition, and with the focus of my news being on that and the sad death of Harry Meade’s horse during the eventing competition, I was surprised to learn that Team GB had again topped the medal table.  This result is largely thanks to our athletes in the dressage and para-dressage competitions, all of whom achieved as fantastically as they did during London 2012.  This is a great turnaround compared to my childhood, when it seemed that the Germans and Dutch were completely untouchable.

The truth, though, is that Team GB are being caught.  It’s brilliant that, despite the loss of key horses – largely through sale or retirement – since London 2012, Team GB again topped the medal table… but it was with fewer medals than in 2010, and every other nation has upped their medal count, rather than lowered it.  We’ve held on, but in order to win again in 2018, improvements will need to be made.  Although we’ve begun to raise the bar in one sport, other nations are catching up and, arguably, we’ve lost ground in eventing.

That all sounds a bit doom and gloom, but the truth is that our elite legacy post-2012 and towards the future is looking strong: as ever, we have strength in depth – there were key withdrawals of horses in the run up to the Games, but we were able to replace them with competitors who were just as strong, to the point that the results weren’t negatively impacted.  On top of this, there are new riders coming through who are showing great potential – the beauty of equestrianism is that some riders only get better as they get older, whereas other sportspeople have firm shelf lives and can only compete into their early 30s, the competitive career of equestrians can extend into their 50s or beyond.

For those of us at home, there is even better news.  One of the reasons I will enjoy teaching riding is the opportunity it provides to be part of sharing my sport with others, and ensuring that even more people can treasure the experience of riding and being with horses.  Although WEG doesn’t get half as much mainstream media coverage as the world championships of most other sports, I know of one person who has taken up the reins as a direct result of what they saw: Jonathan Agnew, one of the most recognisable voices in BBC cricket, has been sharing his journey into the saddle via Twitter.

It’s actually been a long time coming for Aggers (as he’s better known), whose wife, Emma, is a keen rider.  In addition to living with a horsey spouse, Aggers is preparing to cover equestrianism in Rio for BBC radio, having turned his hand to archery in 2012 (cricket being absent from the Olympic sports roster).  Rather than his wife’s encouragement, what boosted Aggers into the saddle was observing Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro at their best in Normandy.  Proof that inspiration can come from all kinds of places, and those who are inspired may not be from the stereotypical demographic.

Both Aggers and Mrs Aggers have been using the #mysport hashtag on Twitter, which is the brainchild of Hoof – join in if you have a Twitter account, it’s a great way to share what we all love about riding via social media.

On air

In case you don’t know how to use your red button (or aren’t aware that you could have just asked your TV to present you with channel 301), or didn’t happen upon BBC2 between 2:30pm and 4:30pm on Sunday, you might not be aware that Badminton Horse Trials took place over the weekend.  As it’s 2014, if you are an eventing fan, or even someone with a passing interest in competitive equestrianism, you would also have to have avoided the Internet (specifically: Facebook and Twitter, although those services were also very busy handling Eurovision) to remain unaware of Badminton.  Either way, there it was, fighting against rain, wind and some other nearby event known as Japfest.  Badminton triumphed again this year in the thrills and spills department, but many believe it was less than well-presented in terms of live broadcasting.

The progression and results of the event itself have already been analysed repeatedly within the media and the blogosphere, but one of the most interesting discussions I’ve seen so far is via my least favourite website: Facebook.  Your Horse magazine opened up a discussion via their page regarding what fans think of the TV coverage equestrianism gets.  Predictably, as Your Horse fans and readers are avid equestrians, the vast majority replied to say that it’s appalling, there isn’t enough of it on the correct channels at the right time and why on earth is there so much football on TV?  Interestingly, other sports mentioned were rugby (of which no coverage clashed on this occasion), Formula 1 (which dominated the BBC this weekend, as a race took place on Sunday, meaning qualifying aired on Saturday) and cricket (none of which has been available on main free-to-air channels for years, which leads me to think that opinions were at least partially based on perception rather than reality).

The thing is that the BBC isn’t commercially driven: they have no advertising to sell, so the pressure to get eyes on screens isn’t completely financial.  They do, however, have a commitment to serving the general public – as they are publicly-funded, they must provide for the majority rather than the minority.  Sadly for those of us who don’t like it, the majority of Brits are football fans, which addresses the “there wasn’t enough coverage” issue.  Sorry, equestrians, although British athletes currently top the world rankings in all three Olympic equestrian sports, those of us who’d watch it are still in the minority.  As for the fact that the coverage was highly unbalanced and poorly timed (Badminton takes place over four whole days of competition, and the BBC showed six hours of uninterrupted coverage of the cross country phase, plus two hours of “highlights”, which comprised of two days of dressage crammed into ten minutes, followed by six hours of cross country in about 90 minutes and finishing with letting us see eight riders showjump out of the 28 remaining in the competition), the BBC should look to resolve one of these issues.

Although I felt that the highlights programme was so bad that it wasn’t worth watching, that’s from my standpoint as a long-term eventing fan.  Watching with the eyes of someone just getting into the sport – particularly children – the package was ideal.  Queen Clare Balding did her usual job of presenting brilliantly; televised equestrianism wouldn’t be what it is without Mike Tucker and his comments about dropped knitting; the audience were introduced to a variety of riders who were engaging ambassadors for the sport, and the phases were explained well.  It also offered an overview of the most exciting parts of the competition – heavy on the cross country coverage, light on the showjumping and just a morsel of the dressage was enough for anyone wanting to know more about Olympic sport and have a taste of what eventers do outside of the Games. If broadcasters want to aim at hardcore fans, they need to stick to the following rules:

  • Show every minute of competition live, provide a detailed breakdown of what to expect and make all coverage available in a recordable format, live online and on-demand online.  Unfortunately, we now live in the “gotta have it all” era where this kind of total access is demanded.  Highlights, lowlights and delayed coverage just don’t cut it anymore
  • Analysis – but only if it’s good.  The BBC had graphics of the cross country course, and Mike Tucker explained which fences had been removed for safety since the graphics were created.  But in the past they have provided a full course walk with knowledgeable types such as Lucinda Green.  Key fences were discussed with riders, but this isn’t enough for the big fans.  They want to see Lucinda striding it out – including the Lake and ponds – in her muddy Hunters, possibly with a dog at her side, definitely telling us how she’d be sat, what length her reins would be and how much time she’d expect to have left on her watch at any given point on the course
  • Clear communication – several people on Your Horse’s page were confused, and I replied to a few queries on Twitter.  You may have thought you were clear about what could be seen and when, but the message didn’t get through.  To her endless credit, Balding did her bit via social media, patiently explaining when and where coverage could be found.  But a lot of people tried their red buttons on Sunday and were very angry to see cars instead… so perhaps consistency would be good too, if possible

I can understand the media struggling to know who to satisfy – it’s something I experience myself!  As my target is to reach as wide an audience as possible, I tend to write as if my audience has never heard of a horse, so that those who don’t know what I’m talking about have a chance of following my posts if they are so inclined, rather than having to give up immediately thanks to unexplained acronyms or jargon.  If I’m honest, it is also a level I’m comfortable at: I’m used to having to explain why horses are wearing hats in competition, or what that white stuff is on the front of their legs when they go cross country, but I’m nowhere near the level of a qualified dressage judge, so I’m not going to split hairs over why Clark Montgomery’s test was better than Francis Whittington’s. What it comes down to is that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but the BBC and other broadcasters try their best.  Which is why we get the opportunity to see all of the football all of the time, and some of the eventing an hour after the winner’s been presented with the trophy and we’ve all heard about it on Twitter.

Do you watch equestrian sport on TV?  Are broadcasters right to show some coverage aimed at casual viewers with the hope that experienced viewers will still enjoy it, or should they not bother?

Rooting for Rio

With just over two years until the start of the next Summer Olympic Games, the host city – Rio de Janeiro – isn’t ready.  This surprises nobody (apart from the town of Weymouth, who excitedly announced that their venue preparations for London 2012 were complete six weeks ahead of schedule and under budget… in August 2009), but the problem is that Rio is reportedly only 10% finished.  As a benchmark, London was 60% prepared at the same stage and the even famously-shambolic Athens was 40% ready.  All of this is apparently cause for concern at the IOC, and it’s definitely getting the international media shaken up.

What’s being done to help Rio is unclear – the IOC is a mysterious beast – but the hindrances and criticisms are obvious.  As it is the digital age, Rio is being cyber bullied, often by those who have no experience of running a piss up in a brewery, never mind a travelling global multi-sport festival which is held quadrennially.  And to add to Rio’s stress, it is also hosting the FIFA World Cup in a few short weeks.

This isn’t the first time that a host nation has been victimised for less than ideal preparations.  In the last five years alone, South Africa’s World Cup, India’s Commonwealth Games and, most recently, Russia’s Winter Olympics have all faced harsh criticism.  Incomplete and poorly constructed venues, insufficient security procedures, terrorist threats and unethical treatment of local residents are just some of the issues other venues have dealt with.  And what was the reaction from outside nations?  To apportion blame, display a lack of faith and put up barriers.

The very ethos of events such as the Olympic Games is rooted in the promotion of international cooperation: the highest standard of competition, an exciting spectator experience combined with the opportunity for the best athletes in the world to show who truly is the best in their field, whilst treating each other with respect and dignity.  But apparently that attitude doesn’t begin the moment hosting rights are awarded to a nation.  Those rights aren’t afforded to the teams who are recruited and given the responsibility of putting on the show, spending years and dedicating thousands of hours to ensuring that athletes are able to display the fruits of their own labours, whilst their supporters watch in wonder.

Because here’s the thing: as almost 200 other first day Events Management students and I were told back in September 2006 by the UK Centre for Events Management’s Head of Centre, Glenn Bowdin, “events don’t just happen” (in fact, Glenn gives that speech at least once per year – we were not the first to hear it, and we won’t have been the last).  It’s not a case of the BBC and NBC showing up with their cameras and plugging in whilst it all happens around them.  Danny Boyle doesn’t rock up with a magic wand, some Olympic fairy dust and a cast of thousands and put on a flawless show.  Money doesn’t grow on trees, venues don’t sprout from the ground and events don’t run themselves.  And these days, they aren’t run by assistants who can get away with opening a bag of crisps, pulling a bottle of sparkling wine out of the fridge and calling it a Christmas party.  The events industry has become increasingly professional, run by experts for everyone.  Except when it comes to quadrennial sporting events governed by bodies which are bound so tightly by red tape that they can’t find the hospitality tent.

Admittedly, that’s harsh.  The bidding and hosting process is such that, simply put, a nation is granted the rights to host, and given the responsibility of recruiting a team to do so.  Many events such as the Olympics are, these days, run by professionals who bounce from one Games or World Cup or Championships to the next.  Because it has been recognised that these things happen far more efficiently when activated by a team which has experience.  But something is still going wrong, otherwise Rio wouldn’t be answering these questions and fighting off the cyber bullies.  And this is where co-operation comes in.  Because all Rio and other similar cities need is a chance; a bit of additional support.

Legacy is important to all events, and following several poor examples after recent Games, it’s something the IOC is very keen on.  It’s an important part of honouring the effort which goes into setting up an event: making sure that a long-term benefit is achieved, and that the event doesn’t just disappear once it has happened.  If venues are being built, they must have a sustainable use, and in order to continue being used, people will need to run them.  Cities which invest heavily in regeneration and infrastructure, building new facilities such as hotels in order to cope with the influx of people at Games-time will be left with these facilities once the cameras are packed away and the media and spectators swoop on to their next event.  Staff will need to run these facilities beyond the event in order to ensure best usage and profitability, but hotels don’t stay full and venues don’t remain used and kept up without fully-trained and responsible employees.  These things are an opportunity for any host city, and as such, they are also a risk.

The IOC and the media have the power to give, but they have the power to give problems and unwanted challenges as much as they are able to bestow the possibility for greatness.  Whether we are a human being learning to tie our shoelaces or feed ourselves using a knife and fork rather than our hands, or a city which is beginning to realise the opportunity to maximise inherent greatness, we are all beginners once.  None of us advance alone.  We can sit at our computers, tweeting about inevitable failures and wastes of money and ruined areas, or we can use the knowledge and expertise we have to help others.

Rio, like Delhi, South Africa and Sochi before it, does not need criticism.  It doesn’t need whispers behind backs discussing the laughable possibility of London taking the reins – incredible as 2012 was, it would be both the wrong decision and an impossibility at this stage for London to host in 2016 (since this post was written, Moscow has also been mentioned as a possibility).  Rio needs support, guidance and a bit of consideration for where the city has come from.  The IOC should not step into this situation with lead boots, parachuting in a team who will take the wheel and steer until the closing ceremony finishes, when they will then disappear again.  The experienced professionals should step forward, though.  Hold a few hands, share a few tried and tested methods, encourage development of new and better ideas, and train a city to stand up and support itself.  This will create possibilities and opportunities, rather than waste.  After all, peace, development and solidarity through sport are supposed to be what the Olympics are all about.

Coming soon

Without meaning to, I’ve already learned a lot this year.  My development as a horseperson continues apace, but I’ve discovered that the wider equestrian world is also changing.  Through engaging with other blogs and websites, and putting together a piece for a guest blog (more details on that hopefully in the near future), I’ve become aware of all sorts of goings on within equestrianism.

Para-dressage has been part of the Paralympic programme since 1996, but realistically it’s the tip of the iceberg.  As the FEI currently only governs two para sports (dressage and driving), it will be a long time before any additional para-equestrian sports could make a case for inclusion in the Paralympic programme, but the next steps are coming.

I was already aware that British Showjumping were taking steps to increase participation and awareness within Para-jumping, as well as running a programme for coaches to expand their skills and assist with the growth of this sport.  What I didn’t know was that competitions have taken place previously, but I stumbled across some great video footage.  What I saw had me cheering with excitement: below is a video of blind rider Karen Law competing with the help of a guide horse and rider.  I hadn’t expected to find anything to do with visually impaired riders, and I thought this was fantastic.

Another FEI sport which is developing as a para sport is reining.  I haven’t yet been able to find some video – though the USEF did respond fantastically quickly when I tweeted them to ask, even though the answer was no – but there are some great pictures here.  I also live in hope that reining and other anti-helmet disciplines will soon change their opinion on this issue, but I’d suggest nobody hold their breath!

Equestrianism, like many other sports, still has a long way to go in terms of being fully inclusive and diverse, but it’s also ahead of the curve in a lot of ways.  It’d be great to see the FEI push forward with para sports within the equestrian community – many exciting things could happen!

Although I have already seen Para-dressage within competition at London 2012, I really appreciated these photos which Wiola shared recently – the photographer has captured some beautiful shots and for me it’s definitely a series of photos which displays the relationship between horses and riders just as much as the fact that the athletes have disabilities.

Dressage has had some good and bad press recently: Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro continue to raise the bar, whilst Andreas Helgstrand has reportedly lost sponsors after photos taken at a demonstration appeared to show injuries to one of his horses caused by abuse of spurs and the bridle.  Most riders won’t go as far as abusing training aids or employing the use of methods such as rollkur, but most riders will insist that some degree of mouth contact is necessary in order for the horse to not work like a giraffe.

“Free riding” has become very trendy, and it’s not always employed in the best way, but my favourite example at the moment is this.

Commenters on YouTube have been quick to point out that the horse will most likely have been trained using a bridle, and that the rider probably doesn’t always ride like this, but it remains as an example of what can be achieved.  There is obviously a vast gap between bridle-less and rollkur, with much space in between for sensible and correct use of bridles – I’m not advocating that everyone burn their bridles and never put a bit in their horse’s mouth again, but I remain impressed by what other riders are willing to try.

If I can tear myself away from the source of fascination that is the internet any time soon, I might even be persuaded to see what I can do without a saddle…