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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Correction and a Clarification

Monica Theodorescu and The Whisper Game

Not only is her horse called Whisper, she has also become the victim of the Chinese whisper game (you know, the party game where a message gets passed around the room by people whispering in the ear of the person beside them until the message is all but lost by the time it returns to the original whisperer). In all the flurry of press releases and news items during and following last week’s momentous change in the FEI Dressage Committee, I committed a journalistic sin. I wrote something that had not come from an indisputably reliable source. The origin of the mistake was none other than a German magazine, so no one could blame language a barrier as the cause of the complete misapprehension. But somehow someone failed to correctly hear Monica saying that she was resigning from the IDRC, not returning to it. And just in case this is also wrong (you never know), if anyone out there knows otherwise, please post a comment here or send me an email so I can correct the correction.

The New and Improved Dominican Republic (DR)

Following my last blog, I received an email from Eduardo Muñiz, husband of Dominican rider Yvonne Losos de Muñiz (individual bronze medalist at the last two Pan Am Games). First of all I have to say I was rather proud to discover that my blog gets read by the likes of the Muñiz’s. Eduardo contacted me because of the situation that I mentioned with the DR losing its affiliation in the FEI. I am pleased to share this extra information here, and I hope that it will be seen as an open invitation to anyone out there who knows more than I do about a topic that I mention on this blog. Please, pretty please, just come straight at me with the relevant info so that I can put it out there.

It would seem that the terms ‘patronage’ and ‘cronyism’ are not the exclusive domain of the recently departed DC, but have been alive and well in the DR. Eduardo explained to me as follows: “the country per se was not and is not out of the FEI, we just got a brand-new federation. This comes as an answer from the FEI to an internal dispute orchestrated by a group of private riding club owners who have been for close to one year sabotaging attempts by our NF President to impose new statutes and a new, more modern and democratic structure, mandated by the IOC on all federations in our country.” The private club owners have been running a little fiefdom, which was observed by John Long, who was sent to DR by the FEI to check out the situation. So now the DR can go forward with its house-cleaning complete. “With this step, now there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Eduardo. Amen to that!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


If you have read any of my postings since I merrily joined the blogosphere, you know what team I’ve been cheering for in the FEI Exec versus FEI Dressage Committee duel. Needless to say (but I’m saying it anyway), hurray! Raise the flag! All is not lost! All is not won, either – but this is like the joke about what you call a thousand lawyers lying at the bottom of the ocean. A good start.

How It – and She – Went Down

If I were more economically well disposed, I would have bought a plane ticket to Buenos Aires without a moment’s hesitation. I love Argentina and its tango-dancing, steak-gobbling denizens, not to mention all that wonderful and ridiculously inexpensive wine. I may not have got into any of the sessions at the FEI General Assembly, but I would have at least got a glimpse of some faces as they exited the various meetings: on joining equine doping to WADA, a code of ethics for horse dealers (possibly an oxymoron, but let’s give it a shot), the Dominican Republic getting kicked out of the FEI (they don’t comply with IOC requirements), and one more thing that has slipped my mind…oh yeah, the Dressage Committee.

I received daily updates from the GA in BA, courtesy of Equine Canada’s CEO Akaash Maharaj, who was enjoying the thrills of his first FEI shindig. Akaash reported to me on Wednesday that the FEI Bureau had asked the Regional groups to give the Bureau the authority to decide on the DC matter. At some point, the talk had changed from the resignation of the entire DC to just that of the Chair. Mme Withages had been singled out (which is what I kind of thought should have been done in the first place). I don’t know what the final word was from the regional group chairs, but by the time the GA started on Friday morning, Mariette had already tendered her resignation.

Knowing that the equestrian world (and not a few journalists) would be anxiously awaiting news, the FEI put up a live webcast of the GA on their site. With great anticipation, I got up at 4:30 am and sat bleary-eyed and bushy tailed in front of my glowing screen. Would there be a shouting match? Would there be blood? In the event, it was a non-event. The video streaming didn’t work too well; FEI VP Alex McLin began his opening speech with “a brief announcement on the Dressage Committee”, and I nearly gave myself an aneurism when the live feed cut out just at that moment. It cut back in a few seconds later, but McLin had already moved onto laying out the agenda for the rest of the day – most of which was about such edge-of-your-seat stuff like how much money the FEI made by changing banks, and how they were working to make HQ greener.

My frustration at missing the announcement was thankfully short-lived. A press release arrived a few minutes later. Mariette Withages, Dominatrix of Dressage for the past seven years, had surrendered, thus ending the battle royal before it began. The rest of the committee swiftly followed: judges Mafioso Enzo (whom I watched with disbelief at the CDI in Blainville 2002 – he would observe the first part of a movement, such as an extended trot, tell the scribe a mark, and then crane his head like Linda Blair in The Exorcist and miss the rest of the movement, returning his reluctant gaze to the ring only when the horse had moved onto the next exercise), Dinosaur Dieter (embracing change is SO not this man’s modus operandi), the Japanese one; Spanish chef d’equipe and Mariette’s great friend Bobby (hell no, we won’t go) Bobadilla, and Monica Teodorescu, the athlete rep. I think there is a thinly veiled implication in Monica’s comment that she will return to the fold of the IDRC, which was 100% behind HRH from the get-go.

Just Ad Hoc

For the next year, Richard Davison, Robert Dover, Alain Francqueville and Frank Kemperman will face the gargantuan and potentially onerous task of putting the train back on the tracks. Among the many items to go under review is the vastly unpopular three-per-team Olympic format (see, I told you it sucked), and the “fitness for purpose of the method of judging for dressage.” Let me guess: they won’t be consulting too much with ol’ Dieter on that one. I think the sun could rise very brightly again if this group stays on task; asks lots of opinions of lots of people who know, care and depend on the future of dressage; and if the members leave as much of their egos at the door as it is possible to expect of strong, intelligent minds. The sport is full of cool and super-talented people: riders, trainers, chefs, show organizers, and yes, some whiz-bang judges. I can be skeptical, and even cynical. But right now I feel a thrill of optimism. To cheesily quote Obama: “Yes, we can.” One interesting note: the working group is entirely male….

The Dope on Doping

The German federation has appealed to the Court of Abritration for Sport (CAS) to double Christian Ahlmann’s penalties for the capsaicin bust at the Olympics, and is also reportedly ordering the rider to pay back the travel costs for the trip to Hong Kong. Well, they can’t be accused of behaving nationalistically in this case, that’s for sure. Capsaicin will from now on be treated as a doping substance, and not a banned medication, which was the reason the FEI Tribunal’s sanctions were so mild. But don’t worry, the jumpers are sure to find something else to make their horses keep jumping extra high. Cha-ching!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fireworks in the FEI! Drama in Dressage Land!

I know, I know, I have not delivered the promised blogs this week. But there was a little matter of the articles I had to deliver to magazines – and fun as the blog is to write, I do have to meet my deadlines. Today I will be brief, but I have had several emails asking where my opinions lie regarding the very public scorchings between FEI Executive and FEI Dressage Committee (or more specifically, HRH Princess Haya and Mariette Withages).

First of all, if you have no idea what I’m talking about or need to fill some gaps in your up-to-datedness, go to, where you can read both the letter requesting the DC’s immediate resignation and the DC’s subsequent response, as well as some interesting quotes from Mariette and FEI Exec David Holmes.

I must say that at this moment I am filled with Fear and Trembling. Not for myself this time, but for our sport. I am sure that this is going to go to a vote at the FEI General Assembly, and I am not at all sure that HRH is going to win the round. This week I was at the WBFSH (World breeding federation for sport horses) General Assembly; I must say they get along an awful lot better with each other and have more fun than some other groups I’ve been hanging out with recently. As the Big Battle was all I could think about, I asked several of the Europeans at the meetings what they thought. The man from Denmark: the request for resignation was a mistake; the man from Holland: mistake; the man from Germany (from the national federation no less): mistake. The vote will be made by each national federation at the FEI General Assembly that will take place in Buenos Aires in just ten days. The vote comes from each NF as a whole – in other words it won’t be the exclusive decision of dressage committees in each country, though I would hope they have the greatest input.

It looks to me like there could be an awful lot of support for the DC remaining in place. The main message I took from the people I asked this week was that they questioned the legality of such a move (HRH is a lawyer, is surrounded by people whose specialty is the rules, and I don’t believe she would make such an ill-informed move); they also questioned the democracy of the request for resignation, given that the FEI is supposed to be a democratic organization. I find that second concern rather ironic, since the reason the DC was asked to resign is because they weren’t acting democratically….what a clusterf*@k. I try not to swear on this blog but I just have to in this case.

Does the Mean Justify the End?

There are two issues hanging in the balance, and they are quite possibly in conflict with one another. On the one hand, if what the FEI Executive did is not appropriate, then there is arguable reason to vote against them. On the other hand, do we really want the status quo to continue? Come on! Who says ‘yes’? Who? (Feel free to weigh in and post comments on this blog, but pretty please sign with your name).

20,000 Posts

Since I’m on the topic of people putting their names to their words, I have to tell you I am seriously concerned for the health of one of my readers. I generally stay away from the anonymous whining and bickerfests that is the Chronicle Forum, but when several people told me I would be entertained with the thread about this blog, I couldn’t resist (though I’m not going back to that buffet for a while – my tummy is full). Who are these people with so much time on their hands? With emphasis on the WHO. Since I don’t know the sex of the forum’s most prolific poster, I will just have to go with the pronoun ‘it’ when talking about slc2. ‘It’ has apparently posted almost 20,000 times on the Chronicle Forum. The only person who has posted more is the moderator. So why am I concerned? I think that if ‘it’ keeps reading this blog, ‘it’ might have a nervous breakdown. Hie thee to a therapist, please! And for Cheez Whiz sake, if you don’t like what I write, stop reading it. By the way, I do appreciate how a bunch of you rallied around me in the face of the attacks. Forte, whoever you are, you made me blush. But not to worry folks, I love a good scrap, not to mention a good laugh. And I am constantly amazed at how people will read what they want, even when it differs to the words glowing on the screen.

Watch this space as the FEI Exec and DC draw their sabres in Argentina. If I can just meet a few more deadlines over the weekend I will tell you about the fun I had in Lyon (hint: if you are a single, straight woman, you should think of attending the WBFSH GA next year – 80% men!). I will close today with a quote from one of my favourite writers, Anthony Bourdain (whom you might know from the traveling food show No Reservations):

Absurdity is a regular and often terrifying feature in the life of many who stray off the beaten path. There is a reason that dictators and despots, early in their purges, have always executed writers and satirists and anyone with a sense of humour. Laughter – and particularly ridicule – is dangerous. Recognizing the absurdity of a situation is to recognize that it’s simply no good, that it doesn’t work, that something has to change.

Friday, October 31, 2008

October 31st – No Spooks Here!

It’s Halloween, but none of the fifty zillion kids in the Exhibition and Trade Fair (think Royal and Spruce combined, then quadrupled – and all under one roof) is dressed up in anything weirder than French fashion.

When I am in a foreign country I try really hard to speak the language. I would say that my French is good enough to get by, but I’m no Nicho Meredith, that’s for sure. Now, French people have a special quality that so far I find unique in all the cultures where I have tried out my language skills. When I ask a question in French, before I get an answer, I often get a correction to my grammar. Last night is a perfect case in point. I felt like a burger. It was on the menu (a fancy one: Limousin beef, shaved parmeson, potato pancake for a bun, and arugula on the side). So I asked for it in my best French accent: un hamburger si-vous-plait. I got a puzzled response. “un ammboorguerre” I said again. “It’s not a hamburger,” was the reply. “It’s a burger.” Anyway, it was a good burger. And she was right, after all. There was no ham in it.

Into the Bellies of the Beasts

So after all my shoulder-checking at the GDF, it has been here in France that I’ve got up close and personal with the judges. It started on Wednesday evening as I was driven by horse show shuttle from the airport to the hotel. There was another passenger in the vehicle with me, and it was only after a few minutes of friendly chat in the dark that I realized I was talking to the Hungarian judge from Hong Kong, Barnabas Mandi. It was a few more minutes before the penny dropped for him. We were discussing the judging, and I happened to mention that I recalled he had given Salinero an eight for a rather croup-high set of ones on centre line in the Speciale. Dr. Mandi is a real gentleman, and first he thanked me for finding his ‘only mistake’. He then told me in a very polite, almost friendly, tone of voice that what I was doing – meaning the blog – was a perfect way to destroy the sport. I (also politely) disagreed of course. Mr. Mandi was in fact quite fascinating to talk to, and while I am reluctant to write too much of what he said here, since it was an off-the-record conversation and betraying trust is not one of my sins, here are a few items we touched on that I am pretty sure he’s ok with me sharing:

  1. He pointed out to me that he gave the only zero that Satchmo received for his piaffe-passage transition at G, saying that the only way the movement could have been less performed than it was, is if Satchmo had left the ring. Actually he wasn’t the only one. J. M. Roudier gave zero too.

  2. He also pointed out Stickland’s analysis (this guy is really popular with the judges, I must say), which revealed that the judges didn’t differ by more than 5% in Hong Kong. I guess Stickland meant the final marks, because there is a hell of a lot of difference between a zero and a six. Mr. Mandi didn’t much like the word ‘solidarity’, which I offered as a descriptor of how the judges were in Hong Kong, but he was ok with ‘on the same page’.

  3. I was interested to know what Dr. Mandi does besides judging these days, and he said he was just on his way from working with some top jumping horses (in Holland or Belgium I think) whose flat work he trains. “I don’t train international dressage horses, of course,” he said, the implication being that doing so is a conflict of interest for an international judge. Hm.

I was quite pleased to have spoken to one of the Hong Kong judges, because it gave me an opportunity to say that I wasn’t trying to destroy the sport. And it wasn’t scary at all! It also made that judge more human to me, and I will never again be afraid to ask Dr. Mandi a question about his judging directly.

I guess you could say I’m getting Christmas early this year, because yesterday after the Grand Prix, Mariette Withages and Ghislain Fouarge (dammit! I keep putting an ‘s’ on his name) approached me after the press conference. Mariette told me she had read on my blog that I had questions for her at the GDF, and I replied that I did indeed. We then had a conversation about all kinds of things. A man sitting nearby later said it sounded like we were arguing but if he thought that was an argument, I’d hate for him to witness what my husband and I call arguments. No, Mariette was very polite and open to my questions, and she was unhesitant in her replies, which she knew were getting written down in my book. When I asked her why more riders don’t come to the GDF, she advised me to ask the riders (I’m on it!). She then said that “some people are thinking that they can rule the world,” and that there is “no mutual respect any more.” She also added that the judges aren’t afraid to be criticized, and that they know that in a subjective sport like dressage, “we are the weakest link.” Hm.

That’s just a taste of what we talked about, and rest assured it was not one sided. I said that my intent is not to just attack the judges, but that if no journalists were going be critical of them, that left the riders to do it, and they sure aren’t in a position to do that publicly without fear of retribution. I think the conversation ended on a civil note, at least outwardly it did.

Now Mr. Fouarge (no ‘s’!) stayed behind to have a word with me too. He too was incredibly polite, but now I know it’s really true. All the Olympic judges read my blog. Mr. Fouarge took issue with my calling him something that judges aren’t normally called, but there was some confusion because he had believed I was quoting Steffen Peters when I used the name. Out of newly gained respect for Mr. Fouarge and a desire that he will speak frankly to me again some time, I will not write that name again – but if you are really curious, go to my GPS judging analysis in the HOG blog. Now I need to email Steffen and explain that I did not quote him in reference to Fouarge in any way.

Setting the Record Straight

This is what I learned from Mr. Fouarge that I wish I knew in Hong Kong. The reason he rang the bell in Carex’s ear was because of a new policy adopted by the jury to give each rider exactly 60 seconds from the time he or she entered the stadium until the bell rang. Carex just happened to be in front of C at that moment, and while he says he waited a bit in hopes that he wouldn’t startle the horse, Mr. Fouarge was compelled not to treat one rider differently – he had to ring that bell at 60 seconds. What also happened to make matters worse is that something from the electronics under his table fell and made a small crashing sound. Why that wasn’t explained to the media during the press conference after Ken Braddick asked about the Swedish protest is beyond me. It would have made SUCH a difference. The other clarification: Mr. Fouarge never said that Debbie should be ashamed of herself for showing Brentina. He did make a critical comment on her test sheet, but not THAT critical. These Chinese Whisper games can get way out of hand.

To Mr. Fouarge I would like to say: I’m sorry I assumed you were an evil judge-monster in Hong Kong. You were extremely civilized in talking with me yesterday, and I am looking forward to future conversations that will prevent such a misinterpretation of events from happening again. No, people, I’m not sucking up. I know you would all stop reading the blog if you thought I was caving. But he really was open, listened to me with respect, and I will never hesitate from asking him questions in the future – even if they are hard ones. And my opinions are always open for revision. Always. That includes changing them back to what they were before if there is evidence that I was right in the first place. Hm.

Painted Brown

No big surprise – Anky won the Grand Prix yesterday, but not by much over Nathalie the Danish rider with the awful-to-spell last name. Anky apparently doesn’t ride Painted Black in prize givings ever since he so ungraciously bucked her off at a show last year. Instead, she did her victory lap and wave on the horse of the other Dutch rider in the dressage here – a very cute bay that reminds me a little of my own little Dutch dressage partner at home, my beloved Theo.

Today’s blog was really dedicated to the judges, but tomorrow I’ll share more about the delights of Equita-Lyon. And no more blogging about food, I promise.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Places, Same Faces – From GDF to La France

Well, here I am in Lyon for the next leg of my adventure: the CSI 5* and CDI 5*, followed by the WBFSH AGM. Well, I’m not really in Lyon and so far I don’t feel the France spirit (though my room service dinner was awfully good last night) unless I think about how a group of people sat in the row immediately in front of me in an almost empty stadium this morning. I’ve been put in Novotel, way out on the outer fringes (but necessarily near the competition). Those of you familiar with Novotel know that it does its very best to replicate the generic blandness of most North American hotel chains. But I’m not whining, honest. The bed is comfy and the hosts of this competition have picked up my hotel tab – which is pretty darned fine of them. Hell, the Royal won’t even give its media visitors parking passes.

What I do feel, however, is that either I’m following these people around…or I can be paranoid and self-obsessed and imagine that they are following me. The ground jury looks a lot like Hong Kong, and includes our old friend Herr Riexinger, as well as Ghislain Fouarges and Barnabas Mandi - with whom I had a lovely chat, and I do mean LOVELY, in the car on the way to the hotel last night (but more on that later). And of course, Mme. Withages was smilingly sitting at C for the Grand Prix this morning. And I don’t know how she did it, but Laura Bechtolsheimer, one of the few international riders to hang out at the GDF this year, managed to get from there on Tuesday to here and ride a lovely test this morning on a horse called Andretti H. I have lots of stuff about today, but I know you want to first hear about the rest of the GDF.

My Tolerance Cup Runneth Over

Ok, I have really had to give my head a firm shake. All this fear factor about the judges running after me with weapons had me almost cowed into not writing what I really think. Gary, I’m sorry I didn’t go up and re-introduce myself to you. I know you don’t like me very much, but I never wrote a nasty word about you in reference to the Brentina story. I didn’t see the test and I only blog about things I saw. FYI, there are only two things in my blog besides the odd photo: facts (objective) and my opinions (subjective). It’s not journalism, although I suspect the blog may be more widely read than any one of my magazine articles. So I’m just going to keep writing what I think and let the consequences be what they may.

The GDF this year indeed took a step back in the dialogue, but I’m afraid it can’t just be blamed on the judges. Joep Bartels told me at the end of last year’s GDF that the one group that was under-represented in the audience was the riders – and this year it was even worse. I’m not sure why they are so reluctant, but there is little doubt that part if it is due to not wanting to see themselves on enormous screens being minutely scrutinized – of course they are all on youtube, but that’s not the same. Yes, it’s a tough and possibly bitter pill, but without the most important participants that have the power of speech, it’s a bit like skipping rope with only one person holding one end of the rope.

But there sure were a LOT of judges around this year. I think most of them went to the presentation by the gymnastics guy, but they ALL seemed to be at the “How to Become an Olympic Judge” speech by Dieter Schule that probably discouraged more people than it encouraged. So here is how the judge-o-mania second morning went.

The gymnastics guy raised a pile of interesting points; they didn’t all say bad stuff about dressage, either. It was clear that some of the problems in figure skating and gymnastics have already been addressed in dressage – yes I really mean it. It was also clear that although the sports share many of the same issues, it’s still kind of apples and oranges. Yes, we can take a page from their book, but dressage is unique and just copying the judging system of those sports is not the answer. My question to the speaker was to ask him what motivated the changes to the other sports, and where the athletes fit into the picture. His answer came as no great surprise to me but I was glad he said it in front of so many people: he replied that those sports have technical committees to oversee and review and that they have balanced representation – including athletes and trainers, not just judges.

101 Reasons Not to Try Becoming an Olympic Judge

As I said, Mariette had an FEI date to keep and couldn’t stay for the second day (but she and I have already had a chat here in Lyon, which I will talk about later when it’s all sunk in) so Dieter Schule was therefore completely free to show us how little he is interested in change. Apart from a short but interesting bit from Wim Ernes about the Dutch dressage judging qualification system (yes, it’s progressive), Dr. Schule was the main event. And even though we had JUST learned a bunch of ideas from the gymnastics guy (he has a name but you won’t recognize it and it’s hard to spell), Dr. Schule could not bring himself to agree that many things needed to change in the system. In fact, every time he did mention proposals for change in that context, he immediately refuted them by saying why he thought that particular change is a bad idea. And when Jean Michel Roudier (one of the Olympic judges who never drew my attention with his marks) and Bernard Maurel (interesting, both French judges) made suggestions, Schule was steadfastly against them. Here are just two of the things that came up:

  1. Roudier brought up the issue with how riders get their FEI certificate of capability – the 64% from a single O judge on a panel. As he pointed out, putting all the eggs in a single judge’s basket goes very much against the gymnastic’s guy’s point about equalizing the judging by not letting one judge’s marks count for too much. In this case the O judge counts exclusively. Roudier’s proposal is that they take the panel average, as long as it includes an O judge. Dr. Schule basically betrayed that he doesn’t have faith in some of the I judges, by replying that a panel average may include scores from not-very-good judges, or candidate judges, or a judge from the rider’s own country. Dr. Schule’s answer? No change. Or maybe, if there are 2 or 3 O judges on the panel then use an average from them. That could mean an awfully hectic schedule for the world’s 25 or so O judges. And Schule himself said that judges shouldn’t just fly around from gig to gig, but that they need to stay involved in the sport on other levels, like as trainers (Which as Roudier also pointed out, raises another problem of conflict of interest, but enough already).

  2. Maurel raised the potential accusation of age discrimination with the current age limit of judges not being over 70 (I think that is the limit but not positive). Schule said that without an age limit there would be “no rotation, no new judges coming up.” Well, after the qualification process he had just outlined, a judge coming from the retired rider ranks (isn’t that where we want them coming from?) would be nearing that age by the time he or she qualified to be an O judge. The process is a very long one, and Dr. Schule didn’t sound like he wanted to see that changed, either.

One thing Dr. Schule said rather a lot that morning was how correct the judging was in Hong Kong. He also mentioned several times the name David Stickland. I had never heard of Mr. Stickland, but Claartje van Andel from Dressage Direct got up and explained to those of us in the dark that he is the husband of an American dressage rider, and that he (being some kind of astro-physicist or other amazing breed of mathematical genius) has developed a statistical model to analyze judging results. What he discovered was that of the past three Olympics, the judges at these Games were the closest to one another they’ve ever been. And according to Dr. Schule, and others, that equals good judging. He did point out, though, that statistics alone do not indicate good judging – using the full range of marks and making useful comments are not measured by Stickland’s stats, and should be taken into consideration. Agreed! So now I want to meet Mr. Stickland, who is apparently here in Lyon.

Yes We Love You Hubertus

The judging sessions left me a bit dry in the mouth, not because I was open mouthed with awe at the ground-breaking going on, but because I became slack jawed from the lack of stimulation. And I just knew there wouldn’t be a big blow out caused by Hubertus’ session, the grand finale of this year’s GDF. I’ll say it again: I love watching that man train a horse. And his Finnish working student (now there is a working student position to be truly envious of) rode her five year old horse with the same softness and harmony as her mentor. But all this desire to get the riders back to the table perhaps caused the praise to go a bit over the top. I think Hubertus was told he was fantastic so many times the word may have lost meaning for him. You know how if you say a word over and over and over it starts to sound like it’s not a word any more?

At the end there was just one thing that lingered in my mind that didn’t sit quite right. Hubertus rode a great big dark Grand Prix horse I’ve never seen called Franziskus. Everything was peachy to me….except the horse’s walk. I saw a lateral walk. But apparently I was the only one; and the journos have been painted so black at recent forums for being awful to riders who come and bare themselves to the world, that there was no way I was going to ask about it. Someone else did, but in a very, very careful way. It was Bernard Maurel (I think I might be getting to like him in spite of how grumpy he seemed in Blainville), and he said that being a judge he felt he always needed to find something….so why didn’t Hubertus work on the walk more in his demo? Hubertus answered that he couldn’t work on everything in such a short time (very true), and that the horse had a very big walk, adding that his collected walk is even better. Maybe I don’t know how to find the magic ‘V’ or to see a truly regular four beat walk. Yeah, it must be me.

Ok, so that’s it for today. Now I need a strong drink and to pull my thoughts together for tomorrow’s blog, which will be entirely dedicated to three judges who not only didn’t kill me today, but who actually told me some interesting, enlightening and relevant things. Things that make you go hm.

A demain!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

GDF DAY ONE: If It Ain’t Dutch, It Ain’t Much

Well, I was right – it was a bit bland on day one, but it wasn’t boring. Actually I was pleasantly surprised by the opener called Dutch Dressage. It was a great presentation, and just reconfirmed for me the belief that a country which allows voluntary euthanasia and the smoking of the cat-nip-like bud of a certain leafy green plant can do anything it sets its collective mind to, including breed fabulous horses and then ride them at world class standards. Someone has to give the Germans a run for their medals!

Actually the real opener of the event was a ‘hello here I am’ from the new FEI Director of Sport David Holmes, who reassured us all that things are going to shake up just a wee bit on his watch. Among other little gems, he told us that when you have only one ‘tenderer’ for the major championships (he means the FEI itself I think) “there is something wrong with your product.” You’re right David. This isn’t NASCAR and it sure isn’t Soccer. It’s a hard sell no matter how you slice it.

The Judges ‘Explain’

I knew I was in for disappointment as soon as I saw that what used to be called ‘analysis’ of the judging was called an ‘explanation’ this year. My good friend Gary said a lot of ‘we gave’ this and ‘we gave’ that – but we weren’t given judge by judge mark print-outs and the two judges from Hong Kong who helped Mariette ‘explain’ (Gary and Jean Michel Roudier) never bothered to say what THEY gave compared to the others. And of course we didn’t see video of Salinero or Satchmo; instead we watched Ravel and Balagur – two horses that probably no one would dispute did a crack up job in the GPS in Hong Kong. I have since learned that this is not to be blamed on the judges. Turns out the riders have started getting pretty uppity about all this video analysis at the last couple of GDFs. No one looks perfect on a giant screen, and Joep Bartels told me he has decided that in order not to alienate the riders – surely the most important participants in the sport – he made a conscious decision to back off a little on the judging autopsies. So, yes, I’m disappointed, but I can certainly see his point.

What WAS cool in the judging thingy was that Heike Kemmer was here and gave a blow by blow of her Grand Prix Speciale – she hadn’t been warned that she was going to be asked to do so, which made her honest and humorous sharing of the ride so much more special. Thanks Heike! You rock!

What Happens When you do Haute Ecole on a full stomach?

I knew the evening entertainment would be delayed when I noticed that 10 minutes before dinner was supposed to end the men in the pill box hats were just getting their food. Then I wondered, my goodness! What happens if you do airs above the ground right after eating? Turns out I needn’t have worried since they only worked the horses in hand anyway.

And Speaking of Dinner

Ok, here is one reason I love this line of work. I needed to catch up on some emails, so while everyone else filled their dressagey little tummies with tucker, I grabbed a glass of wine (of course), and went back into the arena to work at my little journalist seat. While I worked, Hubertus Schmidt and his working student came in with their horses and schooled them in preparation for his Day Two presentation. La la la, I’m so cool. I get free entertainment from a dressage icon - nah nah nah nah nah nah.

I Didn’t Cry!

I did yawn a couple of times though. I realize now it was unreasonable to expect the entire Cadre Noir to pack up their horses and hats to do a full-on performance for a few hundred people, but I have to also admit I was a bit let down. The program said ‘clinic and performance’ and that magic word ‘performance’ had me dreaming of a big gang of French men and horses – instead of the three bay geldings and their uniformed rider-handlers. Don’t get me wrong; it WAS interesting, especially when the cute little munchkin (chosen in part I’m sure because of his excellent English – he said he’s half-Canadian) gave a nicely condensed history of the Cadre Noir and French riding history. And it WAS impressive when the three men and their well-fed horses demonstrated the Croupade, Courbette and Cabriole in hand. It just wasn’t Cavalia, you know? A couple of funny things about the Cadre’s video presentation: I don’t know who thought classic rock music would go well with centuries old classical horsemanship. How about a little Ravel or Bizet? There was some rather silly video footage of a rider on a ‘simulator’ horse, jumping pretend jumps on a video screen. It was like they took Wi and crossed it with the mechanical horse I used to ride for a quarter in the hardware store.

One thing that nauseated me slightly was the unanimous apparent admiration by the crowd, who clapped like kiddies at the marionette show every time a horse jumped up. I’m not cynical about the French school and its unique tradition. What I am is a teeny weeny bit skeptical that in this room full of 300+ dressage experts there weren’t any eyes rolling. Clappity clappity clap. The day sure ended on a polite note.

Exit Stage Left

So Mariette had to clear off to some appointment with the FEI tomorrow, which means she will miss the gymnastics guy talking about how to improve our judging system – she will also not be the presenter for “How to become an Olympic judge”, leaving Dieter Schule alone at the helm of a room full of ambitious judges and a few curious journalists. I’m not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that she wasn’t here…let’s see how tomorrow rolls out first.

Monday, October 27, 2008

It’s GDF Time!

Hi-di-ho from Holland, the land of three-kiss greetings, the colour orange and a language that sounds like scrambled English with a lot of throat clearing. If you are reading this, you probably know what GDF stands for – but just to make sure you know what you are getting into before reading on, I am writing from the eighth annual Global Dressage Forum, to which I have the great honour once again of having been invited as a journalist. My joy is slightly tempered by fear and trembling – I’ve been warned that I’m not the most popular writer on the block with some of the judges here. By this time tomorrow I should know if the target has been painted on my front or my back...

The program at first blush looks a little bland compared to the previous two forums: last year we had the Coby-tron and in 2006 there was the Sjef and Anky show, which ended on a rather stormy note. This year the forum will wrap up with a presentation from Hubertus Schmidt, a man whose horsemanship I can watch all day (so no complaints that he’s back again), but who is unlikely to provoke controversy – unless someone objected to his face paint in Hong Kong. However, we have plenty of judges on the menu this year, and after Hong Kong’s adventures in dressage judging, that is hardly surprising.
A few curiosities about the presentations on judging for your consideration:

1. Olympic judging – at the past two forums there were ‘analyses’ of the judging at WEG and the European Championships. This time, Mariette will lead us in an ‘explanation’ of the Olympics. That’s an interesting and meaningful change of vocab, don’t you think? An explanation tends to preclude discussion, and discussion was what made these sessions so awesome in the past. Also awesome of course was that last year’s judging analysis had Stephen Clarke at the podium and he is very good at making people feel that they can be honest when they both ask questions and answer them. Sadly for me and folks at the forum, (but happily for some of my friends back home) Stephen was busy giving a judging clinic in BC last week.

2. How to Solve Judging problems – now this is going to be good! A judging expert from gymnastics is going to share with us the changes that were made following a very controversial result in Athens in the gymnastics. I have SO MANY QUESTIONS. It’s a bit unfortunate that the format this year includes some work shopping, which means I have to choose this one over Hilary Clayton’s presentation on core fitness for horses. I would happily listen to Dr. Clayton on any topic for hours – but I just can’t miss that judging session!

3. How to Become An Olympic Judge - presented by Mme. Withages and Dieter Schule – huh? What’s this now? It sneaked onto the program with nary an announcement or preview in press releases just a few days ago, although I guess the title is pretty self-explanatory. Needless to say, I won’t be missing that session either. I can hardly wait to hear what hot tips will be shared at this most practical of sessions. Questions? Yes, I have many. If I’m not dead yet.

I hope I’ve got all you poor sods who stayed home all worked up now. Tune in tomorrow to find out how the ‘explanation’ of the Olympics went, as well as find out if I cry two years in a row – this time because of the Cadre Noir’s evening performance tonight.

And one little P.S. for those of you who are still annoyed that I never sent a final HOG blog. It’s Kyra who chews gum.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blame (Air) Canada

Here I am back home, feeling not only exhausted by my extra flying time (see story below) but also kind of like I never properly said goodbye to Hong Kong and the Olympics. Thanks to the misleading advice of an evil little man, Jenn Ward and I ended up in a mad dash to the airport the night before we were supposed to leave. I was yanked out of my peaceful nest at the university guesthouse; I didn’t even have time to check out, and you should see what the contents of my luggage looked like. I grabbed clothes, books and way too much paper from the competition (that I’m sure I will never need), and zipped it all willy-nilly into the bag. I don’t believe in ironing, but most of my stuff is too wrinkly even for me to wear without shame. I had these great plans to send off a final pre-departure blog, then make my way back to the venue one last time. I would sit in the empty press tribune and close my second Olympic experience with a quiet moment looking out at the stadium where I spent two incredible weeks. Instead, I spent my final hours in Hong Kong wandering the halls of the airport, waiting for the 5 am boarding call for my ‘long way round’ flight home.

A Week and a World Away

I find it hard to believe it’s just seven days since we all screamed ourselves hoarse for Eric and Hickstead as they took a final victory lap in the Olympic stadium. I know some of you are curious to hear what I think of the show jumping medals, so here you go. I have nothing but pride and admiration for the team, and for Eric in particular. I still find Ian somewhat media-phobic (though I am grateful to him for giving me a one-on-one while we rode the bus to a reception at the Canadian Consulate), but I have developed a new opinion about Eric’s occasional reluctance to give interviews. I can’t blame him for being reporter-shy, given the feeding frenzy I witnessed last week over his drug-shadowed past. I sent my gold medal story into the newspaper chain, and the editors not only traded in my “Storming to Victory” title (thanks Jenn) for a drug reference headline, they also added an opening paragraph which gave all the gory details that I had made a point of leaving out, since they had nothing to do with his winning the medal.
I agree with Eric when he says “the past is the past.” His problem was not motivated by cheating, it didn’t involve anyone’s welfare – human or equine – but his own, and darn it, it’s over. I know bad news sells stories, but Eric and Hickstead have earned their place in the history books. I for one don’t want to hear anything but joy for his shining gold medal, the first EVER individual gold for an Olympic equestrian.

Doping for Dummies

On the other hand, there are some nasty drug tales from Hong Kong that I think do need to be talked about. It just wouldn’t be the Olympics without a little doping scandal, would it? The show jumping bust this time hinges on the same drug, which is named for the chili pepper base that gives it hyper-sensitizing properties: Capsaicin. All was explained in the incredibly packed-with-bodies press conference the FEI held to break the bad news on the day of the individual jumping final. Of the 15 horses tested, 4 were positive – which leads to the question of what that number would have been if they had tested all 70+ horses. Capsaicin has a very short half-life in the horse’s bloodstream, and before now was believed to escape detection. But come on people! You knew you were going to be tested by the most stringent lab in the horse world, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s lab. It can’t be proven that the topical cream was put on the horses’ legs to make them not want to hit fences, but that’s where I’d put my money. Those crazy whale-killing Norwegians will now have to give up their historic bronze medal to another non-EU nation that prefers nibbling Toblerone over blubber: Switzerland.

The uncontested Booby Prize winner for bad handling of the doping scandal is Irish party animal Denis Lynch, who held his own press conference a couple of hours after the FEI was done. The despondent Denis didn’t talk much, but his vet sure did; he even brought a show-and-tell item: the guilty cream itself. The topper was when the vet went so far as to point out the label of the container, which said “contains Capsaicin. Will not test.” Hey Denis! How about those Sea Monkeys? You believe what it says on their label too?

Sad Courtney

How ironic that the Cat Stevens song on which Courtney King-Dye based her freestyle is filled with messages of pain and sadness. I also find it ironic that the USEF’s official statement on Mythilus’ positive drug test supports the suggestion by the rider and the team vet Rick Mitchell that they suspect the horse was exposed to the banned topical (yes, more cream) anti-inflammatory called Felbinac while he was being treated at the Hong Kong Jockey Club clinic. Ok, so let me get this straight: the Hong Kong Jockey Club drug testing lab found a banned substance that the horse was exposed to while in the care of the Hong Kong Jockey Club vet clinic? I’m in no position to question Courtney’s innocence – that is the FEI’s job – but I think I might have come up with a different scapegoat than a branch of the same institution that was responsible for detecting the drug.

News Flash: Air Canada Reconfirms Status As Worst Airline, Ever

Why on earth would I exchange an 11 hour nonstop flight for a 21 hour backtracking marathon? Because when last Friday’s typhoon grounded 400 flights in and out of Hong Kong, Canada’s proud national airline decided the best way to catch up would be to cancel their Vancouver flight two days later. If I had been booked on any other day, including typhoon day itself, I would have been taken care of, if a bit delayed. I am not alone of course; a whole bunch of other Canadians were expecting to sleep in their own beds on Sunday night too – most of whom faced extended stays in Hong Kong.
So, you wanna know how those maestros of customer service at AC (Air Crap) handled things? First of all, they didn’t bother notifying the 250 or so passengers that there was no plane waiting for them at the expected hour – or ever. I found out only because after successfully checking myself in online 24 hours before, and then attempting to do the same for Jenn Ward – so that I could enjoy a few more hours with my barfy-pants buddy – I wasn’t able to check her in. Hong Kong’s AC office was closed for the weekend (of course, why would they expect to get phone calls the day after a typhoon?) so I called Canada. “The reason you can’t check in is because the flight has just been cancelled,” said the loving, sympathetic agent. She then cooed soothingly: “I can’t rebook you until September 4th. I had a fit. She put me on perma-hold. I gave up and called again. Perma-hold again. This time the phone system killed my hopes and disconnected me. One more call. I was finally told we could fly home one day later via Shanghai. Oh Goodie.

This third, helpful agent told me the best way to make sure I got that re-booking was to go to the airport and change my ticket in person. I went immediately. When I arrived a little man in a suit sidled up to the counter where I was beginning my transaction, and asked if I wanted to go home on the nonstop YVR flight leaving that night, in 5 hours. He said there was a ‘very good possibility’ to make that flight. I put Jenn’s and my names on the standby list, and spent the next three hours doing a Hong Kong version of Trains, Planes and Automobiles. All to get back to the airport in time, be told to wait half an hour, and then – with some prodding of the check-in agents, who were doing their best to ignore us (and who are not AC employees but contractors that handle a long list of airlines) – find out that in fact every passenger had turned up and not one standby would get on. Another fit, but this time there were two of us, and we weren’t moving from that check in counter. After much rude and aggressive behaviour that I am not proud of, the gate agents caved and offered us seats on the 6 am flight to Toronto.

We spent a lovely night in the airport, kept company by a snoring sea of bodies. Is AC really the worst airline? I guess not, because they haven’t actually killed me; though they have made a commendable effort to do so with their food. As I flew back and forth over Canada, I saw an ad during the in-flight entertainment that boasted how proud AC is to fly Canada’s athletes to the Olympics. I guess they just meant one way.

I do still have a few more things to share, secrets such as which dressage rider chews gum in all her tests, who is the most eloquent speaker in Equine Canada, who is the victim of the Canadian Consulate’s undiplomatic moment, and details of Mariette’s 1:30 am tête-à-tête that caused such a scandal – and a talking-to from FEI 2nd Veep Chris Hodson. Tune in one more time for a final wrap up installment of the Hog Blog.

How did they get themselves from the dressage to the airport
without waking up?

Hello Kitty's Hong Kong cousin, Bye Bye Pony

Last chance to catch Olympic spirit through spending

Saturday, August 23, 2008

No Apologies, No Retractions

It has come to my attention that some people with an awful lot of time on their hands have been making disparaging remarks about my blog on at least one chat site (Chronicle Forums). What I have written in this blog and in the media (yes, I'm an accredited Olympic journalist; and just to set the record straight I am a freestyle designer, not a freestyle 'seller') is nothing more or less than my honest opinion, which I freely express as per the general 21st century belief that freedom of expression is an inalienable right. I don't expect everyone to agree with me. If I wanted that I wouldn't write what I write. If there is no dissent, there is no discussion. If there is no discussion, we can just forget about change.

To all you whiny little frown-faces who have preferred scandalized whisperings among yourselves to publicly sharing your thoughts, I invite you to click on the 'comment' option on my blog so that everyone can read what you have to say. And while you're at it, grab yourselves some balls and sign with your real names.

'The people who come and tell me how wonderful it was, I try to say thank you. But the people that tell me something was really wrong, I listen to.' (Joep Bartels, creator of the World Cup Dressage Final and organizer of the Global Dressage Forum)

NOTE: I have actually received a lot of positive feedback and helpful information from people who did not sign their names in comments – if you are one of them, please disregard the paragraph above. It is not meant for you.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Canada Shares Your Joy, Eric

I am dead tired from all the extra writing the show jumping medals have brought my way, but just a quickie to let you know I am not finished blogging yet. I will have something up by Saturday with all the bits I have not managed to put into previous blogs.

And that's just the silver medal! Jenn Ward sports Eric's medal
at the all night celebrations after team silver

Eric announced that Hickstead's breeding career will begin this fall
- so far he looks ready for his new job

And the crowd went wild! Never knew there were so many
Canucks in the stands until this week

What's bigger news? Medal or typhoon?
Just glad I have some beer in the fridge.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Okay All You Dressage Fiends, Here Is My Freestyle Blog

Anky, then Heike, then Steffen….Anky, then Steffen, then Heike…

Kerri McGregor has expressed in her blog the same sentiments that are rampant right now, both here and in cyberspace: that the chips didn’t fall quite where they should have in the individual competition. (Same ‘ol same ‘ol. If anyone is surprised, wake up!) Kerri suggests that perhaps if the sport were to adopt a policy of dropping the high and low scores for each competitor it would equalize things. It sounds like a sweet solution, and it’s been suggested by others already.

I’m afraid the problem is more complex than that. I’ve done it before, but just to be sure my conclusions are still correct, I just did a little analysis of the top five overall horses (both Speciale and FS) to see what difference it would make to the final results if we didn’t count the highest and lowest scores. Diddly squat. That’s what. It would have moved Steffen a bit closer to Heike, so that his fourth place would become agonizing instead of just disappointing. Other than that, the differences are really negligible. For every high score there is a low one, and they pretty much cancel each other out.

If what we suspect is true, if international judging is as sick as it seems, it isn’t just a couple of bad eggs that need to be thrown out. Something fundamental would need to be purged from the collective judging conscience. I still think the judges become giggling school girls when the sport’s two biggest stars head down centre line, but that’s not Anky’s or Isabell’s fault. They are just doing their best like everyone else. When I head to the Global Forum in October, I am going to make a serious effort to figure out what the hell it is that has to happen for this sport to improve its legitimacy. I suspect it’s honesty (come ON, just admit you are human and we can take it from there) and accountability, but please keep my comment a secret. I don’t want Mariette to get wind of it. I want it to be a surprise.

Ho Hum

Other than a couple of superb performances, I was let down last night. Maybe I’m becoming desensitized to freestyles like soldiers in war get desensitized to death. No, I don’t really believe that. I did still get goose bumps, just not enough of them. I was too nervous for Ashley and Berna to feel anything else during their rides. Ashley recovered brilliantly after the little mess at the start. For some reason – maybe it was because of that stupid 60 second thing they decided to do (they gave every rider exactly 60 seconds from the time they entered the stadium until the bell was rung – it’s the excuse I’ve heard for what happened to Solos Carex) – jury prez Riexinger would stand up and lean toward the bell, usually ringing it right when Brian decided he needed to announce something. Several riders didn’t hear it – or they looked at him, saw him standing and assumed they hadn’t heard it, even though he still hadn’t rung it.

There were a number of confusing moments for riders last night, but Ashley was the only one who went through the stress of hearing her music playing but not being able to enter because the well-trained and obedient gate girls hadn’t heard the bell. Another issue was that nearly everyone got ahead of their music, and of course I noticed it more with my clients than anyone else. No Berna, don’t walk during your trot music! Ashley, just hang on one more stride to start the ones! Aw crap! All that waiting screwed up Poppy’s brain and he had a mistake. Watching my clients at the Olympics sounds like fun, but it gave me palpitations.

So, highlights? For me number one was Hans Peter. I thought Nadine’s flower child music suited her to double goosebump standard, and HP really rode to his music. I loved the way he used “for every season, turn, turn, turn” for the pirouettes. Cool! Great arrangements and editing. Five stars.

Four stars to Steffen, and I think five is in the near future, maybe at Vegas next spring. He had very difficult choreography (in spite of what Riexinger said in his failed efforts to justify how Isabell could have beaten him), and to see such a talented but green horse try so hard for his rider was one of the more inspiring moments of the night. I thought I was going to hate his music when I read what a mish mash it was: Vangelis, Rolling Stones and Men Without Hats? How can that sound like it comes from the same radio station? But it was all arranged (hats off, Terry Gallo) and played by the same group of musicians in Memphis; so even though we jumped from new age to bad-boy rock to androgynous eighties, it worked. It really suited the horse too.

I’m digging deep to find a third favourite here. Bonaparte was a Very Good Boy for Heike, but her surfer medley leaves me tepid. Pink piaffe machine Balagur looked tired to his tired old Broadway hits. I find Isabell’s music puzzling because it really never has a beat that does a thing for Satchmo’s gaits, and I hate that she caved to the judges when they told her that her March With Me was too risky with the vocals – these days just about everyone has vocals creeping in somewhere. I don’t envy Anky’s job with her music. The transitions for movements like the tempi changes are so subtle as to be almost nonexistent. I admire the heck out of Wibi the wunder-composer, but there is some magic missing from that one for me.


My very least favourite freestyles were a couple of the early Scandinavians. Elevator and ice cream truck are descriptors that come to mind when I think of their syntho-pop programs. I recognized some of the songs but I failed to place them because they sounded so unlike the originals. Not that it’s a bad thing to have a cool and different arrangement of a familiar song, but it shouldn’t sound like it was done on a computer using the keyboard for piano keys. A word of advice for those whose scores actually dipped below what they got in the Speciale – don’t put things in your choreography that diminish the quality of your performance. No one likes dressage to look labored or impossible. Well, except maybe for five ‘O’judges who gave Satchmo two sevens, two eights and a six point five for harmony.

Tune in Tomorrow

I have to go now and try to make Capri pants look fancy for my dinner with writer buddies at Aqua. I have a long list of goodies that I didn’t get into today’s installment: more dressage, more jumpers, more photos, a new victim and yes – more Mariette. Hang on Bob, my high-five to the organizers for putting on the best horse show EVER is coming tomorrow too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Individual Judge Marks are There!

Hi everyone. Please fret no longer - the individual judge marks are there - just click on the (+) beside the rider's name and the marks for him or her will expand. And I know you are all dying to see the marks from the freestyle tonight. They are at:

Pay extra close attention to Isabell's marks and Steffen's. I'll be saying lots about that and more judging shenanigans tomorrow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Our Medal Drought Is Over!

OK, I am totally over-stimulated. Last night our media-phobic show jumpers won the first medal in that discipline since Elder, Day and Gayford took gold in Mexico City, 1968. I wrote my very first newspaper article as a result ( and today I have to persuade Ian to talk to me so I can put some quotes into the profile that I’ve been asked to write for Wednesday’s paper. I should get a chance to corner him on the bus on the way to the Canadian Consulate Reception to which I’ve been invited this afternoon. I will leave the reception by six pm so that I’m sure not to miss Ashley ride her freestyle, followed shortly afterward by Berna.

I have to keep detailed notes on the action tonight so that I can post a story tomorrow on as well as give my increasingly insatiable blog audience some new delights about the judging (that bitting article for the October issue is coming Amy, I promise!). And finally, I am being flooded with high-five messages from all kinds of readers – judges, trainers, editors, friends and complete strangers (yes I’ll be your new BFF!), who have made writing this blog one of the most exciting things I’ve ever put my name to. If it all gets any more fun I might suffer the same fate as the people who die in that Monty Python sketch about the world’s funniest joke.

But no joke – seriously everyone, thanks for emailing and posting comments on the blog. One helpful person has pointed out that the judges’ individual marks are indeed available on the website. I tried to find it by going to the site and following links, but the brain of whoever created the Olympic website doesn’t work the way mine does, so I gave up and used my old friend Google. Here is the link to the (very special) Speciale marks:

And while I’m sending you to virtual places, here are a couple more links. My profile of Ashley should be up on as soon as a certain photographer gets around to sending photos to accompany it, but in the meantime you can read about my favourite youngster of the Games, Dutch eventer Tim Lips. Cute as a button but make no mistake.
He is SERIOUS about his sport.

While I was erroneously looking for an article written by a Daily Telegraph writer on the Guardian’s website, I stumbled across this page with photos of athletes caught in strange and compromising positions – some of them are pretty awesome.
Number 22 is from the cross country course.

I hate to admit that I wished someone would make a mistake, and I hate even more to come to terms with the fact that I really did feel that way. But while I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for just one more rider to score below Ashley so that she would be fifteenth and not sixteenth and out of the freestyle (it was Nadine Capellmann who finally came through), I must confess I did kind of stare at the horses’ legs, hoping they would land out of order in the tempi changes…and last night in the show jumping, how could I not hope that Laura Kraut would take just one little rail so that Canada could win gold? How does a person who professes to be a good sport and a fan of excellence above and beyond personal biases reconcile those natural human urges? Feel free to post advice in a comment to this blog.

Actually, it was so amazing that Canada won a medal at all with a three-rider team last night, that I must admit my feelings of elation far exceeded the small disappointment that the colour of the medal was silver. And the Americans earned it, after all. McLain and his big thighs on the homely but honourable Sapphire; Laura and the shooting star whose name I just love, nine year old Cedric; Will Simpson living a moment he will never forget in his first Olympics; and Beezie, who might describe winning Olympic gold as ‘nice’ because she is so outwardly lacking in personality.

I don’t need to talk about Jill’s Darkest Hour any more, because she had such a bright hour last night. She did admit that her bad round of the day before invaded her dreams and every waking moment until her redemption. But as she said to someone, she put the ‘Special’ back in Special Ed.

Four means death – that clever, clever Jenn Ward made the connection with the unlucky fences on course over the past two nights. In the first round of team jumping, the water at number 4 caused so many problems that Leopoldo was pretty roundly chewed out by riders for making a poor choice in his course design. In the second round it was number four again that caused grief: a dragon plank vertical with inverted cups. When I pointed out the coincidence to Jenn, she coolly remarked that four is the unluckiest number in Chinese culture because it sounds like the word for death. Leopoldo, you crafty devil.

It was, however, round three and not four that spelled the end of Patrick Lam’s Olympic moment. He became like a gauge that measured the increasing difficulty and size of the courses: clear on day one, a couple of rails on day two, and pick-up-sticks on day three. But he did wake up the crowds, and they seem to be staying both until the end of the night and more-or-less awake.

Weather or Not

The reason I haven’t been writing about the weather is because I’m thankfully not short of more interesting material and because there is nothing to report. I stopped looking at the forecast days ago – in spite of all the hoop-la, it isn’t any more reliable than the weather forecast for Vancouver, and it doesn’t affect what I wear anyway. Either I’ll be hot and sweaty or hot and wet with a mixture of rain and sweat. The humidity has dipped to a positively desert-like 60% after the first days of 98%, but riders are still commenting that their horses tire more easily than they would normally.

Pachelbel Keeps Going, and Going, and Going

Thank goodness the dressage riders are supplying the soundtrack for the competition tonight. Ali Buchanan has been listening to Mariette’s musical highlights for far longer than I have – he says that they were playing constantly on the sound system for the entire week of training before the competition started. “It just goes on, and on, and on, and on,” he said with a mixture of resignation and desperation.

Protest? What Protest?

Due to popular demand, I will continue telling Mariette stories for as long as she supplies them, which she has obligingly done pretty constantly so far. Amazing how front line she is, considering she’s just the TD. Not one jury member has been to a press conference yet. So, you know that game where someone whispers something into the ear of the person next to them, and then that person turns to the next person and so on and by the end what the last person heard only faintly resembles what the first person said? Just so with the protest-that-never-was from the Swedish dressage team. Now, I SAW something happen. I SAW Solos Carex spook badly when the bell was rung right in his ear as Tinne rode past the C judging pagoda. I also SAW him break into a canter as she tracked right at C, and I SAW the substandard first part of her test. The grapevine story was that Fouarges knocked his chair over when he went to sit down after standing to receive Tinne’s salute. I don’t know about that, because I didn’t SEE it.

When someone in the press conference after team medals asked Mariette about the protest, she smiled that benign smile of hers and replied that there was no protest. The questioner didn’t let her off the hook so easily, and asked her to explain what the protest would have been about. Mariette then gave some story about ‘one of the Swedish riders’ being distracted by a cable that was hanging out of the judge’s booth (huh?) and that she felt it compromised concentration (her own, not the horse’s). The main concern was getting into the Speciale though, so when she made the cut, the protest about the cable was dropped. So was Mariette at the end of the whisper line or were we?

More Boring Dressage Analysis

Some of you may want to skip tomorrow’s blog, though I know there are an awful lot of you out there who will tune in. I will do my very best not to disappoint, that is if I don’t die first from accidentally eating one of the packets of desiccant they put right in with packaged food here. Or from having too much fun.

Full moon causes judges to go squirrelly

Sweatin' yet, Ian?

We aren't dancing until the stands are full!

Healthy diet goes to hell in Hong Kong - I bought them, but I haven't been eating them.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Moon is Full and the Judges are Howling

(Warning: this blog contains material that may be boring to people who don’t have a keen interest in judging gaffes)

You know, I really thought that the right teams won the right medals the other night, and I was almost lulled into thinking that the judges were only a teeny bit in extra love or extra hate with a few horses. But things went sideways in the Grand Prix Speciale. I could swear they all lose their marbles when Anky or Isabell come in the ring. Here is what I saw, and here is what the judges seem to have seen:

Anky in the Grand Prix – she rode a fairly careful test (she said Salinero was very hot and excitable, so she was conservative), but it was clean, and the passage and piaffe to me looked more like the way they should, not so much ‘cat on a hot tin roof’ as they can be. Score of 74.750%.

Anky in the Grand Prix Speciale – according to Anky afterwards, Salinero has shown himself to be a horse that isn’t affected by heat or humidity, and he was every bit as edgy as in the team test. But this time she was going for individual glory, so there was nothing to do but give ‘er. The price she paid was that he broke into canter in the half pass left, got a very high croup (really almost a little buck) at the start of the ones on centre line, and I could have sworn I saw a mistake in the twos. In all the extended trots Salinero was visibly shorter on the left hind – something I didn’t really notice in the GP. So how did her score creep up to 74.96%, above the first test? She received four fours and a three for the half pass; three sevens and two eights for the ones on centre line (one of the eights coming from B – I’m sorry Mr. Mandi (HUN) but that bouncing bum was really obvious from the side); three sevens and two sixes for the twos, which I guess could be interpreted as the judges saying ‘there was a mistake but it was just a little one’. A little mistake that might get a bit more of a frown if it had been another horse. It’s not that I think Anky shouldn’t have been one of the top two – I just don’t see how that test could score as well as the Grand Prix, never mind surpass it.

Isabell in the GP – she did a really great test I think, other than one enthusiastic kick out in the first piaffe. It was a BIG kick, but the judges forgave their favourite little Satchmo, giving him three sixes and two fives. That’s pretty kind of them. 76.417% and a well deserved win, even though he should have been penalized more for that kick (three sevens and two eights for submission).

Isabell in the Speciale – It wasn’t just the judges that went sideways last night. Satchmo did too, right after going up, and right before going backwards – almost to the fence at C. It happened when he was asked for the piaffe at G. Isabell was calling it a spook and saying she didn’t know what caused it, but that weren’t no spook, Isabell. That was Satchmo giving you the finger. So how did the judges react? For the piaffe, three ones and two twos. And for the transitions in and out? Two zeroes (she wisely decided to keep moving forward once she got him actually going again), two twos…and what did Olympic judging virgin Gary Rockwell give her? I dare you to guess, because you can’t. A SIX! Gary, for heaven’s sake! You’ve been the generous judge for the most part at this competition, and bless you for that. But giving a six for something that wasn’t executed (‘transitions from collected walk to piaffe and from piaffe to passage)? That is just wacked. Satchmo also got an across-the-board six for submission in the collectives. Six is awfully kind, isn’t it? Six means ‘not great, but not bad’. I’d like to know how many of those judges would be willing to ride him after witnessing that little stunt.

I don’t know how I feel about Isabell getting 75.2% and the win, given that Anky had some mistakes of her own, though nothing nearly so insubordinate. On the other hand, Satchmo was really brilliant in every other respect, so maybe the win was right. Oh, I don’t don’t know! It’s fun to make fun of the judges, but they do have a tough row to hoe.

If you are wondering how on earth I am getting my hands on the individual marks by the way, they are available on the internal Olympic network. Not on the internet, mind you – so the transparency is limited to those few journalists who care enough about the minutiae of the sport (that would be me) to obtain and analyze them.

More things that make you go Hmmm

So who wins the prize for greatest disparity? I think it’s fair to say that Gotthilf Reixinger (GER) doesn’t like Courtney and Mythilus, and Gary Rockwell (USA) does. Gary had her third in the Speciale on 72.8% (that IS generous Gary), and Reixinger put her out of the freestyle, 18th on 67.4%. Emma Hindle wins second prize: Reixinger put her 12th, Furuoka (JPN) would have liked her to be fourth, well ahead of Ravel.

Speaking of Ravel, Steffen said after the Speciale that he would like to “dedicate this ride to Debbie”. Gag me. I felt so sorry for Debbie after the Grand Prix test that I couldn’t bring myself to go to the mixed zone to hear her comments, much less ask her any questions. I only saw the last bit of her test, but what I did see was truly bizarre. She had the strangest pirouettes, and her last extended trot was more of a ‘fluffy passage trot’. I think people should just kind of shut up about whether Brentina was lame or not, and let’s just ignore that Dutch snuggle bunny Fouarges, who has been quoted (much to Debbie’s publicly expressed horror) as saying she should have been ashamed of herself to even go in the ring. Let’s just let it go. Brentina was not tortured, and Debbie is not an irresponsible horse woman. But Steffen dedicating his ride to her? That’s just sappy.

Where Is Stephen Clarke When We Need Him?

The scores were by and large much lower here than in Aachen two years ago. The judges seemed a bit grumpy (except for Gary) but I think the three-per-team thing also dragged the standard down – yes, it’s more global Mariette, but do we really want 15 out of 45 competitors to finish below the FEI’s own minimum certificate of capability score? The same was expressed pretty strongly by many riders this week, especially those from the stronger nations. 65.75% was enough to make the Speciale at these Olympics. Canada would not even have accepted that mark as a qualifying score for the team. Which leads me to my next point.

Jacqui Makes Sense

After she and Sam performed what may have been the best Grand Prix I’ve ever seen them do, Jacqui was very happy with her horse, and somewhat less so with her score. “That was the kind of test that got me here,” she said. So why did the judges give her 68% in Florida and 63% in the Olympics? Shouldn’t the measuring stick be the same? It’s the same test in the same 20x60 rectangle, after all. Maybe Dick Pound was right when he said in his report on the selection dispute that there is anecdotal evidence to suggest it’s easier to get scores in North America than elsewhere (if you want to read Dick’s two scathing reports on the Canadian team selection protests, go to ).

My Favourite Ponies

On a much lighter note, I am just so darned proud of Vincent and Poppy for making it into the freestyle, and in awe of Berna’s and Ashley’s composure and finesse. They are my faves for very personal reasons, but a few other horses have captured my heart too. We are missing a shooting star at this championship – there is nothing like Matine to make us all swoon. All the same, there have been some exciting pairs worth mentioning.

Australian Hayley Beresford is definitely one to watch for the future with her wonderful Lusitano, Relampago. In spite of too many little mistakes in the Speciale, I really enjoyed watching them and I hope to see them again soon.

And who can’t love that ex-police horse from Russia, the Orlov Trotter stallion Balagur, now the oldest horse in the Olympics at 18? He’s been shaved so close he’s pink (he is kind of an Albino), but he is just so wonderfully elastic and into his job. What a passage and piaffe tour he has!

I also really liked seeing Polish rider Michal Rapcewicz in such harmony with his cute little bay, Randon. Some pairs just make us want to go home and do it ourselves, and this was one of them.

Steffen Peters is an absolute master, and getting young Ravel so confident just five months after his first Grand Prix is a feat few could achieve.

If you were totally bored and irritated by the content of this blog, please come back tomorrow. I will spare you any more gory details of dressage, and share insight into Jill’s Darkest Hour, as well as why Ali Buchanan has suffered more than anyone at the hands of Mariette’s music selections.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Computer Catches Avian Flu, Recovers after Chinese Doctor Performs Surgery

If you are wondering why there was a gap in my missives, it’s because I spent all of Thursday dealing with a brand new computer virus (I wasn’t downloading porn, I swear!), which cost me a day’s work and probably ten years of my life. I’m just joking about the bird flu, though I did see a TV commercial the other night advising people how not to catch it themselves (hint: don’t visit a chicken farm in China). I could have picked up this virus anywhere. My hero at the guest house – the one who wrote me Chinese instructions to give to the taxi drivers so that I would not have to take two taxis to get home – arranged for a sunny dispositioned little nerd to spend two hours in my room messing with my most valued possession. Now I know why they call them Trojan horses and worms. It was as though my computer had been possessed by the devil. The exorcism was a success, and here I am!

They Woke Up!!!!!

So now I know what it takes to get Hong Kongers excited – it’s not rocket science– they just want to cheer for one of their own. Patrick Lam did a commendable job for a clear round in the show jumping qualifier. The crowd reacted as though a hypnotist had just snapped his fingers to awaken them. Suddenly they were more like Germans at Aachen when a German wins gold, instead of a bunch of disappointed sleepy-heads. And finally Canada has a reason for hope; we finally won a medal in women’s wrestling – go big white girls! And-and-and-and, our show jumpers did great in the first qualifier. There is a long road ahead, but Hickstead sure looked wicked good. He is one of my favourite horses, even if his pilot isn’t so media-friendly. My other favourite is that flying teddy bear Cumano, who looked like he was never going to stop ascending. What a rocket ship.

There were many $$ millions $$ of horse flesh in the show jumping last night – some well ridden, some on auto-pilot, a few trying to do their jobs in spite of their jockeys. I can’t remember who said it but one rider was so awful that the comment was that he was like an anchor. There were two drunk Canadians sitting in front of me – I went out to sit with the masses and got served sushi by my friends from England – when one of the many middle eastern riders was on course the uglier of the two (I’m sure they were from Ontario) slurred in a loud voice “now that’s gotta be a rich Jordanian!” Classy, classy Canucks.

Besides those top notch representatives of our proud nation, I’ve run into a few friends from home in the last few days, including Pia Fortmuller and her mom Dagmar, Jamie Welling and Grit High. I needed to get a quote from Grit to set the record straight about who was ultimately chosen for the eventing team. I found the gang in the stands but didn’t see Grit. I recognized Selena O’Hanlon and asked her if Grit was around. She replied that she didn’t know who that was. “She was only one of your selectors for the team,” I replied with perhaps just a tiny edge of irony.

What’s with….

…The South China Morning Post? They’ve stopped publishing photos of sleeping spectators and no reporter has used terms like ‘barriers’ and ‘hurdles’ for days. I’m afraid they are becoming knowledgeable about our sport, which is making them as boring as they accused the dressage of being.

…The dirty looking off-white sheepskins under so many dressage saddles, which I call dead terriers? If they must be used, surely they could be white or black for a big gig like the Olympics.

…Mikey G’s math? He calculated that the horses jumped every eight seconds on cross country, but when I divide 39 into 8 minutes I get 12.3. Mike when I buy you that beer I owe you I want to know.

…the giant judging pagoda booths? They are bigger than the average Hong Kong apartment. I’ve been told they are air conditioned. Gotta keep those judges’ brains nice and cool.

…the USEF site going down AGAIN earlier this week? Did no one tell IT that the Olympics are on?

…Brian O’Connor complaining on his blog that he sat on the bench while someone else announced the eventing show jumping? He did however do a ‘let’s get ready to rumble’ thing before the show jumping qualifier last night that utterly failed to get the crowd worked up into more than semi-consciousness.

…Hubertus Schmidt wearing face paint during the team dressage final? Hubertus, I had you pegged for the strong, silent type.

…Equine Canada’s verbose new CEO Akaash Maharaj dabbling in media relations? He was quoted in today’s jumper release that the team’s performance last night was met by ‘rapturous applause’ across Canada. My, what big ears you have!

Mysteries Solved

Here are some more tidbits to clear up a few things I’ve left dangling over the last couple of days:

1. Pachelbel’s Infernal Canon – it’s not Brian’s fault, he’s just playing the (not more than 3) CDs he was given. It’s my old pal Mariette who picked the music, or so I’ve been told by a reliable source. We are getting Pachelbel about ten times a night. One of the CDs must be that ‘twenty versions of Pachelbel’ CD someone once gave me for Christmas and that I didn’t even bother regifting – I just threw it out. The music that is gently palpating my ears right now for about the 30,000th time is the Olympic theme played on a piano. The tune is like a brain worm – I can’t shake the melody because it’s everywhere. I think I even heard it as the ring tone for a phone the other day. I’m beginning to suspect that the music is the reason everyone is sleeping instead of spellbound. Even I got to yawning in the early part of the GP Speciale tonight; and as those who know me will attest, I can take a lot of dressage before I nod off.

2. No individual movement scoring – over to Mariette again, whom I asked the question in the press conference the other night. This time she had a ‘real’ answer for me and not just a mumble about ‘not available’. She says there is an FEI rule (or is it an IOC rule?) that states for Olympics a running score must be displayed. She went on to say that there is another rule that individual movement marks can be displayed only if none of the judges can see it (I think they need to let Gary Rockwell see, but more on that tomorrow). So if any of you at home have some time on your hands and you have a penchant for splitting hairs, please go on the FEI website for me and see if you can find the rules about scoreboards at the Olympics.

3. Who is to blame for the lack of Thoroughbreds on the eventing roster, and also for Orion being identified as Danish (he’s by Jazz for crap’s sake) – BOCOG controls the processing of information, but the FEI is responsible for making sure what BOCOG receives is accurate. Gotta love those big bureaucratic organizations.

4. How Brian Sosby walked on water – ok, I don’t actually know how the USEF’s happy blogger managed to do that. All I know is that in his very (and I mean very) detailed account of his trip to the cross country on Monday, he said that he walked from his hotel ‘in downtown Hong Kong’ to East Tsim Sha Tsui station, which is actually across the harbour in Kowloon. I’m really sorry you lost your hat, Brian.
Miso Proud!

Berna finished sixth in the Speciale, and Ashley finished fifteenth, just making it into the freestyle on Tuesday. Ashley found me during a break and we did a little dance that looked like drunk Greeks at a wedding, but hey, it’s exciting!

The judges finally started firing on all five controversial cylinders in the Speciale tonight, but you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow to read about it. It’s 1:30 am and I have to go heat up my frozen wontons.

Maybe it's the weather....or the music

Sam Lam or Sasquatch?

What the....? What do you mean the jumping isn't in Beijing? (Mac Cone looking for the jumps)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

They’re Still Bo-o-red!

I guess the added excitement of passage, piaffe and tempi changes is pretty much lost on an audience whose only experience of horses involves gambling and great speed. Insight was offered today from Jennifer Anstey. “This started out as war horses, and now they can’t take the noise of a camera shutter?” Page 3 of the South China Morning Post has become my late night reading when I get back to the guest house and go down to the common room to use the microwave and warm up some post-midnight frozen Chinese delights. Today’s paper pointed out that one of the unpleasantries of dressage for the locals is that they aren’t allowed to cheer along. The eventing show jumping was a brief oasis in the dressage desert, though according to one reporter it was now too noisy: “there was even that ridiculous ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi” chant that Australians embarrass themselves with at big sports events.” I agree, it’s silly; but what can you expect from people who share their homeland with kangaroos and wombats?

Anyhoo, back to yawns and steadily emptying stands for the team dressage. They didn’t even stay for the sole Chinese entry, the first Chinese dressage rider ever to compete at the Olympics (I know I said I wouldn’t use the ‘O’ word, but as long as I don’t mention that little mountain nation whose name starts with a ‘T’ I think I’m safe). Daphne Bramham reports that her blog on the boredom of dressage in Hong Kong “topped the hit list for The Sun”. Being a certified (and certifiable) fan of the sport, I wasn’t bored, and if you were watching at home I don’t expect you were either. But the caliber of performances? More on that tomorrow.

Lucky 13, Not – Dressage Day 1, August 13th

It might be a lucky number in China, but it sure didn’t bring Canada any breaks. Our underwhelming performances have sadly continued into the dressage. Leslie Reid was worried about the Jumbo-tron, and it turns out she had good reason. Orion started the spook-fest before he even got through the gate at A; and as Leslie said later, when the judges see that already outside the ring, you are dead before you are born. Hm, a new term perhaps: Stillborn dressage test. It sure is a long way to come for 7 disappointing minutes…never mind. Leslie’s strong chin was as strong as ever when we talked at the end of the evening. It’s the Olympics, but it isn’t life or death.

I’d love to see Fouarge in the press conference so I can ask him what on earth moved him to ring the bell on Tinne Silfven from Sweden just as she and Solos Carex passed between C and his booth. The horse understandably spooked badly, and when Tinne tracked right at C after her entry, he broke into a canter. As I watched the test I wondered how she was managing to remember to ride her horse when thoughts of murder must have been justifiably racing through her mind. And speaking of Solos Carex, the IOC let a bit of verboten advertising slip by their censors. All those horses with double-barreled sponsor-acknowledging names are stripped to their essences here: Sunrise, Briar and Salinero, for example. But Carex’s sponsor managed to sneak onto the day sheets.

Sorry to disappoint, but if we get can get past Fouarge acting like a dick to the Swedes, there isn’t much else to report vis-à-vis the judging. Other than feeling personally affronted about Leslie’s score (and I am the last one to say I’m being objective in her case), the judges didn’t do anything too wacky. In fact, the Dutch and German judges – Fouarge and Reixinger – had the exact same first placed score for Heike Kemmer, and identical scores for second placed – and highly elated – Emma Hindle of Great Britain. There was a wee bit of disagreement between them when it came to Imke, however. Fouarges tied her with Emma, but Reixinger put her seventh, behind her own countryman Hans Peter.

Tomorrow is likely to be more interesting, though it’s hard to be really blog-worthy with my comments when the individual movement by movement scores ARE NOT AVAILABLE on the big screen. Four years ago in Athens, it was the same – a stupid, average percentage-so-far that confuses the most knowledgeable spectator and will utterly baffle innocents like the Hong Kongers. I really hope Mariette shows up at the press conference so that I can ask her why there are no live scores by movement. Her excuse last time was that it wasn’t available – but somehow in Athens, as here, it was used for the eventing dressage. I wonder what her story will be this time.

That’s the Spirit, Boys!

Apparently Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze have decided that the media is far beneath their notice, never mind their manners. At the request of Swedish TV, French radio and numerous print journalists from around the world, Jenn Ward (in her thankless role as volunteer press attaché) set up a press conference for tonight at 6 pm, after getting the thumbs up from Ian and Eric that it was a convenient time for them. I can’t imagine why there was so much interest in those two. Ian is only tying the world record for Olympic Games appearances, and Eric has been touted as a medal favourite in numerous places, including that bikini specialist Sports Illustrated. Not only did the boys not turn up, they couldn’t even bring themselves to pick up a phone and call Jenn to say they were passing on their play date with the media. I bet their sponsors would be pleased to hear that free publicity was brushed off like so many flakes of dandruff.

Big White Girl

My ankles are swollen. I am pretty sure I couldn’t get my riding boots on right now, but it certainly isn’t for lack of exercise. Walk, walk, walk. I wish Hong Kongers were bigger so that I don’t feel like such a giant gwilo around so many slender little people. At least I’m not as big as some of the other gwilo, and I’m not the only one to discover sponginess in the lower extremities.

Tune in to this station tomorrow for my commentary on the team dressage finals (I can’t keep a secret, the Germans won again). I will also share other secrets, such as how USEF’s Brian Sosby walked on water, and what I’m going to do to Brian O’Connor if I find out that he’s responsible for Pachelbel’s Canon playing at least 30 times over the past two days in the stadium.