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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.

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