Olympia

I’ve just returned from a busy day at Olympia, getting into the Christmas spirit, so thought I would settle down with the kitten to tell my tale of the day.

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Today was H&M Sunday, which is usually a Saturday, so I think was a bit quieter than usual. The four of us travelled by train, and entertained ourselves on the journey trying to identify fellow Olympians (you know what I mean!) by their attire or conversation topics. Obviously we arrived in plenty of time to do some shopping. I wanted a salt lick for the boys, but after feeling the weight of one decided I’d wait until I go to the tack shop and have the car outside, thus limiting how much lugging I need to do.

Other than that, I didn’t need very much. We recently decorated our bedroom and I then realised how many clothes I actually own. For a non-fashion conscience person it is incredible that I own 30 polo tops! Anyway, I walked away from the clothes and perused the air jackets, tack, bits and rugs, before I found a bookshop. Excellent! I am a bookworm through and through.

I picked up Clare Balding’s first book – My Animals and Other Family- which I have never got around to reading.
“I’ll buy it for you for Christmas” said my friend, admitting that she hadn’t finished her Christmas shopping. I agreed, pleased, and became even more gratified when the seller told us Clare would be signing books in an hours time.

We decided to come back with my book later. I admire Clare for her contribution to sport broadcasting and how she makes the competitions interesting for those already fairly knowledgeable but also accessible to those non-horsey other halves through her interviewing techniques. I also have a little anecdote of her, when she proved that she is actually a V.N.P. (very nice person) in real life.

Four years ago I was camping at Badminton Horse Trials and was shopping with a friend. I saw a gorgeous tweed skirt with pink trim (please remember this is coming from someone who lacks all confidence in outfits and physical appearance, so it must have been pretty special). Anyway, I fetched my friend and stormed through the crowds determinedly and then realised I’d lost my friend. I turned round, only to find a large camera lens staring me in the face. My jaw dropped as I realised Clare Balding was on my other side, attempting to talk into the camera. Frozen to the spot, I felt her hand in the small of my back giving me a gentle push out of camera view.
“Just smile and keep walking”, she said quietly with a smile on her face.
Bright red, I think I forgot all about that pretty tweed skirt and left the tent!

Fast forwards to today, and we returned the bookstore with my book. We were early, and Mary King was there. Now I know that a signed copy of Mary King’s autobiography is under my parents tree, wrapped and with my name on, so I couldn’t buy another one and have it personally signed. Instead, I bought a cartoon greetings card and asked Mary to sign it. Again, someone I admire for her strong personality and excellent sportsmanship. Which I hope to emulate when I compete. Another V.N.P. as I met her before at Badminton.

Anyway, the card signed, I wait for Clare Balding, only to spot Charlotte Dujardin in a white trench coat on her way to a Very Important Meeting. Now was not the time to harass her, so I just picked my jaw up from the floor.

Five minutes later and my book had been signed by a friendly and apologetic Clare for being tardy.

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Then we were off to watch the finals of the Mini Stakes.

These kids sure have a lot of guts, and I do think the ponies are a chicken nugget short of a Happy Meal as they bounce and leap around, but it is great fun to watch.

After their prize giving we watched the dog agility, which I secretly want to have a go at! Some of those dogs have an awesome jump in them!

Then we were on to the Ukrainian Cossacks who were just down right breathtaking. They have such amazing balance, nerves, strength and agility! Seeing them climb under their galloping horses in this fast and furious display puts any vaulting attempts of mine to shame! A pyramid of riders balancing on the backs of three cantering horses is also a jaw dropper.

While we recovered from the Cossacks, the course for the Shetland Grand National was erected. This is always great fun, and the clipped ponies with their leg warmers always put a smile on my face. The winner was the smallest pony, and, he led from the start, to everyone’s cheers! During their lap of honour he threw his rosette to the crowd, but it fell short of me by about two foot, back into the arena – have I told you we had front row seats? To be honest, I expect it’s a long shot throwing rosettes into the crowd from a Shetland – a much easier feat from a 17hh Warmblood!

Before the interval we watched a display by the Metropolitan Police which was very similar to the display I saw ten years ago. It doesn’t consist of very high fences, and the large Irish-type horses are economical jumpers, but they are workmen and actually work on the streets, so it’s still impressive and a credit to their training that they jump through fire, in close contact with each other and in a synchronised way, let alone jumping through a paper hoop! To the riders, I thought they did a great job undressing and untacking whilst cantering around. I can remember once in a wintertime lesson in the indoor arena having to remove our saddles without dismounting. The only difference was that we were stationary!

After the interval and a quick snack and toilet break, we were back in our seats for the FEI World Cup. These jumps are huge, and sitting so close to them you can really see every muscle working. I love being so close I can see all the different pieces of tack and equipment they use. There are some interesting combination bits, various breastplate and martingale combinations, and different saddles. I would love someone to interview the riders in the warm up ring, asking about the tack and why they choose it. For a lowly riding instructor like me, I want to expand my knowledge with the names of the unusual bits, why they have been chosen and how they work. For example, one rider had a breastplate AND running martingale on, which confounded me a bit as you usually buy breastplates with a martingale attachment. But I am sure there is a logical reason for his decision.

It was a thrilling competition, and the British riders did us proud. I was gutted for Michael Whittaker, who’s lovely clear round was marred by a single time fault. Ben Maher also jumped clear, but accumulated three time faults. I have little sympathy with him however, as I felt he faffed around in the countdown and subsequently the timer started three seconds before he jumped number one. Had he got a wriggle on, he would have been well within the time permitted.

There were more clears than anticipated, so we watched the twisting, ginormous jump off, where John Whittaker had us on the edge of our seats as he tried to steal the glory from the German riders. The crowd sighed in disappointment as the back rail of the very large oxer fell.

So it is congratulations to Marco Kutscher, who pulled it out of the bag to ride a very fast and clear round in great style.

I was impressed with how quiet the horses were for the presentation, compared to the overly excited ponies earlier, and after their lap of honour we gathered ourselves together to go and catch the train home.

Now I’m home, after an exciting and interesting day, ready for bed with a hot chocolate and my new book.

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