I write this waiting for my flight in Rio’s International airport. It is 5.30 pm and outside the skies have already darkened; there are no long sunny evenings to enjoy this close to the equator. With the Olympic Test Event having drawn to a close our minds have already started to switch to this year’s FEI European Championships in Aachen, which is where we head to now.  Heartened by the news that our Pony teams have won team Gold in all three disciplines at the FEI European Championships for Ponies in Malmo, Sweden,it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the Olympic Test Event.

I have been expertly supported this week by World Class Programme staff Yogi Breisner (Eventing Performance Manager), Liz Brown (Eventing vet), Sarah Armstrong (head of logistics) plus Georgie Harland from the British Olympic Association.  Together we joined ‘observer’ teams from 16 other nations to watch the 2* CIC Test Event.  I think many of them had arrived in Rio with fairly low expectations but as it turned out they were exceeded in almost every way.

Yogi, Liz and Sarah going through accreditation

The venue itself is a good size and well laid out.  It takes no more than 5 minutes to walk from one side to another, but still has a feeling of space, and everything is within easy reach.  The newly-designed stables are large, light and airy and horses will look directly out onto a grassed central area.  There is one indoor and three outdoor training areas and the stables, arenas, vet clinic, storage areas, grooms accommodation and other functional areas are close and convenient.  The Olympic Village in Barra de Tijuca is now 88% complete, but the new (and essential) Transolimpica BRT route, which will reduce transit times between village and equestrian venue to 30 minutes, is not due for completion until June 2016.

The cross country course, designed by esteemed French cross-country designer Pierre Michelet, and built by the Willis brothers, was suitably impressive.  Although not following the exact track for 2016 we were able to get a real feel for the going which was much better than expected.  More undulating than it at first appears, there will be much work to do to maintain the course over the next 12 months but they have a strong platform on which to build.

The surface in the main arena (or Field of Play as it will become next year) had been newly laid by German company OTTO Sport.  It will require expert attention over the coming months to ‘bed it in’, but again the signs are good.  The cross-country section of the Test Event started on a blisteringly hot Brazilian winter morning, which although not entirely typical for this time of year, showed that cooling and hydration facilities around and at the end of the course will need to be increased in 2016.

Pedens have been appointed by the Rio 2016 Organising Committee to manage the shipping of horses to and from Brazil and from the airport to the venue.  Horses arriving for the Olympics from Europe will travel along a ‘sealed’ route (of around 1 hour) to the venue to ensure the highest levels of biosecurity.  The airport, route and Deodoro Olympic Equestrian venue have been declared by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) as a disease-free ‘regionalised’ zone (BR-02) recognised by the European Union since June 2015.  They have implemented rigorous biosecurity measures which will be maintained through until after the Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events in 2016.  Efforts now will focus on protecting the venue, with additional security measures not just for glanders, but any other infectious equine diseases.  No horses will be allowed onto the venue between now and when international horses arrive for the Olympic Games.

Of the Test Event competition itself, Brazil’s Marcio Jorge and Coronel MCJ were convincing gold medal winners as it wound to a close earlier today in front of a large and vocal home crowd.  Marcio Appel (Cross Rock) took silver, with Marcelo Tosi (Glenfly) in bronze.  

On the venue there is still much to be built, facilities to be maintained, volunteers to be trained, and planning to take place.  But the Test Event showed what will be possible for 2016 and Rio’s dream of hosting South America and Brazil’s first Olympic Games took one step closer towards reality.  With only Brazilian horses in the competition a host county victory was inevitable.  But the equestrian venue, and Competition Manager Ataide Pereira and his team of organisers and volunteers, have won over a lot of new friends too.