Will's Blog is back!

17th Aug 2014

Vive la France, we’re off to Normandie.. for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2014; or is it Normandy (maybe that depends on who happens to be king of the castle at the time!). So who is the Duke of Normandy….yes Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

When I say “we’re off to Normandy” I mean myself (leaving early Sunday) followed by Sophie Thomas, Debbie Lee and Sarah Armstrong (leaving this evening and crossing the Channel on Monday morning). The Dressage staff hit town on the Wednesday swiftly followed by horses and staff from across the Week 1 disciplines of Dressage, Reining, Endurance, Para-Equestrian Dressage and Eventing. But more of that later.

Selection has been completed for all the disciplines and Definite Entries for the Week 1 disciplines were submitted on Thursday 14th August. The World Equestrian Games (WEG) is very different from the Olympic & Paralympic Games for me. I have the title “Chef de Mission” rather than Team Leader but of far greater significance is that for the WEG Team GBR is made up of eight disciplines. We will have athletes competing in all the disciplines with Teams competing in all disciplines less Vaulting.  In Vaulting we will have individuals (and very talented they are too) competing in the Female Individual class and the Pas de Deux.

Selection for the WEG has been interesting to follow and has had the usual highs and lows: Highs when you see young riders and/or horses “stepping up to the mark” during the Spring and Summer competitions and lows when horses incur injuries that put them out of contention. I’ve heard talk of one of the competition series in equestrian being the “Formula 1 of equestrian sport” – I do not subscribe to the statement that sports are different but in Formula 1 they can rebuild a broken car overnight, it can take a year to rebuild a broken horse!

Back to the “sports are different”; for me, all sports (at elite level) are the same as it is, ultimately, athletes delivering their very best performances on a given day in history. Those days are fast approaching for the GBR WEG athletes.

If you are managing to stay awake as you read through this, you may be expecting me to talk about GBR medal targets…well tough, as I will not!  The primary targets for the Olympic and Paralympic disciplines is to achieve a Team Qualification slot for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This is what is called the “Milestone Target for 2014”. This will require the Team from Dressage to finish in the top 3, Eventing top 6, Jumping top 5 and Para-Equestrian Dressage top 3. These primary targets should not be confused with the motivation that we all head to Normandy with and that is to win as many medals as possible!

So what do we face in Normandy? All major competitions have their challenges and they differ from Games to Games. In 2010 we had to get everything to Lexington in the USA. Normandy is a geographical and timetabling challenge. There are three different towns where the competitions will take place; Caen, Haras du Pin (Eventing) and Sartilly (Endurance). Just to help us sleep a little less…the Eventing squad have to move from Haras du Pin to Caen after the second Horse inspection, as the jumping takes place in Caen.

To put the distances in perspective – it is the same distance to travel from Luton airport to the Channel Tunnel in Kent as it is to travel from the Endurance venue to the Eventing venue; and Eventing and Endurance compete on the same day. Five disciplines compete in the first week, three in the second and there are six different stable areas to set up.

We have an enhanced “central staff” to cope with these challenges and I am sure there will be some stressful moments, funny moments and damn right annoying moments. For now, the Land Rover is packed and I am for a run with the terrier…or to be more accurate the terrier is going to take me for a run.