The 2018 season’s gone out with a bit of a whimper and not a bang for me unfortunately. With Seneca being canceled and now Waredaca getting a few inches of rain, I decided to scratch today.
I knew at the beginning of the week that I likely wouldn’t be running cross-country because of the wet weather forecasted, but with reports and photos coming in yesterday of trucks being towed in and out and knowing that the dressage and show jumping warm up are on grass, plus having to get up at 4:30 a.m., I decided not to risk it for a combined test that wouldn’t count for anything.
My trainer asked me to consider what I would get out of it, and honestly, probably not much. We’re both bored with the novice test and don’t *need* to do it, and we’re looking ahead to some local winter jumper shows for practice. I hate to throw another $200 down the toilet, but that seems to be the nature of this year for everyone. I just wish Waredaca would have made that call for me. I was still undecided right up until I went to bed last night, and really could have gone either way, but I also think I needed a quiet day where I can get some stuff done around my apartment, have a nice ride and probably clip him again since he grew his hair back so fast!
Well, things didn’t go according to plan at Seneca. It was pouring rain on Saturday when I went up to walk my course, and Lisa and I pretty much knew we wouldn’t be running the next day.
Fortunately they made the decision a little easier for me when they cancelled all competition on Sunday, but it was a real bummer for me and for the event!
I had to head to WEG the next day with my co-worker and friend Kimberly. We arrived late afternoon to check out the venue and get our credentials, which went pretty seamlessly.
The venue was a complete mess, but the two main stadiums and the footing were great. I keep telling everyone who asks how WEG was that I went in not expecting a lot of polish, and we definitely didn’t get that. The media center was not ready for us on Monday, but by Tuesday it was functional. There was air conditioning, power and WiFi, which was about all we really needed. They fed us two meals a day plus a generous afternoon snack, which is more than we could have asked for and very much appreciated.
Oh So and I headed to CDCTA Dressage At Morningside on Aug. 18, and I’m happy to report we got our final score for our bronze medal!
We had later ride times, so it was pretty warm, but luckily overcast. We rode Third 2 twice, once in the regular class and once in the Test Of Choice class because I didn’t want to have to learn Third 3 with only two weeks.
Unfortunately Heidi wasn’t available for a lesson the week after Loch Moy, so I worked on my own a bit just riding lots of haunches in in canter to prepare for the half passes.
The last week has been a whirlwind of dressage. I took Oh So to the By Chance Farm licensed show in Maryland to do two first level tests that we weren’t able to do back at PVDA in May because of the footing.
The farm was quite lovely and compact with an indoor ring for warm up and two outdoor competition rings. The footing was great in all the rings, and if I only had one complaint it would be that the indoor warm up was a bit tight with lots of FEI horses pirouetting and tempi changing around us. Oh So was a little worried about that, but mostly kept his focus for our simple warm up.
We’ve had crazy amounts of rain over the last week, and I was kind of glad I wasn’t entered at an event because there was no way we would have run.
But I didn’t really expect the brand new fancy all-weather rings at Morven Park to be unrideable on Saturday.
I’d entered the PVDA Spring Dressage Show, and had planned to do two first level tests on Saturday and two second level tests on Sunday to knock those scores out and start really working on the third level tests for my bronze medal.
In the grand scheme of things, 2017 is a year I’d like to forget. I started off the year thinking positively and wanting to get out of my comfort zone. I was ready to embrace the first year of my 30s and make it the best year ever.
Things were going pretty well in the winter and spring. I was pretty busy traveling for work, but I was able to get Oh So out to a couple of shows. We could have won Morven Park in March, but decided it was a bit too wet to run cross-country and withdrew, but we had a good run at the Loch Moy Starter Trial in April.
I’ve traveled a lot this year, and photography is my favorite part of my job, so it was hard to narrow down my favorite photos, but I chose the following for two reasons. First, I love a classically perfect jumping photo, so I’ve included a few. Second, I’ve worked really hard this year on seeking out more candid moments. Sure, I can get a hundred shots of horses with perfect knees over a big oxer, but in the end, I think it’s the more emotional moments that really resonate with people.
It probably helped that I had a borrowed Nikon D5 and 200-400 lens to play with at the Olympics, which was amazing, but many of these were taken with our trusty D3 or D4S and a fixed 300m or 70-200mm lens.
Click on a photo to view the gallery in higher res.
I’ve waited all summer but I finally got out to a show with Oh So on Nov. 12 at Loch Moy. I haven’t had a place to practice in a real dressage ring all summer, so my accuracy was lacking a bit, but he was very well behaved for our two first level tests.
I’ve never actually been to a show by myself, but I wasn’t able to find anyone to help out, so off we went. Logistically for a dressage show it’s OK, but then I don’t have anyone to video! I did manage to get the ring steward to help me out for the second test though so I could have something to show Heidi.
The first test he got a bit rough in the contact, not ugly, just not as soft in my hand as I would have liked, especially coming back from the lengthened canters. We scored a 66%, which was not what I hoped for, but that’s why we did a second test.
I haven’t been schooling trot lengthenings much at home because I don’t want to stress his tendons, so those were a little weak this time around too.
I had about an hour between rides, so I got off and stood around in the freezing cold. No kidding, it was 26 degrees when we got there!
I did a short warmup for the second test, and it flowed much better. The judge mentioned he did get a little behind the vertical, and that’s something Heidi is on me about a lot, so I always work to keep my hands up and push his nose out, but sometimes he sneaks behind a bit and I can’t tell from where I’m sitting.
We ended up third and fourth and won the TIP reserve award.
It was nice to get back in the ring again, even if it was just in time for the season to end. I’ve got some things I want to work on this winter, including perfecting our right to left flying change. I worked on that a bit today in my lesson with Heidi, and I think we’re both just stuck a bit on it, but I have some homework until next time. This was the first time I’ve ever really continuously asked him for changes during a single ride, and he got the left to right every time, so that was good.
Harley’s first event the week before went very well. We had a minor meltdown in dressage warm up in which we couldn’t get the right lead at all, and he missed it in the test, but got it on the second try. He scored a 31, which I was pleasantly surprised by, but it was only good enough for ninth out of 10.
I was a little rusty in the show jumping, but he jumped all the jumps and jumped clear on cross-country!
Now I’m off to Ocala for the weekend to cover the inaugural Jockey Club International, and when I get back the arena cross-country course at Loch Moy will be open, and Oh So will be ready to have some fun!
I’ll back up to cross-country day—the best day of any horse show if I say so myself!
It was warm, but overcast, and quite a large crowd came out to have some fun. From the very beginning though, it was clear it was going to be a tough course.
I spent the first part of the day shooting the first and last water, and got some great shots, then wandered towards other parts of the course where there was absolutely no announcing, so I felt utterly lost as to what was going on and why people weren’t making it to where I was.
It was weird feeling so disconnected from the action, so I was texting with a co-worker back at the office who was watching the live stream. She was about 10 minutes behind the live action, but she still knew before I did that U.S. rider Clark Montgomery and Loughan Glen had retired on course.
Bummer! I’m a huge fan of Clark and Glen after having spent so much time chatting with him over the last couple of years, and finally meeting him and Glen in person this summer, so I was just gutted for them.
Lauren also had some terrible luck, but looked good when I saw her, and Phillip and Boyd gave masterful riding demonstrations. Blackfoot Mystery, and Boyd, looked exhausted coming through the last water, and Boyd nursed him home expertly.
It says a lot about a course when a guy who rides 10 horses at a one-day event in the middle of summer is exhausted riding one horse around a four-star!
As usual, Michael Jung was masterful, although he had a bit of a save on Sam through the last water when he wanted to bow his right shoulder over one of the fish.
I think I shot some of my best photos ever on cross-country, which you can check out here.
Eventing show jumping day went by in a blur. We had to cover two rounds of jumping, plus team and individual medals.
The French team, who are all very handsome and charming, won gold and our hearts!
Mollie and I fell into bed that night, but no rest for the weary as we went straight into dressage the next two days with the Grand Prix and team medals. I saw Valegro! OK, so a lot of people have seen him, but I’ve never seen him in person, so I was super excited.
He was just as round and cute as I’d expected!
We rallied one more day to cover the Special, but for me, it was a tough night as I got food poisoning from our media village dining hall and spent all night with severe stomach cramps that continued into the next day.
Luckily we had shots of all of the riders who would be in the Special, and they ran in reverse order, so I spent the morning in bed and found enough strength to go over to the venue and shoot the afternoon. I couldn’t miss Valegro again!
I almost doubled over in pain as Steffen Peters was riding, another I didn’t want to miss, but I held it together for a few more riders until Charlotte went.
We’ve been subsisting on basically bread and cheese since we’ve arrived because we haven’t been able to go to any restaurants or find a grocery store until Saturday.
Mollie and I get up every morning to the sound of idling buses and military men doing drills, grumble about how the breakfast at the media village hasn’t changed, and load up our plates with the same rolls, cheese and thankfully some fresh fruit.
We’ve also started packing cheese sandwiches because the venue only has, well, more bread and cheese sandwiches with meat that aren’t so tasty.
We grumble again as we eat in the dining hall at night, but we’re usually so hungry we stuff our faces with rice, pasta, often crunchy, and iceberg lettuce, then pass out to the sound of guns going off fairly close by and rowdy rugby journalists.
We had a day off on Saturday, and while all of our journalist and photographer friends were off having fun at the beach or sightseeing, we had to hunker down and write our eventing and dressage stories for the magazine.
After writing from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., we decided to give ourselves a break and head to Barra where a couple of photographer and journalist friends are staying.
We hopped on a bus to the Main Media Center and were soon being escorted down the Olympic road by military guards. Our bus driver told us another media bus had a rock thrown through its window. Lovely.
We took a quick bus from the MPC to Barra and had a wonderful evening of actual food, capped off by a lovely walk past all of the main venues like the diving arena.
It was cool to be in the middle of it all, if only for a short time.
We grabbed some healthy snacks at a grocery store and made our way home, feeling refreshed and ready to shoot the first day of show jumping.
The weather has been up and down, from very pleasant to downright hot the last two days, but the crowds showed up in full force for show jumping.
It was absolutely deafening when a Brazilian rider came in the ring, and when they went clear, watch out!
The locals are all wonderful, and the military are all friendly. Unfortunately it seems that what we’re allowed to bring in through security each day changes, but we’ve learned to adapt!
We’ve been keeping the TV on at night and watching some of the other sports while we write, and even saw a five minute blurb about the horses last night. It’s weird not having access to NBC and their instant replays. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I get home to find out what actually happened on cross-country!
We’re in the home stretch! I’m counting down the days until I can cook my own food and see my horse, but until then, Mollie and I figured out a way to order pizzas to Deodoro Village, and I have to say, American bread and cheese tasted heavenly!
When I was first asked by my editors if I wanted to cover the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, I’ll admit I asked for 24 hours to think about it.
Most people would jump at the chance to go to an Olympics, but like most people, the things I’d heard through the mainstream media worried me—Zika, dirty water and crime.
But once I thought about it, I realized I’d better not pass up the opportunity. Besides, my co-worker Mollie Bailey has lived in the city, knows the language and has experienced several international championships, so that eased my mind a little.
As we got closer to our departure I began to feel a little more nervous as the media started to ramp up the stories about Rio’s crime and unpreparedness, terrorism threats and the spread of Zika.
On the day of my flight, I was feeling even more nervous, despite being an experienced international traveler. Would there be signs in the airport in English? Would my huge Pelican case full of camera gear be stolen right off the baggage claim? Would someone brush against me and steal my phone or purse?
Luckily Mollie went ahead a few days before me and was texting and sending me email updates about exactly what I should expect.
The airline had lost her luggage (more on that later), but she seemed to be having a great time crashing with our photographer friend Shannon Brinkman, who’d rented an apartment in Barra.
So, I anxiously stepped off the plane, followed my fellow travelers down a long corridor, and around the last bend, we were greeted by several people in Olympic gear. I went through the customs line very quickly, then made my way to get my luggage, which was there!
I grabbed a cart, was ushered by more friendly volunteers to the exit, and felt like a celebrity walking the red carpet as I walked out of the airport surrounded by people holding signs for their friends and customers.
The bus to Deodoro Village arrived almost immediately, and I hopped on with two other people and was off in about an hour from landing.
I’ve never traveled to South America, but I knew about the poverty surrounding Rio so I wasn’t totally surprised by the landscape—favelas, dilapidated buildings, graffiti, dirt and trash, flanked by the beautiful mountains in the background, higher than any I’ve seen in the U.S.
There were no Walmarts, chain restaurants or open fields alongside the highway, just the urban sprawl of Rio.
As the bus pulled in to Deodoro, which is a military base, I saw several colorful buildings decorated with tanks, airplanes and statues, and armed men at every corner.
Check in was in a temporary tent that was attached to a small convenience store. It was very easy, and the staff were very helpful. I was escorted to my room and given help with my bags.
When I opened the door to our home away from home for the next two and a half weeks I was a little taken aback. A double bed sat inside a tiny dorm room with a small bathroom attached. With barely enough room to turn around with my luggage, I turned around and asked a staff member if there were any bigger rooms because we’d requested a room with twin beds.
Nope. This was it. But they were able to quickly change the bed situation so Mollie and I won’t have to literally sleep on top of each other! Now we’re about three feet away.
The good news is our room is part of a small apartment that has two other bedrooms (we’ve met one of our roommates, a field hockey photographer from Canada), a lounge area with a balcony and couches and a kitchen so we can spread out a little.
The kitchen only has a microwave and fridge, which might come in handy if it comes down to eating the Ramen they have for sale at the convenience store, but we’re not to that point yet! We’re hoping to find a grocery store and buy some healthier food than what’s available in the cafeteria on site, but for the last three nights we’ve only been able to make it that far. If we want restaurants or grocery stores we’ll have to find a taxi and make our way back towards Rio.
We’ve promised ourselves we won’t eat at the cafeteria every night!
I met up with Mollie at the equestrian venue on Thursday after dealing with our accommodations. We hit the ground running and went on a stable tour where we were able to play fan girls and get lots of photos of horse and human stars. It’s funny because I see our U.S. eventers on a monthly basis and have gotten to know some of them well over the years, but in this setting, Mollie and I became like paparazzi, shouting, “Boyd, Boyd! Over here!” or, “Go Glen!” as they walked by.
Our timing was well enough that we saw the U.S. eventers coming back from a flat school in the main arena. It was good to see everyone settling in, smiling and happy.
The show jumpers are trickling in, so within the next few days, every Olympic horse will be on site. Where else can you see the U.S. eventers, then walk around the corner and see Valegro playing with his groom Alan Davies’ and be passed by Michael Jung on his way to walk his cross-country course?
At the entrance to the stables and into the venue itself, everyone, including the horses, have to walk over a squishy disinfectant pad each time in an effort to keep things sanitary.
We went on to a media course walk with the course designer Pierre Michelet, who explained that the track is twisty, so time will be influential. The word in the stables from riders is that it’s a lot bigger than they expected, so I don’t think this will be a dressage show!
The venue is first class, as many riders have already reported, and our media tent is right by the main arena.
The photo staff are very helpful, and we have almost full run of the place as far as shooting locations. Unfortunately after day 1, it seems the best locations are facing the sides of the arena with no spectators in the stands, but I promise, despite my photos, there were people! It was a little sparse for eventing dressage, but it seems like a good mix of eventing fans and Brazilians, who got a bit rowdy when their first rider, Marcio Appel came in the ring.
They were cheering and shouting for him during the test, which didn’t help his horse, but I can understand. They are true sports fans and so proud to have the Olympics in their country.
As we were standing outside waiting for our bus on Thursday, the street was filling up with locals hoping to catch a glimpse of the torch on its way through.
A young girl went up to Shannon, who was standing nearby, and handed her a note in English that read, “Welcome to Brazil” with a heart.
How cool is that?
The rest of our Thursday involved taking a bus to the Main Press Center to get my photo vest, which took about a minute, getting some food from their more expansive cafeteria, then catching a bus to Shannon’s apartment to pick up Mollie’s rogue luggage which had finally arrived, then back on a bus to the MPC, then on another bus back to Deodoro.
In general the transportation has been very easy, with buses coming on time every 20-40 minutes. We were getting to the end of that period waiting to go back to the MPC when we started discussing taxis straight back to Deodoro instead.
I’m really glad we didn’t do that because after we finally made it back to the MPC and on another bus to Deodoro we met some friendly field hockey commentators who told us they’d tried to get a cab to Deodoro but the driver couldn’t find the place (apparently there is no address) and when he did was unable to get very close. Thanks to our field hockey friends, who Mollie helped learn to pronounce several Portuguese names on our bus ride back, we learned that only one cab company is allowed on site. Good to know!
It is kind of cool to be able to interact with journalists from other sports. At the Pan Ams, we never saw any other sports, and at the World Games, it’s only equestrian journalists, so we’ve been chatting up several people, including our field hockey friends, who are from Ireland and New Zealand and were fascinated by Donald Trump!
We arrived to the first day of competition full of energy and excitement and were promptly greeted by a broken metal detector. With a bus full of journalists needing to get in and get set up, it wasn’t the best way to start a morning, so Mollie did some Portuguese sweet talking and found her way in with a smaller backpack, but I was stuck in line for another 15 minutes until they let us go through another line. Apparently the second scanner broke right after I went through…
All was going well until the lunch break when those in the media center heard a loud noise. I jumped, but thought someone just dropped a camera or something. I was gathering my things to head back out to shoot and thought nothing of it until I was told a stray bullet had pierced the tent!
We’ve felt very safe since we’ve been here, with armed military and police with their fingers near the trigger on every corner, but that was a little alarming. The official story is that there is none, but a lot of people believe it was a stray bullet from a military training exercise. We may never know, but we would really like to!
I’ll check back in a few days with, I’m sure, more stories. We’re trying to keep a sense of humor because it’s still early days, but as with every international championship, there’s always something!