Ok, before I share what I had intended to post yesterday, I will release my first (and I’m sorry to say it will probably not be my last or even second last) bitch blast of this WEG. What has gone entirely wrong so far:
1. The dressage inspection (aka jog) was moved from 11 am to 10 am today with no warning to ANYONE, except presumably the teams themselves. I arrived just before 11 ready to watch the world’s finest dressage horses parade naked before my greedy eyes. When I asked at the media centre if it was a long way to the jog, I was told that yes it was very far. I was also told not to bother embarking on that hike since it was almost over anyway. Changing schedules without telling the public is pretty evil, but changing it without informing the media is a special kind of torture to me. They pulled this kind of crap in Aachen four years ago. I’m disappointed to see that the Kentucky organizers thought it wise to copy the Germans and start dicking around with the timetable already on the second day. Guys – try and outdo Aachen only in the good things, like having enough bathrooms – not the things that suck. Two thumbs down. If I had more thumbs they would all be down.
2. The reason you didn’t read a blog yesterday is because the wireless went down just before the opening ceremonies began. It might have been working in the media centre (though I doubt it) but I thought I ought to be in the stadium and actually watch the opening ceremonies so that I could give you my impressions of them. I’m currently at the reining, and I have no internet here, either.
But it’s not all bad. What do I love so far? The most important part: the people. They are, to a person, the friendliest, most helpful and hospitable hosts of any major international competition I’ve attended. It’s not just the volunteers and staff of WEG either – folks in Kentucky are just downright nice. They talk funny though. It will take me a while to become immune to all the y’alls gits and gonnas. But don’t let anyone tell you that rednecks are knuckle dragging primitives speaking in monosyllables. They actually ADD syllables to all their words. ‘Said’ is at least two and a half syllables in Kentucky-speak.
Our hillbilly love shack is everything I expected it to be – cute, quiet and deep in the moonshine hills. A brochure for the Furnace Mountain Store just down the road from us advertises peanut butter sandwiches for $1.25 and baloney sandwiches for $1.45. The questionable desirability of such menu items notwithstanding, you can’t beat those prices. This part of America-land is cheap. Which is what makes some of the pricing at WEG even more ridiculous in comparison. $17 for a sandwich, salad and water in the Media cafeteria – and they claim they are just covering costs with those prices. I had my first (and I hope last) fried chicken of the trip yesterday, $10.75 for two pieces and a sprinkling of undercooked fries. Yes it was better than KFC, but vegetables – other than the friable starchy kind – are apparently not considered an essential part of a healthy WEG diet.
A little ‘in the moment’ to share with you. American Shawn Flarida is having his turn right now; the whooping, whistling and hollering are at a peak. Shawn is rather chubby for his handsome palomino but he is laying down quite the round. At least I think he is. I must confess I am puzzled by this discipline – though there are plenty of screaming fans who don’t sound puzzled at all. And I can’t get used to seeing a six-foot plus Austrian with a name like Rudolf Kronsteiner doing spins and slides on a 14.2 hand piece of prime AQHA horse flesh. I missed Anky yesterday but apparently she put in a best-ever performance in her WEG reining debut. Canada, on the other hand, is having an unfortunate time of it. Lisa Coulter’s horse Western Whiz did not pass the jog, so we went in with only three and no drop score. Vern Sapergia had a bad flying change that really hurt his result. His daughter Shawna put down a good ride this morning, but it’s probably not enough to get us anywhere near the podium even if Duane Latimer has the score of his career. Which he didn’t. We have just posted our worst WEG team reining result ever.
By the way, if you are dying to watch the action live from home, I had confirmation from the FEI last night that FEI TV
has no black outs (or as they call it, geo-blocking) in North America. I think it’s worth the Euros to get a one year’s subscription, which gives access to on-demand footage following WEG or any other event they cover.
This just in: Joep Bartels came over a few minutes ago and asked me if I would like to have a chat with the Dutch candidate for FEI Prez, Henk Rottinghuis, on Friday afternoon. I said hell yeah! See? I’m getting the local lingo down already. Look for my reflections on that little tête-à-tête next weekend.
A bit about the lay of the land here. My headline about the grass is in reference to the fact that the famed Kentucky blue grass is no greener than my lawn at the end of a dry summer. I guess you have to be here after a rainy spell to see the blue at its bluest. All the same, it’s a beautiful and unique landscape. This is my first time in Lexington. The tradition and history of this part of the world are evident over every rolling hill. There seems to be an unwritten code of fencing – everyone has double rows of four plank black-painted wood – that is if you can’t afford stone walls. It’s actually reminiscent of Europe, which I definitely was not prepared to be saying about the heart of America’s Bible Belt.
The hot weather everyone was going on about all week is behind us already, and that is a blessing for the endurance horses who are out there making their way over 100 miles of hill and dale as I write. Now, if I don’t really ‘get’ reining, I’m even more befuddled by Endurance. I know the horses are Arabs and all, but to say their careers are grueling is an understatement. I hope none of them dies today.
Speaking of Arabs, I wonder what the athletes and fans from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain etc. thought of the Arabian costume demonstration last night in the opening ceremonies. And speaking of the opening ceremonies, I guess it’s time I talked about that. Main take-home impression of last night’s extravagantly priced (cheap seats, $120) extravaganza? Two words: too long. It went on for almost three and a half hours, the last 15 minutes of which Jennifer Anstey and I took in only with our ears as we made our way to the parking lot. It’s not that anything wasn’t any good – ok I’m lying. There was a blonde opera singer who massacred her duet with a much more competent black mezzo soprano, screaming her pitchy way through Delibes’ normally breathtaking Flower Duet. The opera performance from last night is a perfect example of what I didn’t like about the opening ceremonies. What does opera have to do with horses? And why was there so much of it? And why was it all French composers that they sang, in French of course? Were the Americans trying to prove to the world that they are cultured as well as rich and powerful?
Among the performers I enjoyed were Stacy Westfall’s tackless demo, Tommy Turvey’s ‘play dead’ horses, and the Friesian quadrille which was probably my favourite – too bad that act was imported from Holland and not sown on home turf. There were roughly twice as many drill team performances as there should have been. Oh crap. I sound too negative. I’ll come back tomorrow morning with some ha
ppier thoughts. I’ll drink some bourbon first. I will end today on this note – they have conveniently placed the dressage warm up rings right outside the media centre and I’ve just come in from watching Imke Bartels, Ashley, Belinda, Laura B, among many others. I’d still be out there, but I mentioned to Jennifer A. that people at home are probably hitting their refresh buttons over and over looking for my first WEG post. She dragged me back into the media centre by my ear – I speak metaphorically – so that I would post this post-haste.