I’m privileged to work in many different sports, but nothing rivals a cross country day for the most amazing spectrum of human emotion. Working behind the scenes you get a full insight of extreme elation right next to despair and broken dreams. It can be really tough flicking from one camp to the next, offering the right words in completely different scenarios.
Psychologists often use terms such as resilience, mental toughness and emotional control, but I often hold up eventers as an example to others. This is a sport where you can plan everything in minute detail, but there will always be the unpredictable. Preparation and planning is all about minimising risk, trying to reduce reduce uncertainty, but all in the knowledge that these wonderful horses are not machines. Taking Flora Harris and Paul Tapner as examples, each has experienced massively contrasting fortunes, but I would compare them to any of the best in other sports in terms of their preparation and mindset. This sport is about the ability to keep getting up sometimes!
With this in mind, today began with finalising plans. For many riders there would always be a few fences that they’d prefer to see just to make up their minds, so those who are later in the day are able to watch the comprehensive coverage before final preparations. In the rider’s tent by the arena is a full bank of TVs with every camera feed, although sometimes it can be a pretty tense place!
So, we run through final plans before the first rider goes and then watch a few when possible. As I’m sure you all know we use minute markers, but I also have a system that analyses fast and slow sections of the course. For instance, the first minute of the optimum time today contained just 3 jumping efforts that where more about rhythm than technicality, whereas the 4th minute that included the lake had 5 more technical jumping efforts. Therefore the speed of the horse in those respective minutes will differ, and so the riders use this info to have a greater awareness of where they will ideally be at a certain point in order to be on time.
Prior to riding some riders like to relax, whilst others like to be active. This can include balance exercises, stretches and even meditation for focus. Each rider is different and we have individual plans. We’ve also been developing equipment such as compression clothing and eyewear to put the riders in the best and safest position.
Yesterday I said that the consensus was that the course was that it was softer than last year, but it certainly had some tough questions. Often you can see the benefit of a rider having 2 horses as they get the opportunity of experience over the track. Overall though, a great day for the sport with no holds on course and a day of positive action for the public.
Always a late night, especially for the grooms as the horses are given everything they need to recover from their efforts. Here technology is greatly enhancing this part of eventing too. See you all in the morning!