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Imagine yourself, an England football fan travelling to the World Cup with Steve Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, or a Wales rugby fan following Ryan Jones and Shane Williams during the Six Nations.

Well that's what it's like for me this week. Except in my case, the World Cup or Six Nations is the European Eventing Championships in France and instead of chatting to Wayne et al on a BA jet or a team bus, I'm having a cup of tea with top British riders William Fox-Pitt and Tina Cook in the back of an 18 tonne lorry with £1m worth of horses in the back.

Yes I am officially embedded with the British team, the defending European champions. For seven days I will be privy to most of their activities from travelling with them to the event near Paris, to observing their training, going to dinner with them and of course following their progress in the competition.

Continue reading "All set for the European Eventing Championships"

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Hong Kong

So it's all over.

For me, this has been a six-week equestrian journey. First, the Olympics with all its highs and lows, then to the Paralympics with mostly lots of highs.

Once again, Britain has proved itself the best para-dressage nation on the planet with five golds and five silvers. Well done to the riders and everyone involved with the team - it's been an absolute pleasure working with you.

One of the tournament workers said behind me in the interview area when Lee Pearson won his ninth Paralympic gold... "Oh, not another British win?" Yes sireee...

All this success, though, begs the question - why is Britain so good at para-dressage compared with able-bodied dressage?

Continue reading "Why GB rule the para-dressage arena"

Hong Kong

Well what a day! Equestrian dressage team gold in every Paralympics contested - not bad eh? It wasn't exactly unexpected as Great Britain were favourites but this year it is much more competitive, particularly in the individual competition.

Talking of which, despite Lee Pearson spending all of last week telling us "I might not do it you know, I will try my absolute hardest but I may not win gold" he did, of course.

Gentleman is a very classy horse and it will take a brave bunch of judges to deny him the freestyle title on Thursday.

Lee was also temporarily deaf in one ear on Tuesday night, which must have affected his balance. He told me he is getting it sorted on Wednesday at the hospital but once again, his and the rest of the riders' talents never fail to amaze me.

Continue reading "Equestrian team celebrate"

Hong Kong

Before I start writing about the weather, can I first mention that none of the riders I have spoken to here have been moaning or trying to shift any blame, but it has to be said that the conditions here are affecting some of the Para-dressage riders' performances.

It seemed more bearable during the Olympics, partly because the competitors rode earlier in the day, partly because they had all spent months riding in duvets and running in heat chambers and partly because of the obvious fact that they are not

Although the British team have done everything they can, they, like everyone else, are finding the conditions difficult.

Continue reading "Hong Kong heat causes problems"

It feels like only yesterday that I was sitting in the very chilled atmosphere of the Sha Tin arena watching the Olympic dressage riders strut their stuff... now I'm back doing the same at the Paralympics and it feels great.

There's a little bit more to do as I'm here for TV but it's mostly the same team and which horse lover would ever complain about getting to watch horses all day for their job?!

The standard in the Grade 3 this morning was split between the top four who were excellent to the bottom three who weren't so great.

The current leader is Germany's Hannelore Brenner who did an outstanding test scoring 71.615%. Simon Laurens got the British team off to a good start though with 69.538% for 2nd place on Ocean Diamond.

Continue reading "GB off to solid start in Hong Kong"

Our accreditation may have changed to blue, the army of volunteers is significantly smaller and we seem to be the only TV crew in town BUT the buzz around the stables is the same as it was at the Olympics.

Here the best para dressage riders in the world have gathered for the biggest para dressage show on earth.

It's great to be back amongst equestrian folk, chatting about Hanoverians and halts; tack to tests and lots of chitter chatter about who'll bag the medals.

I've spent the last two days virtually stalking the British team. They have generously allowed us to film their training sessions and on Wednesday we took Lee Pearson and Ricky Balshaw down to the waterfront in Kowloon for a tour on camera.

Continue reading "Equestrian team ready to rock"

Once again we find ourselves talking about a drugs scandal at Olympic show jumping rather than the sport itself.

Yesterday afternoon four riders were suspended after their horses tested positive for a banned substance known as Capsaicin.

As I raced backwards and forwards to the media centre from our commentary position to file reports, the Hong Kong four as I've dubbed them, were positioned outside the offices of the sport's governing body (the FEI) looking very nervous as they waited to hear their fate.

"We have a problem," said one of the team bosses on his mobile phone. Too right you have a problem I thought.

Continue reading "Drug shame hangs over equestrianism again"

As the Dutch superstar 'passaged' and 'piaffed' her way around the arena to her specially-composed music, we all knew she was going to take the title for a third time.

She was in a class of her own and it was magical to watch.

The victory makes Anky van Grunsven the first person ever to win the individual Olympic dressage title three times. If she wasn't before, Anky is now officially an equestrian great.

Continue reading "Anky strikes again!"

It was a night of what could have been.

John Whitaker's forced omission from the team could well have cost Britain a show jumping medal.

John was said to be devastated to be sidelined after the appeal went against team GB.

He wanted to ride and had been led to believe that despite his withdrawal yesterday after Peppermill had a sore back, he would be allowed to.

Continue reading "GB show jumpers rue bad luck"

Thank goodness for a bit of R and R, after being told categorically last night that John Whitaker was out of the Games, he's now looking like he might be back in the team.

John rode Peppermill this morning and reported the stallion to be feeling a lot better.

The team only need to count three scores from each round so they managed joint
fourth without him but their job in tonight's final round would certainly be made easier with all four to choose from.

John is their anchorman and is generally regarded as
one of the greatest horsemen in the world.

Continue reading "A taste of home in Hong Kong"

While the rest of the world watched the fastest men on the planet go head-to-head in the 100m final in Beijing, I was in my usual spot in Hong Kong watching the best dressage riders on the planet!

I have to confess that just before the race I did my own 100m dash to the media centre to watch it on the telly and I wasn't the only one. The place was packed with journos and photographers enjoying Usain Bolt's record win. I guess we all love sport, whatever it is.

Continue reading "After Bolt, the horses"

Imagine a sport crying out for press coverage, a sport with a really great basic format, full of incident and excitement, a sport that used to be one of the most popular to watch on TV.

That sport is show jumping, so why therefore have the 'powers that be' made it so complicated? Why can't they stick to one team competition or 'Nations Cup' as it's called and then take the top 25 riders from that, zero their scores and qualify them for the individual a day later? Wouldn't that be simple?

Instead, it took three commentators, two text journalists, a TV executive and an actual rider arguing on and off for two days before we could come to a general consensus on the rules and format of this Olympics show jumping competition - and even then I fear some of us went away with the wrong idea!

Continue reading "Olympic rules need a rethink"

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