New Zealand’s eventing high performance manager and chef d’equipe for the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games Graeme Thom looks back on a test event that has left him buoyed by what may be. He has also recently attended a chefs meeting where there was discussion and plenty of information shared.
“The improvement at Tryon (in North Carolina) since my last visit has been massive,” says Thom. “The construction is going 24/7 and honestly, I wouldn’t have thought it possible for them to do what they have accomplished in the last 12 months. It gives me confidence it will be very WEG-friendly when we arrive.”
Joe Meyer was the only Kiwi competing at the CIC3* test event, where he rode two horses. The cross country ran the first six-and-a-half minutes of what will be the WEG course. “Typically test events are run at 2* level, so to have this at 3* was a bonus for everyone who attended,” says Thom.
The cross country will be 10 minutes in length, and Thom says the last three-and-a-half minutes is expected to include quite a significant uphill pull at the eight minute mark, followed by a further one-and-a-half minute run out.
“It is very unusual to go over part of the course, but this is all part and parcel of Tryon. The venue inherited this will less than two years to organise a games because it was shifted from Canada. Because of that, they didn’t have time to run a traditional test event, so threw it in conjunction with an existing 3* within the USA calendar.”
While the list of countries competing in the test event was not long, there were plenty of officials from many other countries, including the British, the Netherlands, Japan, France and more.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, USA dominated the placings in the CIC3* test event, with Phillip Dutton (USA) and Z taking the win, finishing on a score of 28 penalty points, with Kimberley Severson (USA) and Cooley Cross Border second on 32/.1 and Sharon White (USA) on Cooley on Show third on 32.9.
Meyer was 19th on Clip Clop, finishing on 50.4, after dropping a costly three rails in the showjumping, and 21st on Johnny Royale on a score of 53.4.
Thirty-eight combinations lined up for the first horse inspection, with 31 completing the event. Competitors hailed from Canada, Ireland, Australia, Mexico, and Ecuador, with 23 from the United States.
“I think this (cross country) course will be good for our riders. It is not an easy course – despite a lot of flat ground, it is an old golf course, so there is a lot of camber and twists and turns, so experience will count for a lot,” says Thom.
Thom anticipates time will be tight. “At the time of the games there will be warm temperatures during the day and down to 14-15 degrees at night, with a fully irrigated track to keep things in good order. They have real professionals working on the footing now.”
Thom says New Zealand riders are all currently working on their own competitions but a rainy season in the UK has seen the cancellation of many events. “However, it will not affect our preparation to bring a first class team to WEG,” he says.
He said there were a few challenges to be dealt with at Tryon, including bringing New Zealand’s riders closer to the venue. “The athlete accommodation is now an hour or so away, so we have moved our riders to rented accommodation much closer. The organisers are very welcoming of our input in trying to understand the logistics and challenges we face, and are doing everything they can to help it work.”
Horses will fly directly on a charter flight from Europe to an airport just 45 minutes from the venue and will do their full quarantine at Tryon. “That in itself saves a lot of risk and trucking. Kudos to them for the efforts they are making.”
Thom likens Tryon to a mini Wellington (in Florida), boasting restaurants, lodging, a general store and other facilities. “They are sparing no expense to make this happen properly.”
Another thing covered in the chefs meeting was access for owners and athletes and access to food 24/7 for key personnel. “Our grooms need be able to get what they need at any time.”
And he heaped plenty of praise on those grooms. “We have unbelievable grooms,” he says. “We have grooms that other nations just beg for. I don’t think you could find such a core group of experienced high quality grooms across this level of competition. This is what the riders themselves have created – they have brought them in and we are so fortunate.”
He also paid tribute to the team’s horse health team.
Thom and US chef Will Connell were the two who dominated question time at the meeting. “It was all detail stuff and the organising committee couldn’t have been more accommodating. They are all about getting our input from a competitive and nation side of things to make this WEG happen in the best way possible.”
He makes no secret that he and the eventing team head to WEG with medal expectations. “We’ve told HPSNZ that, and that team medal is what we are chasing.”
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison