I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to go to the World Equestrian Games, which are taking place in the scenic city of Normandy, France. I would say it was a once in a lifetime kind of experience for me.
Most of my career I’ve been covering the flat — Derby’s, Breeders’ Cups, Arcs — that sort of thing, but this experience was so different.
The World Equestrian Games are all encompassing. It gives you a totally different kind of buzz. Although I do not wish to sound clichéd, I think that they totally deserve to be referred to as the ‘horse’ Olympics. The time that I spent watching the dressage, eventing, vaulting or endurance riding, put a lot into perspective for me in the way that I was already looking forward to my next equestrian event.
The 160km endurance ride would have to be one of the highlights of the Games, considering that it was won in exemplary fashion by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. Perhaps not too many people have a complete understanding of endurance, which has to be one of the toughest challenges in sport. It’s not just about strength and stamina, of horse and rider; it goes way beyond what the mind can comprehend. Mostly it’s about trust and friendship.
In fact most of the equestrian events are essentially based on the trust between horse and rider, a perhaps none more so than cross-country eventing, which was another highpoint for me.
Shaikh Hamdan, proved that without doubt he is one, if not the best, endurance riders in the world. So complete and clinical was his demolition of his rivals from around the globe, that he deserves the utmost respect as a horseman nonpareil.
He took the race by the scruff of the neck from the word go and never let go. Once he found his rhythm aboard the beautifully bred Australian mare Yamamah, it was always going to be a case of catch me if you can. But only 36 riders, from 170 starters, survived the challenge that Shaikh Hamdan threw down to them with the ferocity of his intent and complete composure in the face of adversity, and there was plenty of that on the gruelling French course.
Almost every conversation at the Games village, numerous chalets and stables, hinged around the stunning performance he delivered, the master class that will leave an indelible mark in World Equestrian Games history.
I thought the German riders were equally brilliant in eventing, securing a complete set of titles — Olympic, European and WEG. Individual gold medallist Sandra Auffarth was flawless over the jumps while Zara Phillips and William Fox-Pritt provided the star appeal. Phillips exuded class and style and was only narrowly kept away from the medals.
Organisers and course designers provided the perfect setting at Caen and the elite athletes delivered at all levels. Well done Normandy!