Saturday, October 9, 2010
Day 15 of the World Equestrian Games in Lexington Kentucky
Day 17 of my trip which included 2 days in Chicago
Day 13 spent at the Kentucky Horse Park
Day 9 working as a volunteer
6:30am: wake up to the alarm because getting there too late on a Saturday might cost 1 to 2 hours of waiting in line just to park. I got some help getting ready...
7am: hit McDonalds on Man O War Blvd to see if the counter guy remembered to bring me my Kentucky Horse Themed McDonalds uniform hat (I've been in EVERY DAY since we made the bargain and he's been sick/off/forgetful for about a week now) but today's SUCCESSFUL! I traded a Kingdom of Bahrain Hat in White (kept the red version) and he was THRILLED! He doesn't wear his cap to work and has two of them anyway, now it's MINE MINE MINE!!!
7:30am: One last stop into the Walmart to collect last minute WEG items before I must pack them up tonite...they're pretty low on supplies but they did have some cool large post card sized versions of the Leroy Neiman official WEG poster...those could make good 'take home' gifts.
8:30am: Circle Downtown Lexington trying to find a parking space so I can get photos of the Horsemania Ponies around town (a whole blog post for later)
8:45am: Find a parking space at a meter that's broken and HOPE that I don't get a ticket while I run around trying to take shots of ALL the horses in a two block radius. I think I got them all!
9:10am: Return to rental car to discover that the city worker who's been dispatched to fix the parking meter has just parked and is just now looking at the meter, he looks back at me just as I open the door and smiles. Whew...no ticket today!
9:45am: Arrive at Spy Coast Parking lot (which is usually a pasture for Spy Coast Farm ) & discover it's packed! Today's walk will end up being about 1.5 miles into the back gate check point.
I will have to walk through all of these cars in Spy Coast
What in the world are Big Ass Fans, you ask? Not Big "Ass Fans"!
Then you check in and they let you know if there are any changes (which there always are but we never know until we get to the "meeting" later)...they also dole out the volunteer gifts: for me I got a 4 day gift of a WEG Pin & an 8 day gift of luggage handle cover (which I used getting all my crap..I mean stuff home...probably another blog post at some point). I didn't quite make it to 12 so I missed out on the cooler but really by the last day I wanted NO MORE STUFF to take back with me.
The organizers really liked us and took lots of photos, every day, and posted them in the Volunteer Tent...
11am: I'm finally inside the park and have exactly 1 and a half hours to take in some of the Driving Event and thankfully the coolest water feature on the course is the closest event point to the tent I'll meet up with the afternoon/evening shift volunteers for our "Volunteer Briefing"
So here's a few shots of the excitement...
12:15pm: It's time to head back to the Volunteer Briefing but I'd like to stay right where I am. I've just gotten so excited about watching these amazing teams wind their way around this water feature making sharp turns and lots of circles...amazing...now I see why it's a competitive sport!
12:30pm: Final (for me) Volunteer Briefing. Since my assigned station is the Main Stadium and it's the final event in Jumping which doesn't start until 8pm, it's decided I'll work the info/program booth at the rear, or Camp Ground, entrance until 6pm and then move over to the Main Stadium after a dinner break at 6pm.
I hadn't worked this position yet so it was interesting to see the teams, volunteers and organizers go by.
2:30pm-ish: I see a familiar face go by on a bike but I'm in the middle of a Program sale so I can't holler at her. All week I'd try to figure out where fellow Seattle Volunteer Jill Hallin was working and here it is my last day and she zips past me on a bike. Huh!?
3:45ish, Jill comes back through on her bike and this time I'm free enough to flag her down! We share a couple of quick WEG stories but end up talking about the SAFE Benefit Horse Show longer! Too funny...but at least we did find each other at some point during WEG...
5:30pm I take a dinner break at Walnut Grove for the last time. After two weeks of their food, I'm so ready to NOT have it again for a long time. Tonight's selection...BBQ'd Pork Sandwich...again for probably the 6th time. I had other choice but I always regretted them. I'm not saying the food was bad, just that for me I was never quite satisfied. Luckily we were given meal vouchers that covered $12 for each shift. It started off with Papa John's personal pizzas and your $12 voucher would get you your choice of cheese or peperoni and a drink...and that's it. I don't eat bready/doughy things as a rule because it hurts my tummy when it gets too full so I basically ate the topping and tossed the rest. $12 for some cheese, a couple of pieces of peperoni & a drink just hardly seemed right but by day 3 they offered me an "alternative" meal ticket which allowed me to go into the Walnut grove food court and have my choice of burger, chicken sandwich, pasta (another thing I don't do for the same "doughy" reasons) Fried chicken, burritos, salad (usually wilty by the time I got there) and these pretty tasty BBQ Pork sandwiches. As it turns out I don't really like most fries unless they're actually basic cut up potatoes, fried...please don't batter them or chemically alter them to make them curl...I'm a fry purist and sadly the WEG fries were battered and usually cold by the time I found a place to sit. But I figured out that I could get kettle chips instead and my meals became much less unpleasant. And all that was probably much more than anyone cared to know about the food selection at WEG...but basically that WAS IT...not just for me but for everyone, guests, competitors, etc...oh...and that BBQ Pork sandwich w/chips and a drink...$14.50 so each day I shelled out $2.50, which is still not bad...but not everyone had a $12 voucher in their pocket like me. I was behind someone who had a $97 lunch bill for 5 people one day...wow!
I ate dinner with a fellow volunteer, Ann, who I now wish I'd thought to take a photo of. She did take one of me and offered to find me on facebook. Someday I know I'll get this random request and realize it was Ann, who was very nice! She was not on that night but came on her day off to enjoy the games on her own without the limitations of a shift over her head.
6:15pm: I wandered across the road to the Main Stadium and my new friends/Vol-employers were already getting things together. I basically volunteered & ended up working the Info/Program booths for TRMG the UK (Great Brittan, not University of Kentucky that also happens to be in Lexington) company that produces all the official printed matter for the games. Part of my job was to sell their programs...the "official WEG Program", the discipline guides and the Daily Ride sheets. Our leaders were actually TRMG employees, or as I called them "The Brits" came over specifically to work these program sales. To my delight my favorite two, Mike & Charlie were just getting things set up for the influx of spectators for the nights event, the Final Four in Jumping.
So here's the Britt-Mobile...
Charlie & Mike found that if they got out with the programs and caught people as they were getting in, they'd get more sales....
...and meet pretty girls...
6:30pm - 8:00pm: Sold Programs & Daily Ride Sheet at a booth inside the Main Stadium.
We got to meet all kinds of people from all over the world there. One gentleman came up to me and purchased a Daily Ride sheet and the gal next to me asked where he was from. He replied that he was from Belgium and then turned the Daily Sheet towards us and pointed out Phillippe LeJeune and said "This is my son!" and beamed a very big smile. I said "You must be very proud of your son" and he put his hand on his heart and said "I am SO very proud of my son!" so I wished him good luck and off he went to watch his son compete amongst the top four riders in the world. That has got to be amazing.
What made the night extra amazing was that this was not just a jump-off between four riders, but also between their horses. Each rider would rotate through all four horses and so each horse and each rider would complete the jump course four times each time, a different pair.
8:10pm: Mike & Charlie packed up unexpectedly and announced that they were sure there would be no more sales and that we were all released to go and watch the competition. THIS was a gift to me as I had been scheduled to work all the way until 10pm. The other gift was from Mike when we finished packing up and he learned it was my last shift, he gave me one of their beautiful programs!
Bye guys, it's been FUN!
One of the cool things about being a volunteer was that our credentials got us into any/every event and we could sit anywhere there was an open seat or we could find a place to stand and watch if we wanted. So I made my way over to the farthest corner of the stadium knowing that it would be my easiest/closest exit to get me back to the Camp Ground entrance for the long walk back to my car. My feet were already done at that point & I just knew that another hour+ was not going to make them any better, even if I sat most of the time. two weeks of this non-stop WEG schedule was taking it's toll and my body must have known it was about to have permission to take a good long break. But THIS was an event NOT to be missed and so I toughed it out and I am so glad I did! oh...and this corner of the stadium also happened to be right at the Warm-up end of the arena where I got to watch all four riders take a three minute warm up ride on each of the other competitors horses.
The lineup in this Rolex Final Four was:
Abdullah Al Sharbatly from Saudi Arabia & his mare, Seldana di Campalto who entered the event having ridden clear in every round leading into the final. If I'm not mistaken he was the only rider to have done so during the games. It was also significant that this middle eastern rider was in the finals and was in a position to possibly win a medal because that had never occurred in international competition before.
Eric Lamont from Canada & his horse, Hickstead a 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion entered the final night coming in the first place position after Friday's events.
Jumping super star, Rodrigo Pessoa from Brazil with his Mexican Stallion HH Rebozo was a true sportsman & excited to ride Hickstead saying that he thought he'd be fun. He came into the games with multiple Olympic and World Equestrian Game Championship titles.
And then my new "connection" having just met his Father, Phillippe LeJeune of Belgium and his horse Vigo D'Arsouilles.
I was very interested in the Saudi, Abdullah Al Sharbatly, for a number of reasons (one is...again...another post) but mostly because he struck me as entirely grateful for this experience. Each time I watched him ride in previous rounds he would take a final lap around the arena with his hands cupped in front of him, lifted and looking to the sky. My take is it was his thanks to Allah for the opportunity and for the glorious ride, which he obviously had many of that week! in Arabic there is a response to anything you say for the future...like "see you tomorrow" would be followed by "en shah, Allah" which translates to "God Willing" it's saying that nothing happens unless it is God's will.
Some might see his riding around the arena with his hands in the air as arrogant but I saw it much less about how great he thought he was and more about how great the experience was, because it was God's will. I got the feeling from the folks around me that they thought he was asking for approval from the crowd by riding like this. I saw it as a deeply personal moment that had nothing to do with the crowd.
In this round, Abdullah took eight faults on his own horse in the first ride but rode clean on every other horse.
Eric Lamaze was undeniably an amazing rider with a spectacular horse. They were very well suited to each other but I have to say, I fell more and more in love with Hickstead after each ride. It was obvious this horse was born to jump and that he LOVES & knows his job. Eric, however took a rail down on both Seldana and Rebozo, while also accumulating a time fault for a total of nine penalties altogether.
Rodrigo Pessoa impressed me with his sportsmanship. Just prior to Abdullah taking Rebozo out for the warm up ride, I saw Rodrigo coaching him on how to ride his horse with gestures and arms as he described how to go at each jump. I found that inspirational and was so disappointed when he ended up with 12 penalties: 4 on his own horse and then 2 rails down on Vigo. I so wanted him to medal just because of his goodwill towards the other riders. But it's about riding isn't it?
It was really interesting that each rider only had three minutes with each new horse to ride it in the warm-up area (closer to me!) and could ride over each of two jumps, but only once each. I think that added to the entertainment for us in the crowd.
In the end, Phillippe LeJeune rode all four horses clear with no time faults and won the Gold Medal. His last mount was the incredible Hickstead. When he finished the round, he was all smiles and gave Hickstead lots of pats and love. When he dismounted he ran over and gave Vigo hugs and pats. I was very moved by the acknowlegement of the horses for their efforts in the feat. He truly understands that this is not HIS accomplishment alone, he is but a partner in the team and he showed that on his team team especially it's a relationship even deeper than the partnership.
I read an interview the next day that quoted Phillippe saying that he credited his Father (the man I met buying the Daily Ride Sheet!) for instilling his love of animals and that his greatest wish in the world was that his horses could speak because he'd like to know if they love living with him as much as he loves living with them. I get choked up just thinking about this Gentle Man, a true Gentleman, who believes that horses are not mere commodities. It's not just business to him, it's a true relationship. I'm beyond thrilled to have gotten see him perform and have a small glimpse into his equestrian life. THIS is what I came to the games for....to see for myself what the deep hearted equestrians are like in real life. It turns out that, much like myself, horses ARE their real life! I know I would have been disappointed to come away with anything less in the way of realizations.
The riders returned to their mounts and headed for their victory lap...
There was one more honor bestowed and that was upon Hickstead who was crowned the Champion Horse for having cleared all four rounds with all four riders. While I live in awe of the riders, for me it's always about the horses. I was so pleased that they took the time to recognize the Equine Athlete as well.
But this was post was supposed to be about my day...and what an amazing close to the day...or so you think.
10:00pm(ish) I watched the medal ceremony and felt like extremely honored to be there. It turned out to be the perfect end to my World Equestrian Games experience but I still had quite a journey ahead of me.
10:45pm: The walk back was a tad emotional. It started to sink in that I was leaving for the last time and the following day would be the closing ceremonies and it would all be over. I was sad to leave, even though my feet hurt, I was tired and hungry for something good to eat. At that moment I didn't want to go home. I wanted to stay in Lexington and for there to be a World Equestrian Games event every day for the rest of my life. I made it back to the car and the parking lot was backed up as everyone was trying to exit at the same time. I had some more time to reflect on the experience and I have to say it was like nothing I'd ever done before.
To be among horse lovers every day, to see the many faces, to hear the many voices and accents, to know that no matter where in the world they came from, they felt the same as I did, that this was something very special. I think anyone who went came home just a little changed. Hopefully inspired! But this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I am so glad I did anything I could to get there.
11:30pm: I rolled into Kitty's house and resumed packing my suitcase and sorting out what I had acumulated while I was there, Clearly I would not have been able to get it all home. Kitty sent me about 25 lbs of magazines and books that I drug home with me day by day so that saved me some space but in the end I was not able to bring back the Kentucky Ale I had acquired for Les. But I managed to make the rest of it all fit.
12:45am: I checked my flight and figured out that the 11:30 flight was oversold and my only option was to drive to Louisville and try to make either the 7am or 9:30am flight to Chicago. With a 1.5 - 2 hour drive ahead of me, I would have to make a decision to leave pretty much RIGHT THEN or try to sleep for 2+ hours and then hope I made it. I decided I would sleep on the plane and I finished packing and drug my very heavy bags to the car and said some quick good-byes to Kitty & Abbey.
2:30am: I hit the road and made a couple of stops for coffee.
5:00am: I made my way to the Cell Phone lot at the airport in Louisville, set the alarm on my cell phone and took a power nap.
5:45am: I tried to return my rental car but it was just a tad too early for them so I had to leave my contract
6:30am: After waiting in a fairly long line it was determined that I was not going to make the 7am flight but that I should be fine for a seat on the 9:30am flight. I had to pay a $50 fee for one of my bags being over weight (officially I think I brought home and extra 100lbs in newly aquired stuff ...probably another post as well!) but when I got up to the gate and finally relaxed my brain started thinking about getting home...and my mindset started to change. Now I was glad to be going home...but I knew this experience changed some things about how I saw my role in the equestrian world. I believe it's made me better.