Today was truly an adventure. With both Endurance and the presentation of the Reining Team Medals both happening in one day I knew I had to figure out the plan on how to get pictures of the Endurance and yet not miss the Reining Medal presentation.
Not only did I succeed in doing that but I was there at 6:30 p.m. when Spanish rider Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton rode Nobby to win the Endurance Gold Medal. While the day was filled with many anecdotes trying to get the pictures of the winner crossing the finish line was a battle of wits, and so I’m going to start a bit backwards with my journey.
When it was time to wait with camera in the ready we worried about all the people that seemed to not understand that when someone says don’t go here, you are not supposed to go there. In our case we didn’t want them blocking our shots. Fortunately (or so we thought) the stewards very nicely agreed to keep the people back. One man in charge with O.C. on his back took charge of the situation and that made us feel a little better that the crowd of people might actually listen to an official person.
Yet when the winner started on his final lap – who do you think was standing right in the center of the path blocking our shot ---- the O.C. That was followed by hoards of enthusiastic team members blocking the view of the cameras. Whatever we managed to get were just lucky shots here or there because as each rider headed toward the finish line there was never a clear shot.
While that was the way my Endurance ended, it began much differently. At 6:30 in the morning we were all driven in golf carts to the kick off and despite the darkness that surrounded the riders as they headed out at 7:30 a.m. , we were able to get some nice shots of the mass exodus of competitors.
From there we hopped in vans and over the next couple of hours stopped at a few locations along the route. The first was just a big open field. It gave us a chance to get candid shots of many of the competitors but the backdrop was nothing special. The course was actually a series of six loops, much like a flower. All the loops began and ended at the same location, which was where the vet checks would always take place. In all the riders and horses were covering 100 miles.
The second stop was on someone’s private property and we opted to photograph one portion of this, which was a small bridge crossing two ponds. In fact, in order to do the Endurance much of the path the riders had to follow was on private lands surrounding the horse park. Here again we were able to get many shots and this time the setting was very pleasant and the lighting perfect. Because it was so early in the day we caught all of the U.S. riders who would later be spun do to lameness or vets making the decision that they shouldn’t go on. In the end only two U.S. riders remained, which meant no team medal.
I did try to find out exactly what happened to our U.S. riders from those in the press tent with no luck unless I wanted to start making phone calls. With so little time to get things done I opted to continue writing this article and I’ll update you in my next report when I have more time to find out some of the details.
In the end, Heather crossed the finish line fourth, which was thrilling for us but only later led to disappointment when she got spun in the vet check because of a slight lameness behind. Heather came over to the press conference area for a quick interview and wasn’t as disappointed as we thought.
“This is a young horse,” she commented, “and I was just hoping we would be in the top 20, so even though we didn’t finish I am still thrilled.”
In between I went over to the Reining but I’ll stay focused on Endurance for now. After photographing the last few riders in the Reining, their Medal Finals and the Press Conference, it was time to change lenses and head over to the vet area for Endurance. I was hoping to get some pictures of the U.S. riders in the vet area but it was hard to see where they were and so crowded that it was almost uninviting. Instead I opted to go out in the shuttle bus again to see what else was out on the course.
This time we were at what they called a pit stop, which one of the U.S. volunteers explained to us is when stopping your car in a Nascar race to change the oil and tires. In fact this was more like a 30 second cooling off as they took about 20 bottles of water and poured it over the horse while the rider also downed as much water as he or she needed. Some never even stopped. They kept going while their crew ran with them pouring cold water all over the horse.
We got a chance to witness that after a bit of frustration with trying to get some photos. We stood out where we thought we could shoot from for about half an hour all set for the first riders to pass us. Just as we saw the rider and horse in the distance the steward kicked us off what was called the “field of play.” This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem except for the high fence that was taller than me that we were made to stand behind. In the end I missed getting my action shot of Heather but was able to get some “pit stop” shots of some of the other riders. The Reiners Take A Bow
Fortunately, getting photos of the Reiners receiving their medals proved to work out just fine. While we were worried that some of the officials and the TV cameraman might block our view, in the end with the help from our photo chief we had plenty of time to get the winners. So, we were happy and the only thing we wished for was a bit more enthusiasm on the podium.
The Reiners Take A Bow
While we didn’t get that, there were lots of other perks that the winning U.S. team members did give us. Tim McQuay on Hollywoodstinseltown, Craig Schmersal on Mister Montana Nic, Tom McCutcheon on Gunner’s Special Nite and Shawn Flarida on RC Fancy Step shook hands with the crowd on their victory tour. They signed autographs and even one of the horses signed it too. Just take a look at the picture.
Some of the riders handed spectators their flowers and later in the press room the medalists continued the tradition of all signing the life-size horse that will have all the signatures of all the medalists at these Games. We got to see the first team medalists craft their signatures into history.
So, while there were times throughout the day that I felt frustrated, there were also many perks and good things. I know that part of our frustration comes from the fact that we are overworked and overtired and so we are just hoping to have access to some of the answers we need in a way that doesn’t prove to be too difficult. As difficult as it is for us, it’s also difficult for the organizers. There are lots of issues that they also have to deal with preventing them from helping us sometimes when they would like to do more. But in the end we somehow managed to get the details and the trials and tribulations are also part of what makes the story, the real story.
Yesterday I said that I would do a story on the Opening Ceremonies and I will, but I’ll leave that for Monday when the first half of the dressage takes place. I might mention some Dressage but the focus of that article will be bringing you all the thrill and photos that were the Opening Ceremony. After the adventures of today and lots of great photos, it just made sense to focus on Endurance and Reining.
As always, feel free to email me with your questions or comments. If I can get the answer for you I will do my best (firstname.lastname@example.org). August 27th will mark the third day of this 16 day competition and what a ride it has been so far!