On The Road Again!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Posted by Diana DeRosa

Sydney Collier. Photo by Diana DeRosa
Sydney Collier. Photo by Diana DeRosa

Whenever you are involved in an international trip, such as covering the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, the preparation often takes a long time. For the media that first day you step on the ground is the end result of days, months and even years of planning. And so as I set sail now on Lufthansa headed to France while the weight of my camera bags is quite heavy, the pressure involved in the planning of such a trip has been lifted to some degree. You feel the pressure the most the closer you get to departing because that’s when you suddenly realize what you still have to do before heading off to the airport.

For media, especially photographers, a lot has to do with deciding what equipment to bring, figuring out how best to pack it within the restrictions and how to keep your checked bag to just 50 lbs., since a second bag these days on most international flights will cost you $100.

Then there’s the workload you need to get done before you leave because once at The Games that will be your entire focus because the days are long and the workload is intense.

This will be my seventh World Equestrian Games and everyone is different. In reviewing the schedule it looks like there will be more overlap at these Games then at others in order to maintain a mostly daytime schedule.

For the first week Dressage, Reining, Para-Dressage, Endurance and even some Eventing will take place, with riders competing at the same time in different venues. Normally for Cross-Country and Endurance no other disciplines are taking place on those days but this time that is not the case.

Rebecca Hart. Photo by Diana DeRosa
Rebecca Hart. Photo by Diana DeRosa

So, media that need to cover all of the eight disciplines showcased at these Games have a lot of decisions to be make, especially because each discipline is at a different venue and none of them are walking distance from each other.

While most of the events are taking place in the city of Caen, both Eventing and Endurance are happening further away. Eventing will take place in Sartilly and Endurance in the Mont Saint-Michel bay area. Having that beautiful castle as a backdrop will certainly create some fabulous scenery (or at least we hope that is the case).

So, it’s just the early stages now leaving from New York’s JFK and headed for a change of flight in Munich, Germany before landing in Paris, France where a shuttle will take us to the Hotel de France, our home for the next three weeks.

I’ll be rooming with a fellow journalist, Darlene Ricker, and both of us are ready for the plunge. So far for me the trip has been seamless other than having to deal with the weight of the camera equipment. Unfortunately for Darlene she’s already encountered a flight cancellation because of bad weather in Chicago. But she’s got it all worked out and the two of us should be arriving at almost 11:00 a.m. in Paris, France (which is 6 hours later than New York).

Hearing from those already in France

While the journalists are dealing with our media woes, the competitors have a different type of pressure. We want to capture them in action and document the outcome. They want to ensure that every step they take gives them the chance of not only succeeding but possibly winning a medal.

A week ago I met with some of the Endurance and Para riders as they prepared for their final departure at the USET Headquarters in Gladstone, NJ and you can check out that story right here at Horsesdaily.  Not only was that a perfect kick off story but a good opportunity to encourage the riders to reach out and keep our readers informed about what’s happening in their lives now that they’ve arrived in France.

While there messages are a few days old now, you’ll still enjoy hearing what they had to say about when they first arrived abroad.

Para-Dressage rider Sydney Collier was the first to respond with an email.

“We have arrived in Aachen Germany at our training camp,” she wrote. “It was a long trip from Gladstone, NJ to here and it involved lots of team work and a series of planes, trains and automobiles along the way!

“Fortunately our trip was a lot smoother then the movie,” she continued. “Everyone – horses, humans and service dogs alike - have traveled wonderfully and it feels so good to be settled for 10 days so that we can begin team building skills and training under saddle.

“We have an incredible team filled with talented riders, great support staff and the best grooms around. It amazes me when I think how far we have traveled around the globe, how much planning and attention to detail was required to move so much equipment, horses, staff, etc and it has gone so smoothly that our horses wake up happy and ready to go to work every day.”

Angela Peavy. Photo by Diana DeRosa
Angela Peavy. Photo by Diana DeRosa

Part of the adjustment to traveling comes from jet lag for not just the humans but the horses. Realigning the day to a comfortable fit does take a little time and so getting to their European destinations early has helped all the riders and horses, including Sydney.

“Our days have fallen into a routine which helps reset our clocks that got thrown off a bit as we have traveled,” she continued.

And with that comes the chance to begin their daily routine in a different time zone.

“We all get up in the morning and do our own personal workouts and get breakfast at our hotel. Next we head over to the barn for our daily team meeting in the observation area of the barn.

“We discuss our plans for the day as well as get updates on our travels to France and the competition schedule. You would be amazed how much paperwork and adjustments are being done every day to put on a show the size and caliber of the Games.

“In Para alone there are over 100 horses that will be attending the initial jog! Then we each have a training session during the afternoon while our teammates observe and help highlight our strengths and weakness to focus on for the next day.

“We wrap up our day with a recap and figure out our dinner plans. Then it's time to tuck into bed and get ready to do it again! What a wonderful and blessed life I am living. A million thanks to all my family, friends, and sponsors for making this incredible journey possible,” Sydney said.

The Para riders compete at different levels and Sydney will be competing in the 1b division. She’s been with the United States Para Equestrian Association (USPEA) since 2010. Initially she was classified as grade 2 but reclassified as her condition declined. Sydney, who is 16, has Wyburn-Mason Syndrome.

Sydney has been riding since she was seven years old. “I always knew it was something that filled my heart with passion but I never knew what an incredible impact it would have on my life when everything changed for me in the blink of an eye.”

Roxanne Trunnell. Photo by Diana DeRosa
Roxanne Trunnell. Photo by Diana DeRosa

Sydney was born able bodied but a stroke changed all that. Yet somehow she has always looked forward and not backwards.

“When I woke up days later in the PICU from my stroke that occurred during a brain surgery I never once asked my parents ‘Why’ I just insisted on ‘How’ - how was I getting back to my horse.  

“I had a lot of choices when I was in rehab but giving up things was never an option. I learned to adapt my dreams and in return they have become my reality and I am forever grateful to the amazing horses in my life that have given me their hearts and their legs when I needed them the most.

Sydney ended her email noting, “I have learned a lot about choices during my medical ups and downs but one thing that I know for sure is that a big smile is the most important choice we make every single day!

While Sydney was able to find some time to spend on the computer emailing her note I’d made it clear to all the riders that we just wanted to hear from them even if only with one sentence.

And so when Para rider Annie Peavy’s simple email came through it was clear she too had a smile on her face.

“I am so excited to be in Germany at training camp and I cannot wait to compete at WEG. Ozzy is such a fun horse to ride and I'm incredibly fortunate to have him.”

Her teammate Rebecca Hart also took some time to write.

She read the first article I wrote about the Para riders and wanted me to include a bit more information about her horse.

Rebecca explained that her horse Romani came from Straight Horse training facility in Denmark, where she was horse shopping with Missy Ransehousen, Babsi Clark and Martha Thomas.  

Susan Treabess. Photo by Diana DeRosa
Susan Treabess. Photo by Diana DeRosa

Then Rebecca updated us with more information about how things went when they first arrived nearly a week ago. “We are currently training at Hans Ruebens stable in Aachen, where we are gearing up to go to France.  All of the horses travelled really well and settled in nicely.  Over the last few days we have been riding and training together and I feel that we are all coming together as a team.  I am really looking forward to representing the United States with Annie, Syd, Susan, and Roxie.  I think we have a solid team and I am looking forward to heading to the venue in France.  

“Thank you for all the great coverage in Para-Dressage!” she concluded.

Endurance Chef d’Equipe, Emmett Ross also took some time to send off a quick email shortly after he and the team arrived. That was a few days ago but it still gives you an insight of what life was like for them during the first few days of their trip.

“We are settling in and our horses are doing well,” he commented. “However, the weather has been rainy and cool--high of 56 yesterday.  Today and the next three are supposed to be great.  Having my first cup of coffee and the day dawns clear.  Riders, team vet and my assistant are in B&B's.”

Last Saturday they moved in to their “Gites. They will enjoy their own kitchens and more liberty to stretch out and be comfortable---not living out of a suitcase,” concluded Emmett.

Endurance rider Meg Sleeper, Frenchtown, NJ, took a few moments to email a quick note before the horses arrived in France.

She wrote her note while sitting in a holding pattern in France waiting for the horses to arrive. The horse she was waiting for who now has settled in comfortably is her 14-year-old bay mare Syrocco Reveille.

While many are competing at a World Equestrian Games for the first time, for Meg this will be her third World Equestrian Games and her sixth World Championships. She competed in Malaysia and in England, where she finished 11th with the fastest US time on the horse she and her husband both bred and trained.

I’m still up-in-the air as I write this and many of these comments from the riders are days old. As I mentioned when I started this article that last week before you travel can be very consuming but even though these comments are a few days late the insight they offer gives us all a chance to take the journey with them.

Once I’ve arrived in France I’ll be sure to continue to update you with some of the color that these Games have to offer both through my eyes and through the eyes of those who are directly involved as writers, staff, supporters or friends.

Feel free to email your questions or comments. Here at Horsesdaily we love to hear what our readers have to say and we’ll also do our best to answer any questions you might have. Feel free to email me directly at dderosa1@optonline.net.