From Laurie In Rio: A Day In The Olympic Life

Aug 16, 2016 - 11:21 AM
Matt Williams and Valinksi in action. Photo by Lindsay Berreth

As we’re underway with the team competition, I thought I would tell you how Valinski is prepared on competition day. There are as many routines as there are horse and rider combinations, but it has been my experience that simple is usually better. And Valinski has a simple routine. 

On Sunday, for the first qualifying round, I got to the barn at 6:00 a.m. and fed him right off. Matt was scheduled to arrive at 7:30 to ride, so I like to have all the morning chores done before we get down to business.

But, alas, the manure fairies were late to empty the containers, so stall mucking had to go on the back burner. I groomed V and got all his tack ready and waited for Matt. 

When he arrived, he took Valinski out for a light hack. This is done for two reasons. First, to assess energy level on the day, and second, to do something about it if the horse is too fresh.

Matt likes V a little fresh, so he wasn’t out long. Which is a good thing, because I then had to braid him! With traditional American hunter-style braids, rather than the plaits so popular in Europe. It’s what I do!  

Braids completed, I groomed him again and got him ready to meet Matt at the ring at 9:30. He went fifth with a 10:00 start time.

I put his show tack on and packed my backpack with things we might need at the ring. Hoof pick, rub rag, another set of hind boots that Matt wanted to change to after schooling, stick and gloves for Matt. There were a couple of glitches that entailed two trips back to the barn, but now I know, and it won’t happen again. 

Valinski doesn’t jump a lot of jumps when warming up, so he is less likely to “leave his class in the schooling area.”  

It’s a fine line that each rider/horse needs to find for themselves. We did the boot change and jumped one more jump and then it was down to the ring. Six of each horse’s team can go into the “kiss or cry” box to watch. That is the area that the TV cameras always pick up.

Valinski jumped his heart out and just had a little trouble at the last line in that first round—8 faults total. But then today, in the first round of the team competition, they jumped clean. Yay!

When he came out of the ring, he was guided over to the inspection tent for the mandatory boot check. Stewards take off all four boots to examine them for excess weight, or any other irregularities.  

Yes, people still try to cheat. But not often.

Once you are released, you can head back to the barn if there is no jump-off for you. I walked Valinski quietly around until he caught his breath, and then headed back. 

Once back, I stripped his tack off and took him to the wash stall for a shower. It is almost universal now that you stand your horse in ice—either boots or tubs—for 20 minutes as soon after they compete as possible. It cools and tightens like nothing else.

Fédération Equestre Internationale, the governing body of international equestrian sport, has such strict anti-doping drug rules that you can’t use common liniments on the legs because they might contain ingredients that will test positive in a drug screen. So, most everyone ices and then poultices with an approved poultice. 

Once Valinski was cooled out, bathed, iced and poultices, he was left on his own to recover and rest. Like this:

They try so hard for us that they deserve some peace and quiet. 

Laurie Pitts was all ready to groom at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games with her horse of a lifetime, Balbuco, who was ridden by Conrad Homfeld. But the U.S. boycott of those Games kept her home and missing a line on her grooming resume. Laurie spent a few decades doing non-horsey and horse jobs before after 36 years, the chance to groom at an Olympic Games came up again—this time for U.S.-based Australian show jumper Matt Willams. 

You can read all about it in Groom Spotlight: Laurie Pitts Is In Rio To Complete A Dream Deferred. And make sure to follow along with her as she blogs for COTH from Rio about her adventures. 

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