Gothenburg CDI-W: Dog Days of Discontent

Feb 27, 2011 - 12:13 PM
Gizmo tried sleeping next to Catherine Haddad's luggage but didn't get to go along to the Gothenburg CDI-W. Photo by Catherine Haddad.

Dear Rita,

It is not all sunshine and success on the World Cup tour! Have you ever had one of those days, or two or three, that is not quite defined by Murphy’s Law, but borders on the edge of quiet exasperation? That feeling of being pecked to death by hens? At risk of sounding whiney about my blessed life, let me tell you about my latest show adventure.

I packed my bags last Wednesday to set off on the road again—this time without my trusty Corgi, Gizmo, since the destination was Gothenburg, Sweden. The Swedes, like the Brits, are a bit stressy about incoming dogs: papers, blood tests, rabies titers, etc. So I had to leave my Gizzy in Vechta, and he was not happy about it. That was the least of my worries this weekend, but I can’t help but wonder if I left my good luck charm at home.

I landed in Gothenburg late afternoon, and W arrived late evening, accompanied by his trusty driver and groom, Anna Pettersson. Gothenburg is a great show with wonderful stabling for the horses. The hotel and restaurants for competitors are conveniently attached to the stadium and exhibition halls. So even in sub-freezing temperatures, one can comfortably get around from hotel to show to trade fair to restaurant without the threat of frostbite.

W got settled in his box right away. I checked into the hotel and was surprised to have to pay for my room immediately even though the organizer of the CDI-W pays for riders’ rooms. I tried to explain this, but no one was interested at the front desk, and the show office was already closed. Not comprehending at the time that this would be the first in a series of LITTLE THINGS THAT CAN GO WRONG, I decided to let it go until the next day and invite some friends to a late dinner.

The cash machine would not accept my bankcard. (Picture a B movie, music from Jaws playing softly in the background for just a few seconds.) Dinner got charged to my plastic.

My warm-up ride with Winyamaro on Thursday morning was energetic, elastic and better than I could have asked for. I started looking forward to a great weekend!

Then, after my ride I took a glance at the show program, which contained an insert with short bio information for each rider. My bio was simple disinformation, stating that I was based in Muenster (not Vechta) and that I had trained with jumping legend Paul Schockemoehle (rather than dressage legend Willi Schultheis), among other incredible facts—harmless in reality but unsettling in their distortion of the truth. Hmmm.

Over 25,000 of these inserts were in circulation by the end of the show, so I am sure that the distorted facts have already found their way into my “permanent” Internet record.

I stopped by the bank on my way to the show office to ask about the odd bio information, which incidentally could never be explained. The cash machine would not accept my bankcard (again).

Hmmm. The foreshadowing was obvious. I borrowed cash from a fellow competitor and hunkered in as the competition loomed nearer every hour.

Friday afternoon, W and I started off with a fantastic warm-up and a blockbuster beginning to the Grand Prix, holding at 73 percent through the entire trot work and most of the extended walk.

Then, at the transition to collected walk, Winyamaro got scared of something in the Scandinavium stadium (which seats more than 12,000 at full capacity) and tried to take off to the other side of the arena.  We got back on track right away but not before we had dropped between 36-40 points on one double scored movement! The score plummeted to 67 percent, and our first real chance at 70 percent was history.

We recovered nicely after the drama, however, and put in some of our best canter work to finish in the mid-68 percentile. I was still laughing at this point. W is not a horse you can get mad at for such antics. He is just too damn cute! And with the exception of that costly moment, I had the best test ever on my peppy horse!

Later that evening, in keeping with the ongoing feeling of BAD THINGS ABOUT TO HAPPEN, I noticed that one judge had given me a “5” in the one-tempi changes and noted “extra changes” in the comments. We did the required 15 changes and no more—straight and with good jump as evidenced on my video—so her count was erroneous. Unfortunately, judging errors are only correctable at championships, so another 4-6 points from a double weighted mark in the Grand Prix bit the dust.  

I was smiling less by now. The feeling of impending doom was palpable, and when I set off for the trade fair to do some shopping, the cash machine was now completely out of order.

The freestyles were planned for Saturday evening, and I did everything I could to prepare W for that scary arena. Unfortunately, I failed. He was still a bit intimidated and distracted, and I did not do enough to help him in the test. Mistakes in the ones, mistakes in the twos, mistakes in the ones (again), crappy right pirouette, navigational error in the zigzag, behind the music in the extended canter. Just one thing after another and more my fault than his! Crapola.

We finished eighth with 70 percent when we had had a chance to finish in the top five. I was very, very disappointed in myself. Grrrrrrr.

It was now going on midnight. W was cooled out and put away, and I had to get ready to fly again. A full circle took me back to packing my bags. The hotel still had not sorted out my bill but after a few phone calls, the show office finally got it straightened out, and I had the corrected receipt in my hand by 1 a.m. Off to bed for three hours of sleep.

At 4 a.m. I lugged my baggage downstairs and snuck over to the little alcove where a continental breakfast was served. I took a banana and cup of tea. The KLM pilot sitting next to the coffee machine informed me the breakfast was for flight crew only. Having an explicable but otherwise irresistible disdain for ALL THINGS AIRLINE, I apologized and ate the forbidden fruit anyway.

Immediately met by karmic whiplash, I returned to the hotel lobby to discover two of the “O” judges waiting for the same airline shuttle as yours truly. Groan. Both of these guys have judged me often, and I like talking to both of them, but I knew that some sort of explanation for THE MOTHER OF ALL TERRIBLE TESTS would be graciously requested. I met the expected inquiry with a sigh and, “There is no excuse for bad riding, so I won’t make one.” We all chatted about other things on the way to the airport.

At 5 a.m. at the airport check-in, the baggage belt was broken, which was a moot point anyway because the KLM agent refused to check my bags through to my connecting flight in Amsterdam. It was operated by another airline, so KLM Gold Card and over 100,000 miles be damned, that bag was not getting checked through to my final destination. I would have to pick up my bags in Schiphol, schlep them over to the departure terminal, check them in for the next flight and go through security again.

Air travel is not my pleasure anymore, Rita. It used to be fun to fly, but these days, incredibly overconfident airline companies simply take your money for a promised service and then leave it up to you to figure out how to get yourself and your luggage to the same destination at the proper time. It’s your problem if they screw up, and there is no such thing as a refund for services not rendered.

What if we tried this: Payment for air services rendered UPON PUNCTUAL ARRIVAL WITHOUT HASSLE AND INCONVENIENCE?

If I ran my business the way the airlines run theirs, I would go broke in one month. But I stayed cool at the KLM counter, Rita—oh I stayed cool.  

The flight to Amsterdam (piloted by the very chap who begrudged me the banana back at the hotel) took off late, cutting into my baggage claim-check in-security check-time, BUT my bankcard functioned normally at Schiphol. Things are looking up, Rita.

Looking back on our weekend of discontent, W and I did manage to add 3 points to our ranking in the Western European League at the Gothenburg CDI-W despite our dismal performance. We are now ranked fifth in a tie with Patrik Kittel, and with only one qualifier left to go, no other pair can knock us out of the top nine in the rankings which means: Rita, we are going to World Cup! (Oh crikey, as long as the USEF approves our nomination in the WEL…)

I’m Catherine Haddad, and I’m sayin’ it like it is from the Airport Lounge at Schiphol, Amsterdam.

Training Tip of the Day: “Es gibt immer ein morgen.” Willi Schultheis, legendary dressage master.


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