Although eventing is the thing that can gets me up and out of bed very early, the 3:30am alarm on Monday morning was definitely met begrudgingly. Having crawled out of the horse box half asleep I headed to the stables to get Smarty ready for travelling and to see him off on his way.
From Dover to Fontainebleu
Despite everyone being very sleepy, there was an undeniable sense of excitement and anticipation in the stables that morning. With fuzzy eyes and worried mums, we loaded our horses onto the Parkers lorry and waved goodbye. The feeling of handing your horse completely into someone else’s care is a very odd one and one I am sure that I will ever get used too. Knowing how brilliant the team travelling with them were and the care that they would be receiving, the nerves were calmed. Luckily for us, we then could get some extra sleep before we left for the Eurostar at 5:30am.
I am sure that the parents were much more emotional about handing over our horses to travel than they were handing us five over to Tessa, the travelling selector. There were certainly no tears shed for the kids. Elicia initially forgot her passport, but remembered just prior to leaving. We finally got underway with our journey to Ebbsfleet in a taxi and the excitement building The chants of “it’s coming home” inspired by the World Cup, did not last too long before we all dozed off for a little bit more sleep. Finally, when waiting for the train we were able to buy coffee and wake up properly, something definitely needed at this point. To add more drama to the journey we then got an announcement that our train was delayed.
At last on the train, we met with Darrell, the Chef D’Equipe, Caroline, the trainer, and Venisha who was our chief for the week. Here we got an hour and a half to chat and get to know each other better. This year the 5 of us in the squad were really close-knit and worked as such an amazing team. We were all so supportive and so invested in each others performance. I think this came from both the very tough selection process and the fact that between us we only had 1 championship experience. The great thing once it that there was no expectation on our shoulders.
On arriving at the Gare De Nord in Paris we hired two cars to take us to Fontainebleu. The five squad members were left with Venisha and Tessa, so no-one got lost. Luckily we had bought sandwiches from the train so while waiting we were able to have our lunch, in a very glamorous place- the car park! Finally, we headed out of Paris and through the French countryside to our accommodation.
Our accommodation had been described as a beautiful French chateau with a swimming pool and lots of luxurious beds… What we found on arrival was a little bit different and certainly added to the experience. This beautiful chateau turned out to be an old-fashioned hunting lodge with stuffed animal heads everywhere you turned. Although not quite what was expected, it was great to all be able to eat together and hang out in each other’s rooms.
We were left there in order to unpack and relax for a while whilst Darrell and Caroline went to the show ground to get their bearings, put up the marquee that would be our base for the week and figure out where everything was. This year they had decided to run not only the Junior and Young Rider Eventing Championships, but also the Dressage and Show Jumping, Junior, Young Rider and Children on Horses Championships at the same location and at the same time. Although this led to an amazing atmosphere, it did mean that the show ground was completely packed with over 600 horses and numerous horseboxes all crammed in together. With the opening ceremony looming that evening and with our clothes all in the horsebox, we started to get a little concerned about how we would be getting to the event, although our small game of tennis was a good distraction.
Luckily everything was very under control and the convoy parents arrived in Fontainebleau just in time to swoop and pick us up as Darrell and Caroline had, unfortunately got caught up at the event. The only problem with this was that we still didn’t have all our things and it would have taken us too long to walk to the horse box and back to the opening ceremony. So with limited mobile signal, we then had the challenge of contacting our siblings to try and fish out our opening ceremony outfits and meet us at the drop off area. They were all brilliant and successfully found everything that we needed. However, we were then faced with another problem. Having not been to the showground, we didn’t know where the loos were and couldn’t go around looking for them. In order to get changed and hold some dignity, we found a nice spot behind some bins! So our GB experience started with us hiding behind bins in our underwear!
After running down to the main arena we were there in time for the start of the opening ceremony which was so exciting and really got everyone in the spirit.
Surrounded by flags and feeling very patriotic, team GB marched into the main arena and paraded around it very proudly. The sensation of knowing that you are there representing your country is really special and something I don’t know how to describe.
Although this first day did not run completely smoothly, the excitement and anticipation overcame any problems that were thrown at us and really helped us grow as a team.
Once the opening ceremony was over, we were all really keen to go and see the horses after their travels. All 5 had travelled really well and were being looked after like royalty. We all took the horses for a walk and hand graze before handing them back over to the grooms and heading back to our accommodation.
Spirits were very high that night with “It’s coming home” being sung very loudly, and very badly, by the five of us as we got ourselves ready for bed. After an early morning and an exciting day, we gave ourselves a lovely early night to ensure we were feeling on top form for the rest of the week.