Thursday, October 03, 2002

WEC Story - A Groom's Tale - Laura Hayes

The story starts with an offhand comment something akin to "I'll crew for you" and ended with my flying home after ten days in Spain, exhausted, enlightened and really tan.
I was too busy trying to get away from home to be excited about going to Spain. Three business to arrange for, and so many animals you can't count - good thing my husband Mark was staying home, and my son had recently gone to college, or I could not have gotten away.
The plane landed in Madrid from Newark with no hitches. I am obviously not suspect looking, and was waved through security and immigration. Lori Shifflet, Jennifer Sapira and Barbara Horstmeier and myself were to meet at the Madrid airport, which proved to be easier than I had thought, even though we all barely knew each other. We also saw Betty and Steve Baker who were in Spain to crew for the US also. The four of us women caught a taxi to the train station and to meet Pam Koch, Cia's neighbor from PA, and then on the train to Sevilla.
The Spanish countryside from Madrid to Sevilla was interesting - very little color, quite dry, and rows of olive trees everywhere. We occasionally saw horses, but it was not clear what they were eating. The landscape was stark to say the least, and then once in awhile you would see a huge beautiful Hacienda behind rock walls overflowing with beautiful fucsia colored bouganvilla. I ordered my first Cafe con leche at the bar on the train - mmmm, a good way to get one's daily need for caffeine.
Our sleeping arrangements were nice- a small two bedroom apartment each room with two beds, a sleeper sofa in the sitting room and a small equipped kitchen with a clothes washer. We were on the top floor of a five story building, and our balcony overlooked the village square. All of the riders and crew were in this hotel ( am guessing at about 35), while volunteers for the road crews (another 20?) were about 10 minutes away. We were about 40 minutes from the private stable the horses were in, which was very near the ride site of Garapillos. The main venue with the stadiums and stabling for all the other sports, was in the city of Jerez de la Frontera (pronounced Her-eth) and was called Chapin - though I was never clear about why.
The six American horses, Wave, Ali, Shahdon, Finally,Red and Pal, were staying at a private farm with nice indoor stalls, outdoor paddocks, and an area under cover to keep hay, feed and equipment. We were the only international horses at that farm. We assembled there every morning for a meeting, riding, lunch, massages and stretching for the riders and horses, and otherwise caring for the horses. The vets watched each horse trot and the farrier reshod several. Most of the riders were fine tuning equipment and getting a feel for the countryside - riding the loops in pairs. One day we body clipped and I ended up doing much of Wave and Pal - funny since my own horse looked like I chewed his hair off last spring!
The days went fast, and we found very little time for sightseeing. Some afternoons were free and I went to Cadiz one day (where Columbus sailed from) with Jeannie Waldron, Twyla (Val's groom), Dr. Beecher, and his son, Russ. One afternoon was spent at Chapin were I did some shopping in the vendor area (saw Teddy from Running Bear Farm) and watched the Dressage finals with other endurance folks. After the ride I was able to go into Jerez and see the training session for the Riding School there. The Spanish bred Andalusians where beautiful, and the history of the school was amazing.
Most evenings before the ride were spent in the hotel's restaurant and later at night in the open air Mexican restaurant nearby. Margaritas flowed freely and we laughed until we had belly aches (colic?). The locals out did us though, and were frequently just leaving the bars as we were heading out in the morning. Skip Lightfoot did expose his backside - so don't let him tell you he didn't, and I am fairly certain Julie Bullock had alot to do with that. She later walked in the freshly mopped restroom and landed on her back - she was unhurt, but smelled of cleaner of some sort.
Art Prieze was big on meetings, and rightly so, as I think this group was really a team, and it was due in big part to Art's leadership. Most meetings were confidence building exercises or lectures, combined with some silly entertainment such as poems or songs by riders and their crews. I think the best was Steve Rojek's "The Twelve Days Of The World Games" it referred to Twyla not having her correct passport, Dr. Beecher having been 'relieved' of his money, Ali not wanting to go up the ramp into the truck, Jeannie drawing tubes and tubes of blood, not having any hay, and just wanting to sleep, among many other memorable instances. It was performed twice and gained personality as it went along. The Australian bunch were in our hotel also and took and gave much good spirited ribbing.
A day before vet in, we moved the horses to the event stabling - the riders riding over and the crews lugging their stuff in cars. The stables were tidy and clean - rows of portable stalls with tent roofs and nice gravel wash racks all encased by a tall fence and guarded by security. Many of us had been issued picture credentials and had to wear them to get in. I volunteered to sleep at the groom's quarters at the stable which were portable boxes with electric, air and decent bunks with clean sheets and towels. The groom's quarters bathrooms and showers were the nicest facilities I had seen in Spain. There were no phones there, though and I didn't even contact my husband until about day seven - good thing he is not a worrier!

Moving to the actual event stables was the first time we got to look at other country's horses. There were some of the most beautiful creatures I had ever seen, and some of the sorriest, though many more of the former than the latter! I was particularly interested in feet and tack - and boy did it run the gamut!! I saw cheap western saddles with horns and many podium saddles and english type saddles. Most horses wore bits as opposed to hackamores like you see in the US.
The Australian, New Zealand and French teams seemed to have the best uniforms and to ride out to train together. It was obvious they were a team, and very professional in looks and action.
The vet in went well, with all horses passing, and it gave us an idea of how the crew and vet areas were to work, as well as the start and finish. The whole vet area was about a mile or so up the hill from the stable, and had been part of the cross country course for the eventers the day before. Everything was brand new and well organized. All the buildings were temporary, including one large complex that belonged to the Sheik from UAE. There was plenty of available water and actual hoses to use while cooling and pulsing down.
The night before the ride we assembled all our crew equipment in our section of a huge tent. I don't have official measurements, but my guess is that it was 140 feet long and 30 feet wide. We got our slice of about 20 feet wide by the width of the tent - so we were crewing 6 horses in a 20x30 area. Holy cow! There were two of those tents.
I offered to sleep in a cot in the crew area that night to avoid theft and tampering, and was the only person up there except for three guys from the UAE who were in their area in the second tent. Jeannie Waldron gave me her USET cell phone in case I had any trouble. About 4 AM after a short but uneventful night, the rain started and came down in buckets. It thundered and lightening for quite awhile, but I managed to run to the porta potty in between rain drops. Then it happened - the infamous cell phone incident. I heard it splash - there was no way I was going to try to retrieve it. The worse part is that USET will most likely send me a bill for it - I heard the deposit on it was $200.
I didn't have a rain jacket or a change of clothes, so I didn't go out to watch the start in an attempt to stay as comfortable and dry as possible - it was to be a long day.
Everyone had a job we had rehearsed several times - mine was to remove Wave's boots on my side, check his shoes all around and start sponging, Barbara was to take the tack and get it prepared to go back out, Alex took Wave's head, Dr Mike Foss from the Pacific Southwest was to do the Pulse, and Jennifer was to sponge and get water. Pam Weidel showed up on the day of the ride, so she was put in charge of caring for Cia and making sure she had dry clothes and food. Later, after he passed the vet, I would make sure he had all he wanted to eat, and Alex would administer electrolytes. I also was available with an extra set of tools John borrowed for me to apply a shoe for any team member if necessary and if John Crandall got backed up- luckily I didn't have to do that, as I felt I had plenty to do and the anxiety was high!
Bev Gray came into the first check with the first group of horses and Cia a few minutes later. Wave took several minutes to pulse down and was passed in the check by Steve Rojek's Finally. Kathy Brunjes' Ali was off at the trot and later it was realized that he had much of the clay type mud packed in his pads - but too late and he was pulled. Kathy was a great sport and stayed to help the other team members. Val and Heather had lost shoes on already iffy feet and were out in the first 25 miles - spirits sank, but we were hopeful that the remaining three members would finish to put the team in the medals.
Larry Kanavy took over with our crew and lent many years of successful experience to the group. He was a calming and clear influence and was most welcome. We got Wave through the next checks with ease but Cia was having some trouble - she appeared to have a painful shin splint and took some Advil while the sports therapist applied ice. The Advil must have upset her stomach, and she then got sick. She is a tough woman, though and did her job and finished with Steve Rojek to cheers and hugs.
Bev had finished about 20th, and Steve and Cia in the 30s. All the horses looked great and passed their final vetting with ease.
I was the only US groom to stay at the stable that night and got up several times to check the horses and walk Wave. I gave out hay and water and rearranged blankets. The US vets showed up at 8AM and were there when the FEI vets came by to release the horses from the ride grounds so they could return to the private stable with the paddocks. Kathy ponied Wave (I was going to walk him, but she saved me!) Sue Greenall rode Finally and ponied Pal, while Red and Shahdon were trailered the couple miles or so over to the stable. All the horses looked great.
With the race over, I had time to reflect on the trip, the World Games, Spain, and my own aspirations in the sport that I have done for over half my life. Suffice to say I would go again in a second in any capacity, and that I am proud to be an American.

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