Commentary

A Look Behind the Scenes at WEG

A Look Behind the Scenes at WEG

Photo: Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI)

On Tuesday Chevri’s Capital of Canada and Calecto V of the United States, both having completed their WEG events after the qualifying step, enjoyed a brief snack out of the stall in the morning sun.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Outside the d’Ornano Stadium, in an area marked off by green and white barriers sporting the 2014 Alltech World Equestrian Games (WEG) 2014, is the secret world of the high-level competition horse and rider. At WEG and other major international events, this world is closed off to the public and can seem like a mystery.

The stable areas are mostly quiet and calm (even after a victory!), full of people speaking in gentle voices—to the horses and each other. Grooms take their horses out to specified grazing areas when schedules permit.

Riders stay in hotels overnight, but grooms sleep at the stable grounds near the horses. WEG 2014’s organizers planned for cute little groom houses onsite, but most of the grooms have preferred to sleep in their horse trailer accommodations parked nearby.

Some grooms said it's colder in the little houses than in their comfy trailers during these chilly Norman nights.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

And how do grooms get around the stable grounds? They come prepared.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Funny enough, not all these snazzy dressage horses travel in top luxury vans. You never know what million-dollar horse you might pass in a little two-horse trailer on the highway.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Before each competition test, riders get ready in the warmup ring near the stadium. Like any competitor of any level, the riders are often a little stressed. And believe it or not, there are still last-minute things that their coaches can teach these champion riders. There’s no yelling out instructions around here, though. Riders and coaches are equipped with microphones and earphones connected via Bluetooth for communication.

Inessa Merkuova (RUS) takes advice from her coach minutes before bringing her Trakehner gelding Mister X into d'Ornano Stadium for the Grand Prix Special.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

During warm-up, there are usually three or four horses at a time in the ring. Organizers make loudspeaker announcements of the time left before each rider’s test. “Anna, five minutes,” they’ll say. When it’s time to go, a whole group of people—grooms, assistants, coaches, fellow riders, family members—accompany the horse and rider from the warmup ring into the tunnel.

Competing riders and horses take this tunnel into d'Ornano Stadium.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

That “Tunnel Moment” is a tense moment. Horses snort with excitement; riders concentrate and generally look a little nervous. The crowd of assistants provides emotional support—and usually a bottle of water for one last pre-test sip.

Edward Gal (NED) and Glock's Voice arrive in the tunnel with a crew of assistants.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Quirky ringmaster Pedro Cebulka, in his equally off-the-wall attire, provides a bit of comic relief in this last-step scene for the riders. His job is to make sure the horses and riders are where they’re supposed to be, at the time they’re supposed to be there, and he’s always done it with a delightful combination of silliness and professionalism. “One minute,” he says as Edward Gal (NED) walks Glock’s Voice up and down the tunnel’s path to keep their nerves cool and their muscles warm.

"Thirty seconds," says Ringmaster Pedro Cebulka, his demeanor professional, serious, and unstressed.

Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

After the test, riders bring their horses back to the crew waiting and cheering for them in the tunnel. The grooms lead the horses away to let the riders take a quick break before moving into the interview zone, a room just off the tunnel, with FEI logo backgrounds for all the post-ride photos and videos. There, they find camera crews and journalists—like me!—armed and ready with a thousand questions!

In the end, aside from all the media attention, high-level competition horses and riders have a behind-the-scenes world that isn’t all that different from that of other level competitors, actually. Though I have to say, having a large support crew like that must be nice!  
 

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at a competition stable east of Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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