Olympics: Being There – Equestrian Dressage

Tom Bodell was at the Dressage on Day 6 of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Equestrian, Greenwich Park

When tickets for London 2012 were finally confirmed in 2011, I wasn’t overly excited at the prospect of watching equestrian dressage. First and foremost, I didn’t have the faintest idea what dressage was actually meant to be. As I sit down this evening having returned from Greenwich, I can safely say I have a much better idea of what dressage is comprised of, and, to my great surprise, found it to be extremely good viewing live.

Dressage or no dressage, I’ve still been to the Olympics, a once in a lifetime opportunity (bar a major surprise in the future), and my over-riding emotion prior to today, and looking forward to Monday’s synchronised swimming at the aquatic centre, was undoubtedly excitement.

Make no mistake; we as a nation have done ourselves proud so far. We might do a good line in self-deprecation in this country but there hasn’t been a major error during the six days of the Games thus far and if the high standards in Greenwich today are matched all over the capital and all over the country, we’ll be fine.

From the moment I set foot in Canary Wharf Tube station I was assisted in completing my journey virtually every step of the way. If the army of volunteers lining the route could have grabbed my legs and physically walked me to the park, they would have.

On arrival at Greenwich DLR, Games volunteers lined the route to the temporary stadia, with one every 10 yards or so. In arriving two hours before the start of the event, as advised, I was able to breeze through security in five minutes flat and find my seat.

Set against a stunning backdrop, which included the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Navel College, this was in every sense a very regal event.

Despite only paying out for the cheapest adult tickets possible – priced at just £20, I was seated in the central stand of the three, out of the glare of the sun and looking towards the Thames and London’s impressive skyline, taking in sights such as the Shard, the Gherkin and the North Greenwich/O2 Arena. Situated just one row from the back, I had genuine perspective, and whilst some of the finer points of the horse’s manoeuvres might have been lost at such a distance, they were already completely lost on a dressage rookie such as myself in the first place.

As promised by the PA announcer, dressage is surprisingly easy to pick up once you’ve seen a handful of horses go through the routine. Described on The Danny Baker Show on Radio 5live a few weeks back as ‘ballet for horses’, it certainly lived up to the billing.

The main manoeuvres were highlighted on the big screen beforehand and broken down for those of us not up on our equestrian events, whilst the smaller scoreboards at ground level relayed the average and running scores for each rider as well as the technical name for the last manoeuvre executed. It wasn’t long before I was – to my mind at least – able to distinguish between a good or bad display, and that made the event incredibly enjoyable.

Despite being assured by the Weather Channel that there was only a 10 to 20 per cent chance of rain in Greenwich, the heavens did open around half way through. A half-hour burst of rain sent a large number of spectators running for cover – hard to find in a scaffold structure, and also helped boost sales of London 2012 branded ponchos no end!

In total, 25 horses and riders performed today with the same number set to perform again tomorrow. At the end of day one, Brit Carl Hester sits top of the Individual Grand Prix, with fellow Briton Laura Bechtolsheimer less than a point behind in second – a result which also puts Team  GB top of the Team Grand Prix to boot.

What more could you ask for?

Tom Bodell

The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to preview for free and download for £4.27 from Amazon and Smashwords. It documents football at the highest level and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.