Cowboys In Tights

In the summer of 1998, Peter Gray and I were standing in the big Bromont, Quebec show jumping arena, and Peter was telling me about his plans as Canadian Eventing Chef D`Equipe to take a squad of riders to the upcoming World Equestrian Games, to be held later that year in Italy.

In those days the New Zealanders seemed to be winning everything in sight, and the topic turned to the question of how a tiny and geographically remote country like New Zealand could be so internationally dominant.

Later that summer our discussion proved prophetic, as the New Zealand 3-Day Team absolutely owned those Italian  Games. They won Team gold. Blyth Tait won individual gold on Ready Teddy, Mark Todd won silver on Broadcast News, Vaughan was 4th on Bounce, and Andrew Nicholson was 5th on New York.

A couple of weeks after the Games were over, and all the various countries had journeyed home, I got a letter from Peter. I wish I`d not misplaced that letter, because Peter`s own words are more eloquent than my memory of them, but several phrases have remained stuck in my memory for 14 years. Peter said that he`d thought about our conversation at Bromont over the couple of weeks in Italy leading to the Games, where  he`d had the chance to closely observe the New Zealanders in their training sessions, and, of course, as they slaughtered all opposition at the actual competition.

Peter said that “the New Zealanders are basically cowboys at heart, very comfortable galloping at high speeds on bad terrain, but cowboys who`d gone on to embrace upper level dressage and show jumping.”

So there`s a winning 3-day formula if I`ve ever heard one. Cowboys with finely crafted technical skills.

One word from Peter`s letter that resonates as we approach the London Olympics is the word “embrace”, so very much stronger than “tolerate” or “learn.” And with dressage and show jumping even more critical in short format eventing than back in the long format days of 1998,  I suspect that we will see that the riders who will be standing on that podium in a few weeks will be dressage and show jumping technicians who love to gallop. Cowboys in tights! Cowboys with skills so finely crafted that there won`t be a single “chink in their armor” in any of the three phases. Or, more to the point of the analogy, cowboys with no runs in their breeches!

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