Choosing the horses and riders who will compete in 3-day eventing for the United States at the 2012 Olympics in London is already under way. This weekend is a critical time in the process. Here’s how we got there, and what will go on through Monday.
At the beginning of June, all potential candidates had to go to Bromont, Quebec, for competition. There, we selected the candidate list 12 horses to go to England to train. Those horses left on their journey early on the morning of June 18.
Once they arrived, they went to a training camp in the Cotswald-area of southwestern England, where they were coached in show jumping and dressage and have access to a fabulous gallop referred to as Jack Dawes gallop.
One thing I must throw in is that these are some of the best Event horses in the United States. They are shod by some really top-notch farriers. A tremendous amount of credit has to be given to those shoers for their hard work and effort in helping each horse get this far.
I try to take over the shoeing on Olympic years about 8 weeks out, for the simple fact I need to know each horse's feet and problems. We also have to pack about 2,000 pounds worth of supplies and I need to have the right gear with me.
The 12-candidate field is narrowed to five during an amazing competition in the south of England at Barbary Castle. This is a very busy event and a number of countries will probably use this as a selection trial, since it is the last big event prior to the Olympics.
As we prepare for Barbary, horses will ship down to Marlborough early (probably as I’m writing this).
All staff selectors, veterinarians and farriers attend. Each of the 12 competitors must compete in this weekend-long competition. On Monday, July 2, we do the final evaluations of the horses. This is at least a daylong process, involving a three-person veterinary panel. The information collected will then be forwarded to the group of five selectors whose job it is to pick the final team of horses and riders for the 2012 Olympics.
As you can imagine tensions are running very high. Some days, my phone has been ringing as early as 4 a.m. Eastern time (that’s 9 a.m. in England). It’s crunch time.
Some of the 12 horses competing for slots are older experienced eventing horses. But that means they often have issues, some of which involve the feet. These have a bad habit of rearing their ugly heads just as things get critical.
Fortunately in this high-tech age, we can instantly email radiographs overseas or pick up a cell phone and communicate with the veterinarian and farrier at the yard and discuss the best possible approach to solving these shoeing issues.
We have one particular older horse that runs in heart bar shoes. But about 10 days into the shoeing, it looked as if some of the critical frog contact with the shoe had been lost. Apparent heel soreness was the first clue, but as usual, there are more complicating factors involved, including a slight medial-lateral imbalance that showed up on radiographs. Combine that with some other issues that horses of this age typically have, and it can be a little tricky trying to talk a farrier through the problem — particularly when they’ve never seen the horse before.
Put yourself in the situation of the farrier in England. You arrive at 9 a.m. to start your day’s work, and you are thrust into the middle of a problem involving the United States 3-Day eventing squad. You’re surrounded by extremely tense riders, all worried that any little thing can get them bumped from the running. Throw in working with a new veterinarian, the coach and the United States Equestrian Federation staff, and you have your hands full.
Since I was familiar with this horse and his foot problems, we discussed on a trans-Atlantic phone call how we could logically determine what was causing the lameness. We started off by loading the foot with Equi-Thane and unweighting the inside heel. If this worked, we planned to take the shoe off and reset it with a moderate amount of frog pressure and unweight the medial heel. As it turned out, this took care of the problem. The medial lateral balance issue that we saw in radiographs was not related to this lameness. For the moment, the crisis was averted.
As I'm writing this, I'm getting ready to head over to the United Kingdom. I’m due to arrive with the team veterinarian early Friday morning. At that point, most of the horses will have finished dressage and will be prepping for cross-country on Saturday.
This will be the key day for me. My goal as team farrier is not so much to do heroics, but to help these horses simply get through the competition, so that on Monday, we can fairly evaluate each animal.
This is not the time to do crazy shoeing to get the horses through the competition. We’re looking to take solid, reliable horses to London when the competition starts. We’d rather not have any major foot issues get on the van.
After our work is done Monday, the results of that evaluation are handed to the team selectors they will combine that the results of the competition how they felt each rider and horse went and then proceed to name the team.
It doesn't sound like such a difficult process, but when you’ve done this for as many years as I have, you know how tough it is.
All of these riders feel they are equally qualified. They’re under tremendous pressure. This can be a life- or career-changing event for many of them. Not making the cut is a big deal. Some people are going to be very disappointed. When the team is announced, a lot of tears are always shed.
But it's how the process works, and once we have our four team members and an alternate, we’ll be ready to go.
Pennsylvania farrier Steve Teichman has helped provide hoof care for the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team in Sydney and Athens. While in England participating in the evaluation and selection of horses for the 2012 U.S. 3-Day Eventing team, he provided updates as the Olympics progressed. Click here to read more from Olympic Shoeing With Steve Teichman series.