Six hours on, bound for my daily training near Uttoxeter, I have been unexpectedly detained on the A50 after being caught up in today’s (Tuesday’s) national newsworthy road closure. As a result, my car is presently my ‘mobile office’. Although unconventional and with little distraction other than to stare into the horizon, I was able to make the most of the delay and write my latest column. I certainly have had plenty to reflect on over the last few weeks as they have been busier than usual.
Cardiff or bust….
Horses have certainly been the main cause for my hectic schedule, mixed with Asmir’s constant International commitments with the continuance of qualifiers for Euro 2016. The first of two recent matches began with a road trip to Cardiff where we were graced with the presence of the Bosnian squad in our own ‘backyard’ for a change. It was welcome relief to be able to jump onto a corporate coach, that we borrowed from Stoke for the weekend, instead of a plane and steam down the M6 to Cardiff. Prior to the game, my family and I were able to visit the Bosnia team hotel, adjacent to ours, for a coffee and quick catch up with Asmir. It was great to have a moment to catch up with the rest of the team, having last spoken to them all the way back in Salvador, Brazil many months ago.
Little did I expect to be met and greeted by the swarms of Bosnia fans inside the hotel reception, always ever present and passionately committed supporters of their country’s national football team. Asmir was on good form and ready to face the epic Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale teamed with a strong Welsh side. A goal-less draw was a fair result with both goalkeepers having a very strong game. Asmir though stood out on the night with one of the finest saves I have ever seen him make in his career so far. After blocking an angled shot from Bale in the dying seconds of the game, Asmir preserved the fact that Bale has not been able to score past Asmir in six meetings between them so far. Long may that statistic last!
As we departed Cardiff the next morning, the team hoped on a flight back to Sarajevo where they had to prepare for their next game against Belgium. Asmir knew that they would be a challenging side with the strength and talent that Belgium displayed in their successful extended run in Brazil, having made the quarterfinals. On the night, Bosnia were a competitive side and were looking as though they may win having gone ahead with an early goal from Dzeko, when an uncharacteristic mistake from Asmir levelled the score, and the game finished 1-1. A respectable result, but without a win so far in their qualifying campaign, Bosnia may struggle to get out of the group. Hopefully this elusive win will come when Bosnia faces Israel in their next game.
Horses, horses, everywhere!
Upon Asmir’s return from International break, I promptly departed for an exciting five-day trip for two big Dressage events. The first was attending, as a rider (and operations help) with my horse Foxy, The Dressage Convention, hosted by my mentor and trainer Richard Davison and his long standing friend and British teammate Carl Hester, two of our sports greatest riders and trainers. It was an honour for me to be able to mix and exchange training ideas with some of Equestrian’s finest talents ranging from Internationally renowned judge, Stephen Clarke, gold medal winning freestyle maestro Tom Hunt and Spanish Riding School superstar Florian Bacher to name but a few. It was three well attended jam packed days, as the event slogan rightly stated, “Where training methods meet”. Being able to ride in front of so many people including our amazing hosts and presenters was a brilliant opportunity for Foxy and I. It was a welcome experience without the added pressure that you are faced with when you come down the centreline with the sights of 3, 4, 5 or even 7 judges glaring at you in competition. I must say one of the highlights was riding alongside Carl on his giant World Equestrian Games’ medal winning mount, Niptuck. It was a chance to have fun and strut our stuff!
As soon as the show wrapped on Sunday afternoon, and already overwhelmed with fatigue, it was all action stations as we readied the horses for their departure home. Richard, Tom Hunt and I departed straight to Stansted airport for a late night flight to Billund, Denmark where we were to attend the 2-day annual Global Dressage Forum. It was a little surreal as our bus full of Dressage’s finest from around the world arrived late into the night at the Legoland hotel where were all assigned our ‘themed’ rooms. You can imagine it was an exciting exchange over breakfast as we all discussed which theme of bedroom each of us had-I think Pirates was in the majority.
The forum was being held outside of Holland for the first time in fourteen years at the exquisite Blue Hors Stud with world-class facilities and horses. The forum is a wonderful concept where for two days every area of our sport is discussed and dissected in detail including presentations of innovative ideas and directions that we can move towards from training to commercial development. It was a very educational, informative and thought provoking experience in one of the finest equestrian facilities one can see in the world. It was like my own version of Disney World. No expense had been spared with the best of everything on offer. I envied the horses there as this Stud equates to the finest 7 star luxury for people!
No sooner had I departed Stoke that I was back home again, exhausted, but freshly enlightened and excited by my sport of Dressage and the potential it has for the future and those involved with the sport. The newly gained recognition and appreciation of the ‘dancing horses’ has certainly created the opportunity for reaching a wider market with new and exciting competition formats in the pipeline. One such is having ‘knock out’ rounds with two or three riders simultaneously riding movements against each other, with the best pairing remaining till the end, a bit like in ballroom dancing.
This weekend, as the whistle at the Britannia signals for kick-off against West Ham, should I be offering my final salute on the centre line as I finish my test at a High Profile Show. It is always hard to miss Asmir play as it is such a joy to watch him do what he loves, but so is the nature of our schedules, that there are inevitable clashes.