Based on the rave reviews the CDI Compiegne in France has been getting by close friends and acquaintances I decided this year to trade in working at the CDI Wiesbaden for a two-day journey to France. No picturesque pink castle and parking trouble in Wiesbaden for me this year, but instead I got a jawdropping foresty setting with beautiful green backdrop, French finger food and wine and 21 °C sunshine.
With classes starting at nine, I dragged myself out of bed at 5 AM this morning and did the 10 metre "dead-man-walking" green mile from my bed to the bathroom. As soon as cold water splashed my face, I truly woke up and got myself ready for a 3-hour car drive from Belgium to Compiegne, France, a stone's throw north of Paris.
With my stuff all packed in the car, I just had to grab a breakfast-kit from the fridge and hop into the car. By 6 AM I was north of Brussels and already hit the first traffic jam, which annoyed me. "6 Am and stuck in traffic. Glad I don't have to do a daily commute to Brussels," were my thoughts. The rest of the drive was smooth sailing and I actually enjoyed crossing lush, green and springy Walloonia with almost empty motorways. It didn't take long for me to eat my "show-food-car-breakfast": two zero-sugar Red Bulls, one granny smith apple and a gluten-free Coconut rocher. I try to eat healthy conscientiously when I'm at home, but as soon as I go to a show, my plans for a healthier life go down the drain.
I realized that driving my car to a horse show is the perfect opportunity for meditation. The most crazy thoughts cross my mind, such as adventurous business ideas, imaginative conversations I would like to have with friends and foes, getting annoyed by the non-sensical babbling on the radio, my inability to cope with the fact that Studio Brussels radio station is unreachable in the French speaking part of Belgium, enumerating reasons why I'm overtaking so many Belgian cars in France and guessing what their business is down south.
My arrival at Compiegne was a bit different from what I exptected. I ended up entering the town from on top of a hill, going down in hair-pin bends and I ended up smack in the middle of morning rush hour in a miniature version of Paris. Old buildings, big river across the town center, mini-roundabouts, streets half the width of my car and traffic lights everywhere. The Compiegne equestrian centre is in the castle park in the town centre, but an arcade fair blocked the road. I followed my gut instinct and memory of what I saw on Google Maps earlier this week instead of following the GPS and soon arrived at the entrance of the gorgeous show grounds.
I parked my car on meticulously mowed lawn and then walked past a lovely racetrack grandstand (which reminded me of Verden, but than fancier) to find he press centre with one person in the glass cubicle. I introduced myself, picked up the starters' lists and headed straight to the competition rings. I saw cute little food stands with a wine bar, foie gras stand, French cheese bar, etc. I was perplexed as horse shows usually only provide "Bratwurst and fries" or at least food that blocks your arteries with sugar and fat. The main Grand Prix ring looked FABULOUS!!! Green backdrop, five beautiful judges' huts, flowers, white footing, grass strips and only a few commercial banners on the long side.. My heart took a little leap of joy as I immediately knew that I could take brilliant photos here. Magnifique Alors!
Behind the Grand Prix ring there is a 10-minute ring for the small and big tour riders. Behind that ring are three warm-up rings per division: Small tour, junior/young riders and pony riders.. On the right side, there is another 10-minute ring for the youth riders and then two competition rings for these kids. Fantastic!!! I couldn't believe my eyes!
The pony team championship was about to start when I got there and I was able to shoot some warm up photos, do a quick video of the warm up rings (see embedded in the top right corner of this page) and photograph the first ponies going in. My plan of action for today is to focus on the Grand Prix and Prix St Georges and do the youth riders on Saturday. By 10 Am I was back at the main arena, sat down on the perfect spot for those classes with some sun in my back and started shooting. I soon noticed and felt slightly disappointed that the Grand Prix class was cut into two with the majority going on Saturday. As I had already shot most young riders in Roosendaal and Moorsele my attention would go to the seniors here in Compiegne and in between breaks I would run to the other arenas and catch whoever I could.
I think Compiegne is also one of the first shows I attended this year where there is enough time to sit down and grab a bite for lunch without the competition going on non-stop and me running all over the place hardly able to catch a breath. Vive La France! I felt totally at ease eating some bread with old Conté cheese and chilling out for an hour, while talking to some of the devoted "parents" who do everything for their children to be able to attend such fancy and expensive international shows! Hail to them!
Another major thumbs up for Compiegne is the fact that they provide live scores of each judge per movement on small boards only visible to the spectators. Here there is no running score on a jumbotron visible to all, including the judges!! Not even the CDIO Aachen is able to achieve this! Go figure. The result is that there were some major discrepancies between some judges, yet most stayed unison, especially the experienced panelists.
I had a long chat with Australian Olympic candidate Hayley Beresford, who is here with the entire Australian Olympic Shadow team for their last Olympic selection trial. The pressure certainly seems on, and while the Australians are definitely the happy bunch here, you do sense some pressure to succeed. They all want to do their best and while they are team mates, the challenge is be amongst the top three, and at its core it is an individual battle. I wish them all good luck tomorrow.
The day came to a close with some award ceremonies. I didn't feel like going to the hotel straight away and as the sun was setting, "Magic Hour" had arrived. There was gorgeous light flooding the arena and I had to shoot the riders who decided to school their horses later in the evening. Kristy Oatley was riding Clive and afterwards Ronan being coached by her new trainer Sjef Jansen. Brett Parbery saddled Lord of Loxley and got some tips from Ton de Ridder, as did Rozzie Ryan on GV Bullwinkle, Yessin Rahmouni helped a young rider, Anky van Grunsven heated up Morgan Barbancon and Painted Black so they are sharp and electric for tomorrow, and Daniel Sherriff was training Dallaglio at the same time.
When too much shadow hit the arena footing, I decided to call it quits. I sat down with some of the Belgian delegation, ate horrible show-food fries (now why didn't I go for that delicious French food? My face is sunburnt and the sun probably fried my brain at the same time shutting me down for reason!). I chatted with some Belgian pony parents, who actually live in the city next to my home town (Instant flash to the Disney World ride: It's a small world after all). Round 20.30h I went to retrieve the hotel in town, where I had booked a room for the night. It's on the river bank, but definitely nothing fancy. My reservation hadn't registered but they still had a room left. Do you think it's co-incidence I got the one with an electric switch board buzzing lightly the entire time installed out in the open at the door? I'm too tired to complain and have too much work to do.
See you tomorrow! Signing off at 1.52 AM.
-- Astrid Appels
Related Link: Scores 2012 CDI Compiegne