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The 'Phenomenal' Olympics 2012

Claire Brown (written for the Worshipful Company of Farriers magazine, The Clench, Autumn 2012)

The London 2012 Olympics was a spectacle to behold and, as a nation, one we must be immensely proud of. From the spectacular opening ceremony to the grand finale of the closing ceremony news feeds and papers were littered with success stories not just from medal winners but also of individuals and teams overcoming obstacles to take part and represent their country in such an outstanding event. The Olympics showcased some of the very best

aspects of human nature. There is much talk of the ‘legacy’ that the Games have left behind from so many aspects; from inspiring younger generations to take up new sports to motivating others to overcome personal struggles. Whether competitor, volunteer, spectator or bystander we will all hold our own special memories.

Some 70,000 volunteers, or ‘Games Makers’ as they were known, gave up their time and skills to enable this event to happen and to be a part of history. 15 of those volunteers were farriers from across the UK; their contribution was both exemplary and invaluable.

The Forge at the Olympics

Jim Blurton AWCF was ‘NTO’ National Technical Official (Equestrian) for the Olympics and Ben Benson DipWCF was NTO for the Paralympics, each heading the team of 13 farriers who provided around the clock care throughout both events.

The farriers Simon Persse DipWCF, Nick Deacon DipWCF, Jay Tovey DipWCF, Lee Collins DipWCF, Mark Skippon DipWCF, Rob McIntosh DipWCF, Marcus Thorne DipWCF, Paul Armstrong DipWCF, Jeffrey Newnham DipWCF , James Goddard DipWCF, William Mulqueen DipWCF and Ian Hughes DipWCF worked officially in shifts from 6am to 2pm, 9am to 6pm and 2pm to 10pm and the ‘lead’ farrier was on call from 10pm to 6am. The reality was that the days were often longer to ensure complete continuity of service and that all “bases were covered”.

Months of preparation, research and planning aimed at covering every single potential eventuality paid off as the farriers “worked phenomenally” as a team. Farriery, by profession, can be a lonely and very individual career, however as Jim says “they are all used to running their own businesses and organizing themselves….everyone slotted in”. A series of Standard Operating Procedures had been put in place prior to the Games to help ensure that every possible scenario could be resolved.  It would be fair to say that the ‘spirit of the Games’ was encapsulated and the farriers, as Ben suggested, “pulled it out of the bag”. The rosta’s were worked out amongst the farriers, Jim continued, each knowing their job and responsibilities and where their strengths lay. Such was the community spirit organization and feeling within the forge it became the meeting ground for a coffee for farriers (vets and physio’s!) from many of the other countries.  Indeed a forging competition, or ‘exhibit of shoes’ was to be found on display within the Forge, with farriers and vets from a variety of countries taking part.

Throughout the Games the farriers were organized between the Forge, warm-up arena’s, collecting ring, holding areas, and main arenas to ensure they were on hand at any given time. Competitors suffering a lost shoe could have their ‘round’ delayed by one or two positions (depending on the discipline) and time was of the essence. The efficiency with which the farriers were organized was highlighted when a competitor’s horse in the warm up arena had lost a shoe and a veterinary officer made a call to Jim for the services of a farrier. The shoe had in fact already been replaced by the time the call was made – in less than 7 minutes!

Work completed by the farriers varied from refitting lost shoes to adjustments in the style of shoe fitted in order to suit surface and ground conditions. Any changes made were treated in the strictest of confidence and done in the presence of the Team’s vet.  Equestrian teams with their own farrier were able to book the Forge to use as and when required.

Individual horses and scenario’s arose which led to potentially sensitive situations. Ben noted the protective nature demonstrated by the visiting countries Team vets but professionalism and a willingness to ensure that every competitor and horse was given the opportunity to achieve to the best of their ability meant the farriers were able to work successfully alongside them. Everyone had “individual strengths and there was a great sense of camaraderie”.

Ben highlighted the incredible facilities available for the equestrian competitors. Aside from the arenas viewed by the general public, there were 1 ½ acres of rubber walkways put down for the horses to move around the site and a 5 ½ furlong canter track to name just two examples. The veterinary facilities were “amazing”.

Jim concluded the London 2012 Games was a “wonderful experience to be involved in” and an “amazing opportunity to work on such top quality horses”, these sentiments were echoed by Ben who also highlighted that, for him, “the Para’s embodied the true spirit of the Games…with an immense sense of achievement; both humbling and thought provoking.” Many new friends have been made and memories created that will last a lifetime, an experience that can surely never be forgotten.

On behalf of all of the UK farriers that took part at London 2012, Jim would like to thank the Worshipful Company for their hospitality and the medals presented in recognition of the farriers work at the reception on Sunday 29th July at the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. The farriers were delighted to receive such an honor and were extremely grateful for the gesture.

Team GB Farriers

Lead Farrier for Performance in Dressage and Showjumping Haydn Price DipWCF and Performance Eventing Team Farrier Brendan Murray AWCF B1 echoed the sentiments spoken by both Jim and Ben.

Haydn sited London 2012 as an “unprecedented, incredible success…over all disciplines in both the Olympics and the Paralympics”. For Haydn the showjumping in particular was one of the best sporting competitions he has seen in his life with the results going down to the final round.

Being regular farrier to three of the dressage horses within Equestrian Team GB it was the “highlight of his career” (so far!) and for him his own “World Championships”. He didn’t realise until after the competition perhaps how much pressure was on him and the role he played in keeping those horses sound. To be involved at ‘that’ level, “emotion reaches new heights”. Competitors that have worked for years in advance to secure team placings show an “incredible strength and depth of character”.

The horses within Haydn’s care were shod 10 days prior to the first day of competition at the Olympics. All horses travelled with pre-fitted brand new shoes. Throughout the Olympics themselves Haydn had no shoeing to do as all horses kept shoes and required no alterations – an achievement in itself.

For Brendan the cross country proved testing, as it did to all of the teams, with only two teams returning home from the cross country phase of the Eventing competition with all shoes intact. The equine press had spoken in advance of the undulating course with tight turns. To Brendan’s credit all Team GB horses were reshod and were sound and able to continue into the showjumping phase of the Eventing competition.

Unless farriery attention was required, Haydn’s secondary role was one of “contributor to logistics”. Working within a tight team Haydn could be found assisting vets or grooms or chaperoning horses for dope tests. The working day began at 6.30am and continued through to close of day - with just a few hours off on one day over a three week period you may be forgiven for thinking that there could be some breathing space in the next couple of months…

As with the end of any international competition a two day debriefing took place where each head of department is responsible for feeding information back. A syllabus is created running forward and already we are looking ahead to Rio 2016 with the “Europeans and the Worlds as stepping stones in between”. Exciting times ahead!

Equestrian Team GB, and their farriers, is now looking forward to build on the amazing success of London 2012. We are immensely proud of the entire Team that contributes in so many different ways to ensure that these competitors, and their horses, are able to perform to the best of their ability. Whole hearted congratulations to the Farriers at London 2012, your efforts have surpassed expectation and the professionalism with which the craft has been conducted second to none.