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Heather Lende Headshot

With Olympic Horse Folks -- Royal and Common

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It may take a village to rear a child, but it takes more of a kingdom to raise an Olympic event horse. Which is why if you are just part of a rider's family like I am, it is a challenge to get one of Karen's packet of complimentary Olympic tickets. Of course I would have just bought one if I'd known this six months ago, but now I can't, as they there are all sold out. Gill didn't rank one either (she just owns the Greenwich house we are all staying in and is a family friend.) We learned this the night before dressage, but Karen said it was simple, all we had to do was get up at five, meet the team ticket dispenser at six, wait a few hours at the back gate of the venue until she received the day's tickets allotted to the U.S. equestrian team from the IOC representative, and then grab our two and go.

We exhaled when we made it into the dressage stadium in time for the first rider. It turns out we had very good seats. Actually, all the seats here are good. We assumed that the rest of our officially ticketed entourage -- Karen's mother Grandma Joanne, Nancy the United Airlines purser from California who helps Karen travel around the world, and Suzanne the horse woman from Virginia who owns part of Karen's horse (Mr. Medicott is syndicated, so has several owners), were all in the VIP seats. They weren't. They sat in the aluminum bleachers just like us over on the other side. The British are more democratic this way than what Gill calls us "Yanks." There are no skyboxes. At Sunday morning's dressage test, Princess Anne was in the regular seats, too. The U.S. equestrian organization has rented a home adjacent to the venue where last night there was a cocktail party, which Grandma Joanne and I attended, with the US riders, owners, family, and financial supporters. We had to rush home after the dressage tests to change and take a cab back, as Grandma Joanne was a little tired, but so happy since Karen had the best American dressage finish of the day and was 9th overall coming into the second half of the dressage phase. She has bumped down some now, as was expected. The obedient, controlled steps and changes of dressage are challenging for her galloping and jumping horse.

(So was the noise of the crowd in the big stadium.) Mr. Medicott prefers the rigors of Monday's cross-country and the explosive energy of Tuesday's show jumping, the other two phases of Olympic eventing. Anyway, Grandma Joanne and I came into the garden through a crush of blue blazers and perfumed ladies and paused to be photographed before she was whisked toward Karen and I bumped smack into Captain Mark Phillips, the outgoing coach of the U.S. team. (My brother-in-law David O'Connor takes over after the Olympics.) The Captain is also the father of British eventer Zara Phillips, as he was married to her mother, Princess Anne, a long time ago. I had met him before, and said, in my cheery -- oh what-the-heck-might-as-well-jump-in-both-feet common American way: "Hi Mark, nice to see you again, Karen did great didn't she?" He peered at me with his good eye. I prompted him, "We had dinner together a few years ago. You made the cherries jubilee, remember?" He looked closer, finished his crab salad parfait and then said, "Right, right," and handed me the empty cup and mini fork and made his way toward someone more important. Grandma Joanne and I found a table of grooms and owners and had a fine time. On the way home, we learned that our delightful cabbie's brother owned a winery in Napa, and then cruised past the carnival on the common, or green, outside the horse park and he slowed so we could see the crowd watching the Olympics on a big screen TV and picnicking on the grass while children played and dogs tugged on leashes. A Ferris wheel rose behind a stone church on this very same heath where Henry VIII once hunted on his horse. This is London: the city of royals and regular folks rubbing shoulders -- and now with the Olympic games smack in the middle of all of it.

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