Merritt equestrian prepares to take part in 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, England
On the eve of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, Eng-land, with the Opening Ceremonies scheduled for Friday night, can one even begin to imagine the incredible feeling of anticipation and excitement that is coursing through the veins of Merritt’s Dana Cooke?
After all, the Summer Olympics is the greatest, the most grandiose sporting spectacle in the world. Two weeks of unmatched drama, and scintillating performances by the best athletes the world has to offer.
Cooke, 25, is in London as a member of the Canadian equestrian team. More specifically, she is the groom for three-day event rider Rebecca Howard from Salmon Arm and her horse Riddle Master.
Cooke’s duties and responsibilities are im-mense. It is her job to make sure that Riddle Master, an 11-year-old Canadian sport horse gelding, is ready and in peak condition for the grueling three days of horse-and-rider competition that includes dressage, cross-country and two rounds of stadium jumping.
Cooke and Howard are neither strangers nor newcomers as a team. Both Canadians have been working for the past several years at The Fork Stables in Norwood, North Carolina as equestrian director and assistant director respectively.
The B.C. twosome were also together at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico last October where Canada won the silver medal in team eventing and Howard was the second best Canadian with a sixth place finish overall.
For Cooke and Howard, the six week period since the Canadian Olympic eventing team was officially announced in late June has been incredibly intense. It began with a one week ‘Camp Canada’ in Middleburg, Virginia, from July 3 -8.
The Canadian eventing team then moved to England on July 9 to continue their preparations for the Games and acclimatize to the British weather and terrain. The team based itself at Maizey Manor in Marlborough.
Just days ago - July 23 to be exact - the Canadian team moved into London. Riddle Master and the rest of the horses are being stabled right on the grounds of historic Greenwich Park, site of the official three-day event competition.
The riders, grooms and other support personnel are not staying at the Olympic Athletes Village. Instead, they are being housed in hotels just minutes away from Greenwich Park, yet still within the ‘secured zone’.
“That allows them to move freely without having to go through security checks every time,” explained Cooke’s mom, Marcia Cooper, who is in contact daily with her daughter via Facebook.
According to Cooper, as of Wednesday of this week, it was very uncertain whether all or any of the Canadian eventing team would be attending the Opening Ceremonies on Friday night. That’s because competition for the eventers actually begins the very next day.
Dressage competition runs for two days – Saturday, July 28 and Sunday, July 29. It is the precision phase of eventing, and showcases the harmony between horse and rider as they complete a prescribed test involving numerous gaits and transitions.
The cross-country phase, slated for Monday, July 30, is the ultimate test of the horse and rider’s fitness and endurance. They are challenged by a course several kilometres in length that includes a multitude of immense jumps and obstacles, several of which involve water.
The final phase – stadium or show jumping – is a measure of both the horse and rider’s athleticism as well as a race against the clock. It is scheduled for Tuesday, July 31.
In addition to Howard, other Canadian three-day event team members are Hawley Bennett-Awad and Shandiss Wewiora (both also from B.C.) and Peter Barry, Michele Mueller and Jessica Phoenix (all from Ontario).
Cooper states that the Canadian three-day event team in London is very much a medal contender at the 2012 Olympics.
“It looks very promising,” she says. “Three of the riders – Rebecca, Jessica and Hawley – were at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010 and won the team silver medal. Those three were also members of the Canadian team that won silver at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Mexico.”