Friday, June 22, 2007


Thursday June 21 2007


Our driver picked up the four of us – Alice Proust, Nicolas Wahlen, (the professional organizer of Compiegne), The Raven (stuffed in my bag), and me, and shuttled us to the Misura Endurance Village in the valley just below Assisi Town. Nicolas, formerly from the jumping world, (“I'm too old for that now,”) is now an enthusiastic endurance rider, and is doing a 90 km ride next weekend near his home in France.

Some 1200 people and 1 Raven attended the opening Gala Dinner for Assisi Endurance Lifestyle. Alice and Nicolas worked the crowd, introducing me to many people they knew, including Jane and Ian Williams, the FEI Endurance Director. Pedro from Chile and Jodi from Jordan again mentioned to me the Wadi Rum endurance ride in Jordan, and rides in Chile. This is what I really relish about endurance – people from all over the world getting together all around the world, for endurance riding. It can be far off in a wooded corner of a small town in Australia, or under a medieval city in Italy, it can be flat out racing on the sands of Dubai or the toughest mountain trail you'll ever ride on the Tevis course in America, but we're all here for horses – those tough amazing animals that take us on trails and adventures we as humans could never do (except for the few elite athletes) on our own two legs.

Champagne and special Umbrian hors-d'oeuvre were served while the elegant crowd mingled. The Raven fit right in with the world of culture and high society – he has no social airs and always enjoys himself. Around 10 PM there was a mass migration toward the tables set up surrounding the stage. The show started off with a fashion show under the lights, with the lit up Baslilca of St Francis on the hill, and higher up the lit up Rocca Maggiore castle, providing the backdrop for the open air countryside setting.

It's a tough job serving 1200 people a 3-course dinner, but with the waiters plying the crowd with plenty of wine and champagne, we hardly noticed the passage of time – or the blowing of some power breakers - between the delectable risotto and pasta and beef dishes. At 11:30 PM a jazzy band started playing, then at midnight, a fireworks show started from the castle on top of the hill. Nice complement to the meal – the crowd applauded politely, when... BAM! In the field right behind the stage, the REAL fireworks show began. Fireworks are almost always entertaining, but I must say that I've never seen one as spectacular as this, including any 200-year anniversary fireworks shows on July 4th in the USA. They were dramatic, colorful, choreographed, and had the entire crowd, tipsy or not, oohing and aahing in delight like little kids. Bravo!

After the final dish was served, the crowd drifted from the tables to the bar area where fresh fruits, coffee, and gelato were served to polish off the evening. We hung around and visited with more people, including the veterinarian Carlos of Spain, and Meg Wade, whose suitcase still hadn't shown up, so she'd been shopping again and found a pretty white dress. The airlines don't know where her bag is (containing among other things, her helmet and riding tights and weight pad), and when they hear her voice they disconnect the line!

When you hang out with the FEI director, naturally a main topic of conversation that continuously comes up is the improvement of the sport of endurance – qualification criteria for World Championships, finish times and methods, training of horses and qualification of riders. Many people have many differing opinions, and those are from many points of view: from directors of the sport, riders, veterinarians; all address the primary concern of the welfare of the horse, and most opinions have valid points that are worth considering.

Business aside, it was a lovely evening of mingling and eating and imbibing and entertainment. The Raven, having already sat on Royal Gold Carpet, had his spin on the Fashion Runway – after the models and TV cameras of course, so he wouldn't distract from the show.

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