A Rookie Journalist’s Guide to Surviving the #MMBHT media experience

My good friend Sarah Skillin and I were lucky enough to be awarded Badminton Press pass this year. It was great to have this opportunity so we could cover the action at Grassroots and the 4* competition for Eventing World Wide, our own website ‘The Bit’ and for the social media group #TwitterEventing. 

Ludwig S on coursewalk

Sarah was able to arrive earlier in the week and wrote a great Grassroots round up for EWW http://www.eventingworldwide.com/mmbht-grassroots-championships-2014/ and we were able to cover trot up fashion, with Sarah in presence, sending me images remotely that I could comment on – a total double act. From that point on it became apparent that we would have to work as a team in order to cover the huge amount of research and social media reporting.  

After dropping off my kit at a friend’s lorry, my home for the next few days, we headed over to the media tent. A huge, smart marquee based in the heart of the Badminton complex. I exchanged my media ticket for a proper pass and signed in, was issued with a wi-fi code (essential as the locality is such a rural no signal area) and a lunch ticket – so no need to leave our desks and buy food later.

After setting up base(basically you hot desk and bag a spot) and logging on we thought about our first plan of action. Despite planning ahead we were slightly overwhelmed as to what to start with. In hindsight it would have been great to have had a larger team, sending people out taking style photos, walking the course and interviewing riders. But there are a limited number of passes that are issued so we decided to cover specific areas, not overlapping with the ‘big guns’ who would be focusing on things like live tweeting of dressage scores and reporting the big news.

As the sun decided to shine in the afternoon we set off to meet Rhea Freeman who is the PR rep for HiHo silver, a superb jewellery design company who was exhibiting at Badminton. It was great to talk directly to the company owners and really understand their products and design ethos but also see their customers and get an idea of what appealed to them. Badminton, for many is about the shopping as well as the event and we used our time to gather some new contacts and meet in person companies who we highlight via social networks. 

More writing, image editing and sharing followed and a constant look at the leader board with some interesting results. Following the end of competition each day there is a press conference where members of the press can ask the leading riders about their performance and hopes for the competition. At this point the BBC, fronted by Clare Balding, arrived and it was interesting to see some behind the scenes action and get an understanding of all that is involved. 

We had a great evening at the Outside Chance bar, chatting to Nico Morgan, an old friend and leading equine photographer. We talked about how he was planning to set up to get winning shots the next day and what publications would be looking for. It was great to get an understanding of this commercial element, and ultimately what will help to sell magazines.  

Saturday arrived and the various global press teams arrived at the media centre looking pretty worn out already, and definitely bedraggled by the wind and rain. The tent felt like it was about to take off at times and reports were coming in from around the site about blown over portaloos, not to mention the changes in going, caused by overnight rain… would the optimum time be changed? Would fences be removed? 

As an avid people watcher it was great to take five minutes to look at the press room in action. Listening to assorted languages, journalists deep in thought about how to convey the action scheduled to take place… real anticipation. We never would have anticipated what carnage would happen that day. After walking the cross country I understood the enormity of the questions and it was hard to even imagine riding the lines, but I couldn’t have guessed the outcome of the day. The press room was alight with live tweeting, draw dropping moments and total adrenalin. Togs coming back to upload images, radio and film crews flying about interviewing riders. It reminded me of my days working in a well-known restaurant kitchen… one false move and the whole thing goes into meltdown, get a tweet wrong and you pay for it. Above all the speed at which news is posted globally is amazing. There is no room for error and speed is the key, an hour old tweet is now yesterday’s chip paper. 

Writing this now on Sunday morning, with all to play for in this afternoon’s Show jumping I wonder what the outcome will be. I’m sure there will be tears shed and lots of collective gasps. So good luck to all the riders who have certainly earnt their places and not forgetting their amazing rides, as without the horsepower this spectacle would never happen. 

Tired, and slightly emotional we can look back on our few days with real joy. Amazing memories and such an opportunity to share what we were observing with the outside world. So thank you MMBHT… massive thanks to the generosity of the sponsors Mitsubishi Motors UK, Julian Seaman and his amazing press team and all those who looked after us so very well…it’s been a great one!




Putting on the emotional handbrake

At Milton Keynes BE100

I’ve been quite tardy about blogging here for the past few months. It really does seem that life, work and babies have taken over (note that I include horses in the ‘life’ bit as they are a major part of that). I’ve also been writing a bit for Eventing Worldwide and a new project which hasn’t been formally launched yet. 

Eventing wise we had a great run at Burnham Market, My first BE 100 this season to come 8th which I was thrilled about as it was very competitive. Six days later we ran at Milton Keynes and I really struggled with nerves, but still got a double clear; although a load of time faults which knocked us out of contention. Following this we went to Rockingham, an improved dressage (lying 5th), but a very flat SJ round, on holding ground to have 2 down. Wanda felt very low that day and not her usual uppity cob character so we decided to withdraw from the XC as it was up to height and I was concerned she wasn’t on peak form. Within a day she was back to her old self but I’ve been unpicking our performance a little to work out why I haven’t been so confident of late. I’ve written a lot of detail in an EWW blog which will be published soon so won’t cross over into that, but in sum I think my private life as really had an impact on my riding and enjoyment of eventing.

I’ve been trying to get divorced for the last 3 years and it really has taken its toll on me emotionally and physically. I just feel worn out. Add to that raising 3 kids under 6, and one who is 10mths plus work and I’m pretty frazzled. But riding is my sanctuary and it’s not something I’d give up lightly; although things did get that bad a few weeks ago I thought I might need to. 

So how do I work through this? Well I had a little break from riding Wanda for a couple of days last week and headed off to Badminton Horse Trials to meet some friends and also spent the weekend reporting and blogging in the media tent. Possibly the most tiring thing I’ve done in a while but somehow it really restored my batteries and made me realise just how much a big part horses play in my life. 

I’ve also been having some help from Jo Davies, who is a sports psychologist. www.jdpsychology.co.uk Over the phone we have talked about my nervousness and confidence issues, developing some really tangible ideas that I can use when out competing. I really want to knuckle down and work through these ideas as I feel very positive that they will help to make my eventing so much more stress free. 

Today I’m back in the saddle after my mini break and decided to have a little jump and see how I felt. After one or two pops I was really back into the groove. So much more relaxed and Wanda was really taking me into the fences. I definitely didn’t have the handbrake on. For the first time in a little while I had a real sense of achievement and a little high. I’m hoping this isn’t a false dawn but today was a good one and I’m now getting excited for our next event at Little Downham. Hopefully I will be Kicking on!

At Rockingham. Photo by Lens Vanity Photography