Sunday, 1 January 2017

I just want to make beautiful videos - Harveywetdog Reviews 2016

We are all on a journey! Here is my continued equestrian journalistic journey through 2016; there are some negative trends as I've indicated below but overall my 2016 was positive.

Unmissable: Andrew Nicholson and Nereo
master Discovery Valley at Burghley 2016
Photo ©Harveywetdog
After all in early September I was privileged to be stood in the middle of Discovery Valley videoing some of the best eventers in the world taking on the challenges of Mark Phillips Land Rover Burghley Course. The rain was pouring down, it was clearly going to be a damp journey home, I knew I wasn't doing my camera any good but I also knew that this was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Again two months earlier I had been lucky enough to be present at Hartpury to record Valegro's freestyle Rio run-out. Once again a marvellous opportunity to see horse power at its most awesome and record it for posterity.

With experiences like these I have to remain positive; ultimately making beautiful video of horses is what my Harveywetdog journey is all about. Read on to hear and see some of the highs and lows of my 2016 and my thoughts on the future.

Choosing my Themestress

Music plays a big part in creating the atmosphere in my video; in 2015 I'd stumbled across Diana Ross and "If We Hold On Together" towards the end of the year but in 2016 I knew from day one that I wanted to use the wall of sound darkness of  Florence and the Machine and "Ceremonials" as the backdrop to all my major work. I'd heard the "Breath of Life" track in January 2016 and just knew that was going to be the theme to my "Best of 2016" video - I just had to wait for the year to finish! I'm never too worried about the lyrics, they don't have to fit exactly what's on the screen, but the mood and the atmosphere does. I'd planned to video at Tweseldown for my first outing and I'd prepared a skeleton video complete with riders and horses and "Never Let Me Go" to kick things off. I'd also arranged with Vicki and Nicky to do some interviews. Unfortunately the weather got in the way and I had to wait until Aldon until I could get my Eventing season under way.

Looking to the future 1: Sustainability and Succession

When I think about the future of eventing Aldon is the type of event I worry about; it isn't that it's not superbly run; it is for now. It isn't that it's not superbly supported by Equi-Trek because it is. I'm afraid it just doesn't feel sustainable to me; the volunteers I met were all engaged and helpful but they all seemed years older than me and unless there are some excellent succession plans in place I fear for the future viability of the event. Portman gave me the same impression, so perhaps it is the events relying on the hunting infrastructure that are about to go through this crisis?

A Great Start

To make up for missing Tweseldown the week before I spent two days at Aldon covering the majority of the competitions. My highlight had to be being in position to video Andrew Nicholson on his return to Eventing riding Zacarias in the Novice competition. I took my laptop with me and thanks to Three having a reasonable 3G signal on site I was able to edit and upload the video on site.

Videoing editing and uploading in the field
Photo ©Harveywetdog 

 Same Old Same Old

I had hoped to visit Gatcombe for the Easter Weekend but due to "artistic differences" with the organisers it wasn't to be. No change there then and I'm really looking forward to spilling all the beans on that one once I come to write my book! Without Gatcombe I decided to visit Munstead in the sunshine to see Lucy Turner and "Freddie Fishwick" in the BE90. Lucy did my first "Live Your Story" and the video of their show jumping reached over 150,000 people on Facebook. Ironically the weather at Gatcombe turned pretty wet on the Sunday so perhaps on balance I had the better part of the deal.

Lucy Turner and Freddie Fishwick at Munstead
Photo ©Harveywetdog

 Live Your Story 2016

Somebody suggested to me early in the year that we needed more short, sound bite type videos of people explaining why they did what they did in the eventing world. As I said earlier I'd used the Diana Ross song "If We Hold On Together" for my 2015 round up video and as it contains the lines

"Live your Story, 
Faith Hope and Glory,
Hold to the truth in your heart." 

I maintained the theme and brought all my videos in this genre together under the #LiveYourStory2016 banner on Facebook. I'm very pleased with the result and have to say a very big thank you to Alex, Lucy, Vicki, Nicky and Fern for being prepared to do pieces to camera for me.

Change of Plan, Change of Format

My schedule for 2016 had assumed I would go to the Winter Dressage Championships at Hartpury. The opportunities to video at the Winters aren't the best but it so close it is silly not to try and go. I had applied for accreditation but obviously my e-mail got lost between here and BD because I never got a response.

This enforced change of plan meant I was able to fit in a day at Portman and two days at Weston. I got the impression they didn't really want me at Portman but didn't have the heart to say no; the two days at Weston provided some excellent sport despite the heavy rain during the Pony Trial on Saturday which put Sunday in jeopardy. The team at Weston worked really hard overnight to make it possible to run the competition on Sunday.

Although there were a number of no shows and people not prepared to take the risk that the competition would run I was rewarded with some excellent cross country action shot for the first time in 4K Ultra HD. I'd done some video in 4K before but Weston more or less marks the point where I decided after this it will be all 4K.

One benfit (for me) was that when William Fox-Pitt fell off at Weston at the next fence to where I was standing the stills were good enough to be used on-line by Horse and Hound.

Photo ©Harveywetdog

Photo ©Harveywetdog
Photo ©Harveywetdog

Wet, Wet, Wet and Windy

My next three events were Belton, Hambleden and Withington. All three were threatened by the weather, it seemed to be the way of the world in Spring 2016. Belton was new to me and I was really impressed by the show Bede Eventing put on. Sometimes I worry that there aren't going to be enough competitors to allow me to get around the whole course before the end of the class but with the Grantham Cup there were so many competitors that I'd finished and was heading off home before they got anywhere near the top 20!

Flying! David Britnell and Continuity at Hambleden
Photo ©Harveywetdog

An Excellent Badminton

Fern -Taylor Wrighton
Tillyochie Atraction
Mitsubishi Motors Cup
Photo ©Harveywetdog
Once again I was able to cover the grassroots competition at Badminton in the shape of the Mitsubishi Motors Cup. The added bonus was Fern Taylor-Wrighton and Tillyochie Atraction finishing in sixth place in the BE100 Championship. It was a busy two days as I tried to track six or seven riders across all three phases in both Championships so I was delighted that accreditation gave me a car pass and access to both sides of the park. The Prize Giving, which takes place in front of Badminton House after the first vets' inspection for the CCI horses, was a wildly atmospheric affair and I was so lucky to choose the end with the BE100 horses and Fern just in front of me. Tilly took it all in her stride until we came to do the final interview by which time she thought it was time to go off hunting and not standing around talking!

Chatsworth, Rockingham and Tweseldown

For Chatsworth I made sure I was there early to beat the traffic which had delayed access in 2015. I was rewarded with a brilliant early morning shot of Paul Tapner at the Ice Pond.

The first horse on the course breaks the ice on the Ice Pond
Photo ©Harveywetdog
The slight spoiler for me at Chatsworth was the impact of the ERM especially as I was told upon aarival that I would not be allowed to publish any video of their competition. This did have the benefit that I was able to leave just after lunch and beat the traffic on the way out as well.

Vicki Hancox and Roo at Rockingham
Photo ©Harveywetdog 
Rockingham was a new event for me and my principle reason for attending was to catch up with Vicki Hancox and the impressive Uluru (Roo). Luckily Vicki completed here round before the rain set in and we had chance for a very windy interview in front of Roo's stable. (That was the point when I decided I really needed some better microphones!) I had been told that there was one loop of the course that gave a chance for using the Castle as a backdrop. I arrived there just in time to catch Zara Tindall in shot, unfortunately the wind and rain arrived just before me so my photo opportunity was lost and I beat a hasty retreat back to the Discovery.

I finally made it to Tweseldown for the Monday of the May Event and this time the sun shone. The course is under development and I was very impressed with the new water complex where the racecourse parade ring used to be. An inspirational day which I captured in my "My Blue Sky" show reel.


Looking to the Future 2: The impact of ERM

At the moment it appears de rigueur to comment on the success of ERM; I feel slightly more cautious. My caution is basically threefold 1) It has taken entries away from other, more established, traditional competitions; 2) these other competitions have therefore been devalued and this will drive sponsors away; and 3) ultimately it has to pay for itself and I'm assume this will come from being broadcast on a pay to view basis. None of these problems are insurmountable and possibly the lack of entries was exacerbated by this being an Olympic Year.

We need to see how the series develops in 2017 and if the promised benefits to the Sport start to materialise.

Tim Price and Chris Burton preparing for the ERM at Chatsworth
Photo ©Harveywetdog

Valegro at Hartpury

I took a month away from horse sport following Tweseldown, returning at the end of June at Catton Park which I recall was another wet afternoon. This was my first visit to Catton and I found it to be well run with course covering both parkland and tracks through the woods. I was mystified by what I took to be wooden sculptures around the park until someone told me they were in fact the obstacles on the carriage driving course; live and learn.

After Catton I had planned to attend Farley Hall as a new event but that was rained off which meant my next event was Hartpury for the Five Day Festival of Dressage. A brilliant time, brilliant buzz in the media centre, brilliant banter with Bernard from GoldenEye who I don't think people realise works so hard with the streaming, editing and uploading videos on site and not forgetting the worlds best horses and riders there in front of the camera and only 20 minutes from my front door.

I've already said what a privelige it had been to attend the gala evening and witness and record Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro's stunning performance, You just knew history was being made in front of the camera lens. Ok I know I'm not riding the horse but it's pretty intense keeping the horse in picture and in focus so there is a feeling of relief when it is complete. I actually got quite emotional and punched the air during the piaffe pirouettes and whooped at the end; very unprofessional!

The best photo I never took!
I discovered the shot of Valegro apparently talking to his image
when I came to edit the video. Photo ©Harveywetdog
I had hoped to edit and upload the video at Hartpury but things shut down quite quickly after the competition so I had to complete the job at home. The rendering time is longer on the laptop but the broadband speed is massive at Hartpury compared to home so there are pros and cons. I went to bed at about 2:00AM leaving the freestyle uploading on Three Mobile and the Prize Giving uploading to Facebook on BT Broadband. Luckily both uploaded succesfully with the result that the freestyle quickly established itself as my most successful video of all time with views in excess of 63,000 views by the end of 2016.

My target had been achieving 750,000 by the end of 2016 but with the success of the Valegro videos and what was to follow I've totally smashed that by almost 200,000 views. Thanks for that it is very rewarding.

Loose Dogs and Harry Meade's Ice Cream

After Hartpury Festival of Dressage it was then into my busiest time of the year with the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe followed by the NAF Five Start International Hartpury Horse Trials. Gatcombe gave me a chance to catch up with Nicky Hill and MGH Bingo Boy as they took part in the Intermediate Championship. Accommodating the ERM had resulted in an additional Advanced Section Running on Saturday which became infamous for the "Hey Fucking Dog" incident! Once again Horse and Hound carried the story and Facebook took off with the public expressing strong opinion on both sides of the argument; I just take the videos.

The Loose Dog at Gatcombe
Photo ©Harveywetdog
As with the dressage my time at Hartpury for the Horse Trials was sublime; again there was a good buzz in the media centre with  was a chance to catch up with Phil Johnson, Tim Wilkinson, Sally Newcomb all ably managed by the unflappable Rachael Morley and the core team from Hartpury. Vicky Hancox was competing Roo and did an excellent course walk for me for the Harveywetdog Facebook page. With both Vicky and Nicky the thing that's struck me on their course walks is the amount of thinking that has to go into riding a cross country course - sorry if that was obvious, in my day and at my level it was just kick and hope, but these riders are considering and processing options, optimums and what ifs whilst tackling the course at considerable speed.

Sheer class: Vicki Hancox Course Walk at Hartpury
Photo ©Harveywetdog
Cross Country day at Hartpury is always a long day; is it me or are the frangible pins more frangible at Hartpury than anyway else? Of course the highlight of the day was the Harry Meade Ice Cream incident with Amanada Eckley, another video which won both a lot of views and a lot of followers in Facebook.

Stop me and try one? The Hartpury ice cream incident!
Photo ©Harveywetdog

Looking to the Future 3: Restoring British Eventing Pride?

At the same time as the Festival of British Eventing was in full swing the British Eventing team in Rio were not having things at all their own way. While I had predicted French success after seeing their stealthy progress at the European Championships in 2015 I was not prepared for the total collapse of the British batting order. I said at the time it was like the organisers had decided to increase the severity of the course but failed to tell the Brits. I really had expected Gemma and Kitty to shine so was disappointed when things didn't work out for them.

So what do we do to restore our pride? We have already "sacked the manager" so to speak so his replacement now has a period of grace while they quite literally take over the reins. Personally I had expected William Fox-Pitt to take over in charge. From my perspective, which is generally through a video camera and from several yards away, when it comes to competing the desire wasn't there with William any more and probably hadn't been since Bay My Hero said "fuck this for a game of soldiers" and ducked out back to his box at Fence 17 at the Europeans at Blair. I saw being national coach as the chance for William to regain his sense of challenge from the sport. But what do I know? Chris Bartle is now in charge and we have to hope he can work his magic for us in the same way he did for the Germans.

Fence 17 at Blair: where it all started to go wrong?
BMH took the quick route home to the British Boxes.
Photo ©Harveywetdog

Nicky Hill Lives One of Her Dreams

The combination of two visits to Hartpury together with the Festival of Eventing left me with a mountain of video to process some of which I've taken until Christmas 2016 to complete! I was back on the road for another magical trip to Land Rover Burghley, everything worked out as planned with me capturing the GVs in the morning sunshine and the action in the afternoon's downpour. As I indicated in my introduction I knew the rain and the camera did not mix but there are times when you have to say "so what" and live with the consequences; Burghley 2016 in the rain was one of them.

At the end of cross country day at Burghley I attended and recorded the press conference. I took my place at the back of the gently steaming press pack as Tim Price, Andrew Nicholson, Chris Burton and Captain Mark Phillips explained how the day had unfolded. What really struck me was the disappointment expressed by Mark Phillips with the way the course had been ridden. "Riders were not there for their horses" he explained. I took my time editing the full video of the press conference so that I could illustrate what was being said.

Burghley was quickly followed by four days at Blenheim. Blenheim is another class event that is relatively easy for me to get to and I find it difficult to miss. Unlike Hartpury and Gatcombe I am not able to upload video on site, but apart from that and the vagaries of the A40 the event works well for me.

Nicky Hill had Bing in the 8/9 year old class (their first 3 Star) and she did a superb course walk commentary for me on the Friday. In the video Nicky explained that it all always been a dream of hers to compete at Blenheim, so there she was, living the dream! This was a great sound bite that I was able to use to finish off the video.

Living one of the dreams Nicky Hill course walk at Blenheim
Photo ©Harveywetdog
The ERM competition worked well with the other competitions at Blenheim even if it did mean that the arena could not be used for the CCI cross country. Once again Saturday provided a downpour so the camera got a soaking for the second week running. The main problem was fogging of the clear filter I use to protect the final element of the camera proper once everything started to dry out. There was a lot of assembly and reassembly going on in between horses on Sunday to make sure I didn't miss Nicky's cross country.

Blenheim was my final  3 star event of the season. With Valegro, loose dogs, ice cream and Tom Joad all doing well my view count was way above expectation and I realised I could begin to take my foot off the gas and cruise home.

Looking to the Future 4: The Role of the Volunteer

Eventing couldn't go ahead without its tremendous army of amateur volunteers. As I've got to be on speaking terms with a number of members of this army over the past couple of years I've begun to appreciate what a tremendously skillful and important job they do.

It got my thinking about the amateur status and how this compares with other sports. The role of the fence judge is much more than a marshall say at Motorsport and yet has a public element which a line judge at Wimbledon doesn't have to deal with. While I appreciate that excellent training is provided and that the majority are doing an excellent job at present I predict that in the future we will have to examine if it is correct for volunteers to both be able to seriously influence the outcome of professional sport and be partly responsible for the health and safety of the attending public. Is there is an opening for "Hawkeye" for fence judging; we could start by giving them all a Go Pro to record the action and take it from there. Micro-switches on flags could also play their part.

Setting the Gold standard for British Eventing fence judging
2016 Fence Judge of the Year Peter and Victoria Asprey at Weston
Photo ©Harveywetdog

British Dressage National Championships at Stoneleigh

Following the mix up with the Winter Championships everything went smoothly with my accreditation for the Lemieux National Dressage Championships and I enjoyed three days at Stoneleigh as my final major event of the year. I recorded 25 tests in total with Charlotte Dujardin and Florentina VI proving the most popular.

To finish off the year we took GraceGSP to Weston Park for the Horse Trials for the Sunday of the autumn event. Grace is still quite a young dog and hasn't reached the stage where she will stand by me while I video the horses going past, in fact she is extremely excited by both the horses and the sounds from the water jumps!

Keeping a safe distance; Grace drags Judith around
Weston Park well away from the action.
Photo © Harveywetdog

Finishing Off the Year

Since Weston Park I've spent 3 months tidying up my videos and producing the show reels depicting some of the highlights of the year. As I said I wanted to maintain a Florence and The Machine theme and this continued with the Burghley show reel and completed with my Big Thank You show reel. Both videos have a mobile version and a best version which generally only plays on a PC.

I'm really pleased with the Big Thank You Show Reel. I'd used quite a lot of black and white in the Burghley video and I decided to make the Thank You show reel all black and white; there is a darkness in the music and the black and white imagery matches the mood. The bridge with the rearing horses and people falling off is intentionally dramatic and then when Valegro appears you think is it over or is he going to make a mistake?

Finally Valegro retiring gave me an opportunity for a final video. I've videoed him three times at Hartpury so I used those videos plus shots from the warms ups and the photo calls to create a short tribute. I got it into my head that I wanted to use some of the later Johnny Cash material, thought of "One" but in the end decided on "Unchained". Again black and white, slow motion, the occasional moment of background sound building up to the final round of applause outside at Hartpury together with an overlay of the words of Judy Harvey but put into the past tense ("how lucky we were" rather than "how lucky we are"). Once again I needed to do two versions and was very pleased to find the song sung by the original composer Jude Johnstone.

Looking to the Future 5: What Next for Harveywetdog

My target for the end of 2016 was to have achieved 750,000 lifetime views for the Harveywetdog You Tube Channel. I have significantly exceeded this figure and go into 2017 needing just 60,000 more views to achieve my ultimate goal of 1 Million views. At the same time Harveywetdog has 1512 Facebook followers, 1031 Twitter followers and 1314 You Tube subscribers. All of this has been achieved organically and OK John Foden accuses me of being arrogant but I don't reckon I've done badly over the past five years for one man with two video cameras and a vision.

Looking back to where video was then to where we are today you can see it is now fast establishing itself as the number one medium of choice. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are all awash with high quality video in a way that was unimaginable a few years ago. I have been pleased to be able to be a small part of that revolution; I always saw that THIS was the time for video.

Looking forward I realise that as the revolution calms then control will follow. I have already seen this with H&C and ERM taking action which prevents publication of video from certain events. Badminton and Burghley similarly guard their rights and I'm sure the introduction of Dressage TV and BETV will result in further restrictions being imposed on what I am able to publish on line.

Ultimately the collection of Harveywetdog videos will become a legacy, a reminder of the who, what, where that were rather than that are. That's OK by me. As I said at the beginning, I just want to make beautiful videos of beautiful horses.

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