He may have been all over the world on international equine business, but the friendly fiesta at the Rio Paralympics made Phillip Cheetham’s most recent trip stand out from the crowd.
Hartpury’s Equine Events Director is no stranger to mixing it with the superstars of the equine world in para and able-bodied competition - both human and horse - thanks to Hartpury’s own international Festival of Dressage and NAF Five Star International Horse Trials.
But outside of his role at the College, Philip has also been fortunate enough to see the best performers on the world para dressage stage at three Paralympic Games – in the Hong Kong Olympic Equestrian Centre for the Beijing 2008 Games, London 2012 and Rio 2016. He also acted as an FEI steward for the able-bodied dressage in London.
As in China and London, Phillip was initially asked to perform a stewarding role in Brazil, but in April this year, he was asked if he could fly out earlier to support the event team in delivering the competition.
“I was there for about three weeks in all - eight days before the competition got underway and then for the entirety of the para dressage,” said Phillip.
“First of all, I was checking all the accessibility requirements were being met, but also helping with the set-up of the arenas as part of a team of around 125 to 150 people, including 22 FEI stewards.
“Although the team I was working with had just run a hugely successful Olympic Games for the equestrian competitors and a Pan-American Games in 2007, they hadn’t had vast experience of running a para dressage competition.
“That’s why Amanda Bond (Deputy Chair of the Para Equestrian Technical Committee), who is a former Hartpury Deputy Principal and postgraduate student, asked me to come in on the event support side.”
During the para dressage itself, Phillip was in charge of sending the horses into the arena at the magnificent Deodoro Stadium, and later, assisting with the stewarding in between competition.
It certainly helped that he knew so many of the competitors, not only from their appearances at Hartpury events but also from his previous Olympic outings and his role as an FEI steward on the international para dressage circuit, including in Belgium and Deauville and in the World Para Dressage Championships in 2007 at Hartpury.
He also knew five of the Brazilian FEI stewards as they had travelled to Hartpury in July to steward at the star-studded Festival of Dressage and gain some valuable para dressage experience before helping their country with hosting the Paralympic Games.
“It was exceptionally hot for a few days out in Brazil, which was challenging, but it was an excellent venue and the competition was very well organised,” added Phillip.
“There was an outstanding atmosphere too. Selling 8500 seats for the first day of the para dressage competition was just incredible.
“The highlight of course was seeing so many of the Great Britain Para dressage team, who were so exceptional at the Festival, winning medals. But also to see the reaction that the Brazilian dressage rider (Sergio Oliva) got when he won a bronze medal was something very special to be part of. He competed at the Hartpury Festival in July and was one of our rider reps. It was wonderful to see his whole country get behind him.
“The support for all of the para dressage riders was incredible though. Until the horses and handlers are reunited, spectators and all support members are asked to wave to show their appreciation, which is a unique feature and something very special to see.
“Even with so much at stake and the high standard of competition, it felt so relaxed and the riders from all countries were all so friendly and supportive of each other. I feel very privileged to have had the chance to be part of it.”