For Australian event rider Paul Tapner, it felt great Wednesday morning to finally be doing something — even if it was only the preliminary vet check — after a week of hanging around the Kentucky Horse Park.
"We've been here for a long time, and it's fantastic to have something that feels like a competition to do," Tapner, 34, said after Inonothing, his bay Thoroughbred, passed inspection at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
The 2010 Badminton Horse Trials champions in England, Tapner and Inonothing are experienced top-level riders in eventing, the three-pronged competition that comprises dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping. The horse has placed in the top 10 at five four-star events and 11 three-star events, but this is the first time the two are representing their country in world competition.
"No pressure, no nerves, just ready to get on and do something," Tapner said. "Itching to."
The dressage portion of eventing begins Thursday and continues Friday, followed by cross-country on Saturday and stadium jumping on Sunday.
Tapner has been following his Australian teammates in reining and dressage and checking out the Games. So far, only a couple of complaints: weather and walking.
"We liked it when it was hot. That was good. Nice, relaxed atmosphere to turn up into," he said.
As for the venue, he said, riders and fans could see more if things were closer together.
"They've lost a lot of the atmosphere by having the event so spread out. It loses the intensity of the atmosphere, having 'golf-buggy-ville.' That goes for spectators as well as competitors and officials," he said. "I thought reining was supposed to be big in this country. Why are you making the general public park at the other end of the earth to get there?"
He's been doing a fair amount of walking, as well: eventers got their first look at the 4-mile cross-country course on Tuesday, and Tapner said it is impressive.
"A very tough, very big course. Certainly long enough. Certainly worthy of world championship status," Tapner said.
He predicted riders would be challenged out there on Saturday: "There will be penalties spread all the way round the course. It's a very tough track everywhere."
But he said there is one jump, an angled hedge and ditch near the end, that could "be the end of a lot of horses' events. ... By the time a lot of the lesser riders and lesser horses get there, they will have had enough, and that will be the straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak."
He said he hasn't paid much attention to his competitors.
"I wouldn't even know who's here. Going up to a competition of this standard, I focus on me and my horse and my performance," he said. "That's just my style."
He makes no bones about it: He is riding to win. "I didn't travel halfway around the world just to enjoy the sunshine."