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Blogger Natalie O’Keeffe found herself centre-stage at one of the world’s biggest sporting events last year when she won a competition to work as a social media reporter at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final in Barcelona. Just days ahead of the start of this year’s event, Dublin-based Natalie – who runs Inside Track Eventing - looks back at an experience she will cherish for the rest of her life…
In February 2016, I created my blog, Inside Track Eventing, with a view to documenting my own little journey into the world of Eventing with my horse. If you had told me that 18 months later I would find myself sitting in the lobby of the Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos Hotel in Barcelona, awaiting a member of the FEI to come and brief me on my role as social media reporter for the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™, having won an international search for ‘FEI’s Next Social Media Star’, I never would have believed you.
The Dublin Horse Show is the highlight of my year. Every year I take the week off work and soak up the variety of classes the show has to offer. So I’m sure you can imagine my delight when I found out that my application to cover this event as an FEI social reporter - with a view to competing for a coveted spot at the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona - was successful! I was given a media pack, my access passes, and a quick briefing, and then my content was mine to plan!
My experience covering the Dublin Nations Cup from start to finish was simply amazing. I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes, attend key events and interview Bertram Allen (you can watch that interview here), Rodrigo Pessoa, and Lillie Keenan, following the USA’s historic win (you can watch that interview here).
Incredibly, I received an email from the FEI less than a week later to say I was the outright winner of the competition! I was absolutely elated and could not believe that the FEI were going to fly me to Barcelona to help them cover the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final.
I arrived in Spain on the day the competition started and was in complete awe at how stunning the grounds of the Real Club de Polo were - the decor, the restaurants, the arenas, and the stunning stable blocks. I had the opportunity to head into the main arena and walk the course and see just how well maintained the arena surface and showjumps were.
But there was little time to waste, as the first competition was set to start that evening! One of the most beautiful and unique features of the final is that the competitions take place at night under floodlights - if you have not had the opportunity to watch an international show run in this manner before, I highly recommend it. My role for day one - the qualifier for the final - was to get myself up to speed on the teams and riders, and run live coverage of the event on my social channels. Having already done this at the Dublin Nations Cup, I felt much more confident in my abilities. I got right to work and had a plan in place.
With every competition being run at night, I was given the freedom to use my days as I saw fit to develop my storylines and content. I spent the Friday familiarising myself with the grounds, supporting the FEI team in pushing out articles on the event, and had the opportunity to spend some time in the mix zone and warmup area, watching some of the top-ranked showjumpers schooling their horses. On the Saturday, I spent the day running around after these same showjumpers, asking them to share fun or unusual facts with me - that later became this light-hearted post which I was so proud to see published by the FEI.
One thing I have learned from this experience is to be flexible - grab every opportunity that you see in front of you, as there is always a story to be shared!
I had spent a few hours struggling to secure interview with riders, when I heard that Team UAE were around and open to chatting. Given this was their first year competing at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final, I knew this would be a great story to share, so jumped at the chance. They were so friendly and even allowed me to film them walking the Challenge Cup course that evening.
Little did I know that they would then go on to make history and win the Challenge Cup! Having met them earlier meant that their chef d’equipe, Karl Schneider, remembered me and was willing to give me a post-win interview. I was so pleased to be able to share their story, as they came into the competition as underdogs and emerged victorious!
The day of the final was one of the most fun days I had - not least because I got to spend my day in the mix zone and warmup, chatting to top showjumpers such as Mclain Ward, Harrie Smolders, Steve Guerdat and Lauren Hough - but also because I was now feeling confident (and brave!) in getting the information I needed, and could really enjoy the experience. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, walking up to top riders who didn’t know me and asking them to share personal fun facts with me (I did tell them I was working with the FEI!), when they were getting ready to compete or enjoying some down time - but every one of them was so friendly and really willing to get involved.
The final itself was exhilarating, and it was such a privilege to be given access to the FEI’s Twitter page to live tweet.
When the Netherlands were crowned victorious, it was another once-in-a-lifetime moment as I watched the lap of honour, attended the press conference, and got to watch the closing ceremony. One of my favourite tasks throughout the three days was recording the press conferences and pulling out interesting quotes to be used in the roundup articles.
The next day (Sunday), I woke up to the realisation that my experience of a lifetime was coming to a close. As I looked out the window of my hotel room, to the beautiful view of a showjumping groom lunging one of the horses in their care on the perfectly manicured grounds of the Real Club de Polo de Barcelona, I once again had to ask myself if this whole experience was a dream: I was invited by the international governing body for equestrian sports to support them in covering one of the most important international Jumping events of the year; I was made to feel like a true member of their team, and developed new friendships and connections that I hope to maintain in the future; I was thanked for my contributions, and the work that I did was valued - being published was the cherry on top.
I am very grateful to the FEI for giving me the opportunity to be their social reporter in Dublin and Barcelona, and for the trust they placed in me to do a good job. I was given the opportunity to pursue my passion and go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip - all thanks to the FEI, and a little blog that I created in February 2016.
Text by Natalie O’Keeffe