Behind every Olympic competitor is a team of staff dedicated to helping them succeed. For the Italian equestrian team that person is Andrea White
Dressage is a sport the audience has to watch in silent concentration. Spectators are even warned not to clap and cheer when competitors enter the arena, in case they unsettle the horses.
But Andrea White has particular reason to concentrate on the performances in the 2012 Olympic Grand Prix dressage. White is co-ordinator of the Eventing Departmente in the Italian Equestrian Federation, and responsible for the organisation of the Italian teams for the World Equestrian Games and the Olympic Games.
She organised every detail of the Olympics for three riders during the two-week event – individual three-day eventers Stefano Brecciaroli and Vittoria Panizzon, and Valentina Truppa, Italy’s sole grand prix dressage contestant – with the aim of enabling the riders to concentrate on nothing but their performances.
The two eventers have now returned home after achieving respectable 11th and 19th places in their discipline, but Truppa has qualified for the second round with a strong score of 75.79, lying in ninth place not far behind Britain’s Laura Bechtolsheimer and Carl Hester. White says Truppa is particularly strong at the third stage of the competition, when riders do their own choreography and choose music for the test.
When we meet for coffee in a rain-deluged Greenwich, White is in constant demand on her mobile. One call is from Truppa’s parents who are wondering how they can get to eat with their daughter. “The riders won’t leave their horses,” White says. “They don’t go outside the grounds, and her parents have different access levels so they can’t go into the same eating areas as the contestants.”
The problem is typical of the issues White has to deal with during an international competition. She admits she becomes “mother” to the team, and never goes anywhere without a needle and thread, safety pins and black duct tape. The duct tape has been vital during the Olympics, as the four buttons on one of the team saddles and the two saddle flaps were emblazoned with the manufacturer’s name. A small, discreet logo would have been fine; six – even on tiny buttons – was not, so they had to be covered in Blue Peter fashion.
Issues with saddle cloths are more difficult to resolve. At the pony championships in Belgium the manufacturer managed to reverse the colours of the Italian flag. After trying and failing to buy plain white saddle blankets, White dashed into a DIY shop, bought red and green paint, and reinstated the colours in the correct order.
Such mistakes sound amusing, but can be unsettling for the competitors if they aren’t sorted in good time. At the Kentucky Equestrian Games in 2010 officials claimed the logo on one of the Italian saddle clothes was too big. “They made her change it 10 minutes before she was due to compete. Afterwards they checked it and said, ‘Oh no, it was fine after all’,” White says with a grimace.
White’s progress in the equestrian world should give hope to all those horse-mad children (and adults) who think their lives are blighted by not having their own pony. Although she was given one for a while as a child, she has not owned her own horse during her adult life and now doesn’t even ride.
White did a degree in business studies in 1984 at the then Portsmouth Polytechnic, and decided to take a year out before looking for work. “I went to work as an au pair to a family in Rome, teaching the children how to ride. After just over a year I came back to England for six months, but found it very hard to settle down. The culture was so different.”
She returned to Italy as a rep for the holiday company Horizon, and when that ended she returned to Rome where she landed an administration job with the Societa Romana della Caccia alla Volpe, Italy’s only fox hunt.
Her subsequent career moves show the importance of networking and taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. In 1995, the Italian Equestrian Federation (IEF) was organising the European Eventing championships at Patroni Del Vivaro, and one of the members of the fox hunt who was also in the IEF asked White if she wanted to run the show office. She has worked for the federation in different organisational roles ever since, and now manages the national and international competitions and teams for eventing in Italy, including the pony, junior and young rider events.
The daughter of a Royal Navy dentist, White admits she is sometimes driven mad by the last minute attitude of the Italians, and says she finds it extremely difficult to delegate, “although that has become easier now I have good people back in the office”.
She is technologically minded and lives on her iPad, which connects to her computer in the office back in Italy. “I feel stressed if I don’t know what email has arrived,” she says. “I like to be on top of everything.”
Which is difficult when riders are so superstitious: one, who shall remain nameless, received the uniform for their groom several months before the Olympics, but didn’t hand it over until the day before they were due to leave for the UK for fear of jinxing the trip: it was massively too big.
“I have some very superstitious riders who you can’t organise – you can’t get anything out of them until the last minute,” she says. “I do shout at them, but not at the Games. You have to be patient with them; you have to do everything you can to help them be in the right frame of mind, in the right place.”
Hours Pretty much non-stop: “If I’ve left work and the phone rings I will usually answer it,” White says. She gets 32 days holiday excluding bank holidays.
Best thing “Every time a rider comes out of the arena and has achieved their best score in dressage or a clear round, it’s a high. I was brought to tears with Stefano’s second [place] in the dressage the other day.”
Worst thing “Nobody respects time in Italy. I feel it’s my fault because I should have got used to it by now.”