When I came over to Europe, I promised myself that even though chances are I will never compete in any of the major international competitions in this lifetime, I was going to beg, borrow and steal to get to see at least some of them during this trip. On most occasions I’m really glad I have an interest in two different disciplines – I get to cheer for twice as many fancy horses and keep up with double the fashion trends! Unfortunately, when I started to plan out my competition calendar for my European Riding Adventure, I suddenly hated my love for two sports. The weekend of the 25th-26th April saw the Longines Global Champions Tour of Antwerp (GCT) and Hagen Horses and Dreams run simultaneously. The show jumper in me was desperate to see what all the hype of the GCT was about, but my inner dressage diva knew Hagen was an unmissable part of the circuit. Both shows were similar distances away and the main classes were on the same days. In the end, Hagen won out because it offered both dressage and jumping in one show and the GCT was put back on the wish list for later in the trip.
Hagen Horses and Dreams is one of the biggest shows on the international circuit, with approximately 67,000 visitors each year, and one of the features that make it so special is that each year it is hosted by a different country. This year Australia took the honours and I was buzzing with pride to see competitors and spectators alike walking around in merchandise covered with the Southern Cross and the Australian flag. Of course, no Australian-themed event would be complete without its share of kangaroos and there were plenty on show at Hagen! From the event logo to the signposts, the kangaroo took pride of place – the show jumping arena even displayed a large selection of native Australian animal statues for decoration.
I was lucky enough to see Jan Smith whilst at Hagen. Jan has been a driving force in Dressage Australia, especially with our young riders, and taught me on the Victorian Young Dressage Rider Squad so it was very exciting to catch up with her whilst she was over here representing Australia as a ground steward. Jan was on her way to Badminton Horse Trials after Hagen – another show on the wish list! As Jan said, whilst you are over here you may as well make the most of it and see as much of this highest level of competition as you can and after experiencing this level of show I can completely understand her point of view. There is something about the world’s best being all in one place that is just electric to be a part of. I want to take the time to thank Jan and the hundreds of other people who worked tirelessly to create such a big event. I was blown away with the standard of the facilities, the efficiency of the organisation and how ‘user friendly’ the whole experience was for spectators – talk about a dream team!!
I spent my Sunday at Hagen embracing my inner-show jumper watching both the Grand Prix and the young horse class. In the Grand Prix I had the pleasure of watching a number of the world’s top riders who I had only ever dreamed of seeing in the flesh, including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and John Whitaker. A number of Australian riders were competing at Hagen, including Jamie Kermond who rode a cracking double clear aboard Quite Cassini in the Grand Prix for third place. The little bay horse was on fire and looked to be in fantastic form and the Aussies in the crowd couldn’t have been prouder of this super team, cheering like crazy when that perfect 0.0 score was posted. The Hagen Horses and Dreams official website reported that “The DKB Riders Tour is unknown territory for Jamie Kermond from Australia. He jumped to third place with…Quite Cassini which was also his first start at the CSI in Hagen.”
The ‘young horse’ class completely blew me away – these seven and eight year old horses jumped a tough 1.40m track like seasoned professionals. The riders varied from young riders right through to some of the world’s best and the Aussies were well represented here too with Phil Lever and James Patterson-Robinson both competing. This class was a real showcase of some of the up-and-coming jumping horses and promised a bright future for international grand prix classes. With horses jumping this well and succeeding at this level of competition so young, it comes as no surprise that the number and quality of horses competing in the biggest classes is always increasing.
Australian riders had a very important role to play at Hagen as part of the host country. Many of our European-based riders were posting great scores in the competition arenas of both disciplines. Jamie Kermond was a stand out in the jumping with his third place in the Grand Prix. In the Grand Prix CDI dressage, two Australians made it into the freestyle. Briana Burgess and La Scala were placed 13th on 68.775 with Lyndal Oatley and Sandro Boy close behind in 15th position on 65.550. It is also worth noting that Mary Hanna’s ‘Boogie Woogie’ was placed 7th in the Grand Prix CDN with Malin Nilsson on 70.488 – a score not to be ignored!
Aussies were also prominent in the media-side of the event. The Hagen ‘mascot’ each year is a full size ceramic horse, decorated in the theme of the host country. This mascot is immortalised in a statue and images of it feature on all the tickets, programmes and signage for the show. Who better than to design the ultimate Australian-themed Hagen mascot, than Australia’s very own Katharine Farrell of New South Wales? Katherine is a member of the National Youth Development Squad and a very successful Grand Prix competitor with her elegant Luxor 118. It was very exciting to see Katharine’s horse ‘brought to life’ and I’m sure she dreams that one day soon she will be taking a horse she can ride to Hagen as well.
As if the sheer size and quality of the competition wasn’t enough, Hagen also brought the goods with respect to a super user-friendly show. Want a bit of retail therapy between watching your favourites? No problem, just hit up the huge trade village with everything from fence paint to brow-bands and every option in-between. Peckish? The indoor catering area with over nine different types of cuisine and rows upon rows of tables and chairs to sit out of the elements and enjoy a meal with a good view of the show jumping has you sorted. Want to know more about the show? It has its own newspaper! All t’s were crossed and all i’s were dotted, so to speak. As I sat down with my lunch in front of the show jumping I picked up a copy of the Hagen Horses and Dreams newspaper and opened up to an article about an Australian name synonymous with dressage – the Oatleys. “From Hooves to Hamilton Island – Australia’s Oatley Family” explained how Bob Oatley “decided to try to help lift the standard of our Olympic equestrian teams in the 1970s by bringing to Australia the first Hannoverian” and a number of his other achievements and contributions to tourism, sport, medical research and visual arts which led to him being awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). It was a great piece, giving insight into another side of one of the biggest names in equestrian sport to come out of Australia, and also introducing the beauty of Oatley’s Hamilton Island to the international readership at Hagen.
At the end of the day, the figures from Hagen came in at: 326 riders from 38 nations; 572 horses; 65,000 paying visitors; 14,000 sausages; 6,000L of beer; 5,000 bottles of wine; 3,800 burgers; 1,800kg of French fries; and 2,000 staff member meals. That’s one hell of a show!!
Now that I have been to Hagen, do I regret choosing it over the GCT? Not for a second. I LOVED the Hagen experience and even more so because it was a showcase of all things Australian. A spectator could want for nothing more than what Hagen presented, and the level of competition was on a level I had never experienced before. To see so many quality horses and riders come together was a dream come true and big inspiration to go home and work hard to raise the standard of my own riding. So the Global Champions Tour is still on the wish list and I am back to the drawing board with my competition calendar – stay tuned for the next instalment!
Until next time,