Rotterdam Rises to the Occasion

If there has ever been a horse show venue that looked like it was pulled straight out of a fairy-tale picture book, it would have to be Rotterdam. After an hour on the train to Rotterdam Central and then fifteen minutes on the metro out to the station closest to the venue, I popped out onto a main road which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. With nobody around and my Dutch non-existent, I followed my instructions from the Chio Rotterdam website which said to “turn right from the metro station and take the first big turn.” After about 500m I saw a small yellow sign which read “CHIO ‚ß”and I could breathe a sigh of relief I was in the right place.

It turns out the walking route to the stadium was through a pedestrian-access only housing area which suddenly opened to the drop off point for the shuttle busses coming from the car park. I was offered a ride to the front gates in a golf cart and as I whizzed along the pavement catching the envy of all the other spectators who had to make the 1km journey on foot, I caught my first glimpse of the show grounds. All I could think of was I hope the driver has brought me to the Chio and not the botanical gardens! The front entrance was tucked behind a beautiful lake and surrounded by trees. A small temporary office read ‘tickets’ and after purchasing tickets we stepped out onto a boardwalk with the trade village running along either side.

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What’s a great show without an even better trade village?!


First port of call: the information tent to pick up a program. My ticket gave me access to the InterChem Arena which housed the Grand Prix Special CDI3* and the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3*; as well as the Rotterdam Arena in which the main classes for the day were held: the O’Seven 1.45 speed class and the Rabobank Championship of Rotterdam show jumping, as well as the Interchem Grand Prix Special CDIO5* and the Interchem Grand Prix Freestyle CDIO5*. My love of two disciplines found me once again torn between what to watch and so I developed a plan to try and see the best of both: I would watch the jumping up until my favourite riders were on in the CDI3* Freestyle, then I would watch that, head back for the Championship of Rotterdam jump off and then finish the day with the two CDIO5* dressage classes.

The O’Seven prijs was a Table A competition (one single round against the clock, the lowest time winning) held at 1.45m high with €7,000 prize money. The course gave riders the option of riding hard in a hope to win or taking longer lines to school less-experienced or confident horses and there were clearly a number of combinations who took this second option. First on course was Gert Jan Bruggink on the ten year old Chin Chin Gelding “Anderson VDL.” I fell instantly in love with this big, scopey bay horse who oozed class and talent. Their round was tidy, quick and super professional. However, they had an unlucky rail which would see them pushed well out of the placings in the class of forty starters. The next horse to catch my eye was number four, “Emerald” – an eleven year old chestnut stallion with lots of bling and a total WOW factor jump, ridden by Harrie Smolders. This little horse was MEGGA and with the expert riding of Smoulders, they caught my attention as a real combination to watch for the future. Sadly today they were too slow to be in the prize money, picking up two time penalties.

Harrie Smoulders Emerald
Harrie Smolders and “Emerald”


Next out was in it to win it – Abdel Said of Egypt on his eight year old Quadrillo mare “Hope van Scherpen Donder” rode like the wind to post an impressive time of 60.12. The bay mare took being tidy behind to a whole new level and they were clearly a very confident, established combination. Number ten was the next to light my fire – “Zidane” for Alexander Zetterman delivered the most confident round of the class. The eleven year old KWPN gelding by Sam R was quick on his feet, ground covering and super classy. Zetterman rode with expert timing and the cleanest, neatest turns I saw all day. They posted a time of 60.49, less than half a second behind the current leader, Abdel Said of Egypt. Ten riders into the class and the pressure was mounting!

Number thirteen, “Willow” for Kent Farrington was another eye-catching combination. The twelve year old grey KWPN gelding was turned out impeccably and Farrington’s seat is beyond enviable. Sadly though, the handsome horse struggled with his changes today and this cost them time and a rail. The Irishman Darragh Kenny was up next on another son of Chin Chin, this time the nine year old KWPN stallion “Chin Quidam Vdl.” What a BEAUTIFUL horse! Elegant, scopey and handsome – what more could you want?! With a super tidy, clear round and a fast time of 61.26 they were looking good at this stage of the competition.

Kent Farrington Willow 2 Kent Farrington Willow
The impeccably well turned out Kent Farrington and “Willow”


Number twenty, Siebe Kramer of the Netherlands rode the horse I wanted to take home: Zsa Zsa. If I have a type, this eleven year old KWPN mare, another one by Sam R, was it. Effortless in front, small, chunky and springs to boot – please mum can we have her?! Number twenty five was next to make me sit up and take notice – Marta Ortega Perez of Spain on the twelve year old Cassini I daughter “Clever Girl” were an irresistible combination. What a tidy mare! She showed a super shape over the fence with presence galore. Sadly, a rail and a time fault saw them finish in thirty first position. They were followed by the Frenchman Patrice Delaveau who is nothing short of an artist on horseback. His thirteen year old Quick Star stallion “Orient Express” is clearly a super talent and Delaveau is in a league all of his own. It seems like he never asks the horse to do anything, they just flow as one from one obstacle to the next – the kind of ease that is spine-tingling. They posted a clear round but were quite slow with a time of 76.78.

My prize for the best lower leg of the class goes hands down to Karina Johanpeters. She jumped a lovely clear round on her ten year old black stallion ‘Lucero Ls La Silla’ but was too slow to be in the prize money today. Last but certainly not least, Pius Schwizer on ‘Baros,’a nine year old by Casco, finished the class off in absolute style. WHAT A RIDER! It seems like he never shifts in his seat and I could swear the fact that he had to ride like the wind to finish in the placings never even crossed his mind. With a steady lower leg and his weight sunk deep into his heels, Schwizer and ‘Baros’ glide patiently around the course, the horse bubbling up underneath him over each fence. With turns so quick, smooth and effortless they would make a moto GP driver jealous, this was a round to remember! Clear with a good time of 61.42 would see them finish in the placings, but still wasn’t fast enough to take top prize. The final scoreboard had Abdel Said of Egypt first, followed by the uber confident Alexander Zetterman for Sweden. In third place was Leopold Van Asten of the Netherlands, then Darragh Kenny on the irresistible ‘Chin Quidam Vdl’ for Ireland. The master himself, Pius Schwizer, took fifth place and Willem Greve on the super tidy ‘Girlpower 111,’ another for Holland, came in sixth.

Abdel Said Winner
Winners are grinners! Abdel Said at the prize-giving ceremony


With the first jumping class for the day complete, it was time for a healthy dose of dressage! I headed back to the boardwalk and followed the signs through the woods to the InterChem Arena to watch the Grand Prix Freestyle CDI3*. Diederik Van Silfhout rode for Holland on the nine year old liver chestnut Royal Dutch Warmblood gelding ‘Bonzanjo.’ The Jazz son was eye-catchingly light footed and active. Passage was a highlight for this combination, being extremely even in all four legs and demonstrating a very good rhythm. Unfortunately their piaffe let them down today. It became grounded at times and the transitions were too jumpy and erratic. Van Silfhout rode expertly to his music and ‘Bonzanjo’ demonstrated a beautiful elastic contact and soft frame, making for an overall impressive picture and a score of 75.7 and third place. In second place was the man I think earns my prize for the best dressage seat I have seen so far in my travels – Hans Peter Minderhoud, again for the Netherlands, on the fourteen year old Florestan 1 stallion ‘Glock’s Flirt.’ What can I say? WOW that horse can trot!! Better-than-textbook piaffe; passage half-passes; and extended trot that looked like the handsome horse’s legs went on for days; I was in heaven. And then…they walked. Ground covering, active and – what do we have here?! – for once walk music that wasn’t reminiscent of being in an elevator!! I tip my hat to you sir – a harmonious, fun and inspiring display of dressage with absolute world class riding. The canter was their weak point – the pirouettes being quite flat and the two-tempis at time lacking straightness – but this was easy to forgive when the rest was just so good. One final passage-half pass to finish a job very well done. What an honour to witness such a master at work. They crossed the 80% landmark to finish in second place.

I feel like a broken record but it was another Dutchman to finish off our top three placings and make it a trifecta for Holland – Edward Gal and ‘Glock’s Voice’ claimed first place on a score of 81.65. Since I first became truly interested in dressage, it has been a dream to watch Gal compete in the flesh and I grin as I write that after all these years it was no disappointment. If you were to look up the dressage-rider’s-dictionary definition of ‘flow’ – you would see this test. The big black horse looked like a fairy-tale creature as he entered the arena to dark, suspenseful, orchestral sounds and a strong drum beat that hushed the awe-stricken crowd. The thirteen year old De Niro stallion has the hind legs dreams are made of. As he came past me in half-pass I could have sworn they came right up under his chest and when they danced in the passage I fell in love – I didn’t know a horse could move like that. Extended canter straight into canter pirouette – the elasticity and power flowing so fluently from the hind legs, over the back and up through the shoulder was out of this world. Of course no test is ever faultless, and ‘Glock’s Voice’ kicked out in the final transition from canter to trot. Nonetheless: a convincing, deserving win to say the least.

Edward Gal Glock's Voice
The man, the myth, the legend…in the flesh and everything I could have hoped for!


With the CDI3* Freestyle over, I rushed back to the Rotterdam Arena for the Rabobank Championship of Rotterdam. Forty eight horses started in this 1.55m class with €40,000 prize money where all clear rounds would jump off and the winner would be determined by the lowest score in the jump off alone. The first clear round for the class came from number three in the draw, Ben Maher riding ‘Sarena’ – a nine year old bay mare by Calvaro. I have a MASSIVE combination-crush on these two. The mare is powerful, confident and scopey and Maher is balanced, patient and cool as a cucumber. Such a chic pair to watch! A clear jump off and a time of 40.44 put them in a strong position at this early stage. My prize for the most impressive young rider in the class goes to Patrick Stühlmeyer who rode a very impressive round on the twelve year old Lando stallion ‘Lacan 2.’ Stühlmeyer gave the horse a positive, uncomplicated ride and allowed him to show off his evident natural talent. An unlucky rail unfortunately kept them out of the jump off.

Ben Maher Sarena
Ben Maher and “Sarena”


When number forty four in the draw, Doron Kuipers, rode into the arena ready to jump off for Holland the grandstand nearly shook. The clear favourite from the host country was nearly three seconds faster than the fastest time so far with 35.93 seconds and so found himself in the lead with some very healthy breathing space. The stand erupted with infectious cheering and applause and the Dutchman waved his helmet in the air to share in the celebrations of a job well done. I was crossing my fingers AND toes when combination twenty five entered the ring – Jamie Kermond and ‘Quite Cassini.’ The eleven year old Holsteiner gelding by Cassini I has been jumping his heart out lately and after seeing them deliver an on-the-money double clear for third place at Hagen I was praying they could pull another super performance out of the hat. Every time I see the dream team from down under they look better and better. Confident, clean and effortless – they performed a SUPER clear round with a time of 38.02 seconds which put them into second place so far. As they cantered past the finish line and Men at Work’s “Down Under” blared through the speakers I couldn’t have been prouder to be Australian. I collected a few strange looks from the people sitting around me as I screamed ‘Go Kermo’ and I couldn’t help but think that with such consistent performances of late, this combination is in very good form for an individual placing at Rio.

Doron Kuipers Zinius
You couldn’t miss Doron Kuipers in this great orange jacket!


Kermo Jump Off 1 Kermo Jump off 2 Kermo Jump off 3 Kermo Jump Off 4 Kermo Jump Off 5 Kermo Ron 1

My apologies for the poor quality of my photography skills/phone camera but here are a few snaps of the Aussie superstars in action!


Pius Schwizer was again a stand out for me – this time on board ‘Psg Junior.’ The nine year old Cornet Obolensky stallion unfortunately had two rails and a time fault in the jump off. At the end of the day, Billot Mathieu and ‘Shiva D’Amaury’ won the class for France with a time of just 35.68 seconds. In second place was Marc Houtzager on board ‘Sterrehof’s Uppity’ for Holland. Third place also went to a Dutchman: Doron Kuipers and ‘Zucces,’ followed by Lucy Davis and ‘Barron’ for America. Kermo finished in fifth position and behind him were Kent Farrington and the lovely “Blue Angel.”

Kent Farrington Blue Angel
Kent Farrington and “Blue Angel”

Doron Kuipers Highest Placed Dutch Rider Zucces
Doron Kuipers and “Zucces” receiving a special prize

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Jamie Kermond – a representative Australia can be very proud of

The evening dressage session began at 5:40pm with the Interchem prijs Grand Prix Special. Ten combinations started with representatives from America, German, Sweden, France, Belgium and Holland. The standout winner was Diederik Van Silfhout with “Arlando N.O.P” – a ten year old approved KWPN stallion by Paddox. This horse carried himself in a lovely frame which looked soft, open and easy and the test was very rhythmical and flowed smoothly. The trot half passes were super with an average score of 8.4 and the passage was absolutely standout – what a back end!! – another average of 8.4. The extended trot was soft and ground covering. With a trot tour like this we were off to a great start! A very soft transition into walk and some nice, relaxed work shown here. Canter half passes were again very soft. Not as much x-factor as the trot but a good average of 7.7. Two-tempis very nice and even, 7.6. The ones were lovely: straight, even, soft and perhaps deserving of a little more than just 7.5. “Arlando N.O.P” sat very nicely into his pirouette left with a clear increase in collection for 7.7. The pirouette right was not quite as special: 7.6. The final trot work pulled some more big scores: 7.8 for the extended trot; 7.9 for the transitions between extended trot and passage; 8.4 for the passage – what a test! A very convincing win on 77.098%. Van Silfhout and “Arlando N.O.P” demonstrated a clear mastery of the work, developing an air of softness and ease which none of their competitors showed and which made them a combination worth keeping an eye on.

Diederik Van Silfhout Presentations
A lap of honour for Van Silfhout and “Arlando N.O.P”


With the Grand Prix Special over it was time for the class everyone was buzzing with excitement for – the Interchem prijs Grand Prix Freestyle. Tonight our competitors danced for judges from France, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Germany in the hope of winning this prestigious event. First out was Laurence Vanommeslaghe for Belgium on the sixteen year old Hannoverian gelding “Avec Plaisir,” by A Jungle Prince. Funky music with a hint of symbols and drums had the crowd wanting to dance along. The trot was good – active half passes but unfortunately the back end a little lacklustre in the extended work. The piaffe, however, was nice and the final passage very nice, only the transitions were not always perfectly smooth. The walk work was super with an extended walk which stretched down and took the neck beautifully forward! The canter work was the highlight for this combination. Very impressive light and shade in the music which beautifully accented the pirouettes and straight-as-a-ruler one-tempis. Unfortunately “Avec Plaisir” was opening his mouth slightly at times which was damaging for their score today and they finished on 72.30%.

Presentation from President Stables
A presentation from President Stables during the break


Next up were Bernadette Brune and “Spirit of the Age Old” for Germany. This eleven year old Oldenburg stallion is by Stedinger – now based in Australia and standing at Revelwood Warmblood Stud. Unfortunately today the extremely handsome “Spirit of the Age Old” woke up on the wrong side of the stable. He was very muddled behind in his entry, performing a combination of tranter and piaffe. The extended trot started MEGGA bad also ended with problems behind. A nice canter pirouette but more problems in the half passes – too much tightness and jumping on the spot to produce the work this horse is capable of. Brune decided to retire – fair enough – and give this beautiful horse another chance on a better day. You can’t win them all!

View of arena
Right up close to the action! These automatic scoreboards giving instant scores for each movement were super exciting and useful throughout the dressage classes.


Number three in the draw was Kathleen Raine for America on “Breanna” – a fifteen year old Hannoverian mare by Brentano II. A sweet walk entry and then straight into the one-tempis – WOW!! A very impressive start to make the judges sit up and take notice. With Michael Jackson-themed music the audience was interested from the word ‘Go’. “The Way You Make Me Feel” starting playing and I felt excited. A nice trotting horse and some good music and we were on our way – the huge crowd nodding along. This is what I love about the freestyle!! Unfortunately it seemed like “Breanna” ran out of gas today and by the end of the test the work was a little laboured, especially the canter pirouettes. This is a nice horse and they have potential to be a real combination to watch, however today they finished with just 70.075%.

Charlotte Jorst Kastel's Nintendo 2
Charlotte Jorst and “Kastel’s Nintendo” in the Grand Prix Special


Claudia Fassaert rode the elegant De Niro Oldenburg mare “Donnerfee” for Belgium. What a fun soundtrack! A mash up of instrumentals of dance hits including KC & The Sunshine Band’s “That’s The Way I Like It” and Lipps Inc’s “Funky Town.” Extended trot into passage on the opening centre line showed off this mare’s super talent for the trot work. The piaffe could still get a little stronger but it’s well on its way. Something about this mare’s front legs in the trot tour is irresistible. Her walk is active, ground covering and elastic. A very nice canter half pass into counter canter which turned across the arena for a pirouette over the centre line was interesting and well executed. One final set of extended trot-passage-extended trot was the cherry on top and a perfect finish to a job well done for 74.00%.

Grand Prix Freestyle

The second American combination was Arlene Page and “Woodstock.” Our first KWPN for the class – a twelve year old gelding by Havel. This sporty, modern liver chestnut was a very nice type and quite light on his feet. I LOVED these canter pirouettes – even, light, soft, collected, balanced, waiting with an ease of effortlessness and lots of height in the wither. What more could you want?! The passage was very nice and springy, it seemed as though every time Page’s leg breathed against “Woodstock” he bounced up off the ground underneath her. Unfortunately “Woodstock” trotted in his changes and by the end of the test was tending too downhill. Their music was very nice, but there was a real air sense of ‘I’ve heard this before’ which spoiled it a little. Page has an enviable seat, making for a most elegant picture overall, and they finished with a score of 73.825%.

Next in was my self-confessed favourite and my second opportunity to watch him and drool today – Hans Peter Minderhoud for Holland. This time ‘HP’ rode the thirteen year old Jazz son “Glock’s Johnson TN.” From the minute he entered the stadium it was clear the crowd adored him and he was met with foot stamping and cheering galore. As soon as HP raised his hand and the music began to flow from the speakers I knew why I had felt such a sense of déjà vu with Arlene Page’s music just before: she had used this same track. Luckily some awkwardness was avoided as HP had created a new soundtrack combining music he has already used in previous kurs. Elastic, rhythmic passage in and out of the first halt and I had fallen in love all over again. The piaffe is so natural for this horse – confident, even and rhythmical. A real standout! A textbook – perfect canter half-pass ‘zig zag’ into SUPER extended canter made me want to get on and feel this beautiful horse for myself. He has a way of cantering that looks so soft and bubbly it’s almost too good to be true. A score of 81.050% was well deserved and at this stage in the competition they really were a class above the rest.

HP Glock's Johnson
The stuff dreams are made of – Hans Peter Minderhoud and Glock’s Johnson TN


I didn’t envy Paulinda Friberg of Sweden who had to follow such an incredible performance. Friberg rode the fourteen year old Donnerhall mare “Di Lapponia T.”  There were lots of things I really liked about this test. Their music was very dramatic, with a strong base, which created a really good atmosphere. “Di Lapponia T” was beautifully open in the gullet and had a consistently soft frame. The piaffe was quite good and I really liked the extended canter. Overall, the mare has three impressive paces and the kur was well choreographed with a good soundtrack. I took particular notice of the seamless transition in the music between the trot and the walk – I didn’t even notice it had changed! There was also a dramatic crescendo from the final pirouette into the tempis which was stunning. The mare hopped a little in the final piaffe and the pirouettes needed a little more jump but overall: A super super mare and a great picture for a score of 76.325%.

Grand Prix Freestyle 2

Second last In the draw was the name on everybody’s lips : Edward Gal with “Glock’s Undercover N.O.P.” – a fourteen year old KWPN gelding by Ferro. Having already witnessed the magic that is Gal this morning I was practically bursting with excitement to see him again tonight. The beautiful black horse is impressive to say the least and as they entered the ring there was complete silence from the crowd – and here lay the problem: there was complete silence from the speakers too. For a minute I thought perhaps it was just my hearing letting me down but it became clear that Gal had chosen to have music so quiet it was barely audible so that “Glock’s Undercover N.O.P.” could experience performing the kur in the large stadium in a less adrenalized state. Unfortunately this spoilt the test considerably as the star feature of this class is that it is ridden to music. Nonetheless, “Undercover” clearly has more talent in one hoof than most horses in all four legs and I have NEVER seen piaffe like that. I don’t think I really imagined piaffe could BE so elastic, energetic and fluid. When this horse does extended canter his front legs are up around his nose and he has undeniable charisma. Moments of tension, such as lack of immobility in the halt, tightness in the jaw in the changes and hurried pirouettes, combined with the lack of music produced a real air of walking on eggshells, so to speak, which made the big scores we have come to associate with Gal impossible today and they finished with 77.90%.

By now I was starting to think HP had it in the bag and nobody could touch him out the front with his plus 80% score. Last but not least was Patrik Kittel on “Watermill Scandic” for Sweden and this sixteen year old KWPN stallion by Solos Carex was about to bring his absolute A-game. A bold canter entry into a square halt. The opening passage-piaffe-extended trot revealed just what “Watermill Scandic” had that nobody else had demonstrated so far: mastery. This big, brassy chestnut horse may not have the knees-around-face movement of “Undercover” but he also had none of the tension and none of the mistakes. He made childs-play of technical choreography and produced a nearly faultless test. His trot rhythm is so perfectly even you could set a metronome to it at any given moment. The canter is scopey, balanced and supple and the pirouettes were very good. Textbook one-tempis and some final trot work to finish off – what a performance! Kittel wowed me not only with his seat, his choreography or with his horse’s talent but with his training. The hours spent perfecting that piaffe. The number of times he would have ridden the one-tempis straight at the mirror to ensure they were perfect. The thousands of passage-piaffe-passage transitions it would have taken to make them that seamless. They finished in first place on a score of 81.875% and it couldn’t have been more deserving. Today it was a true case of practice makes perfect and it was a perfect win for Kittel and “Watermill Scandic.”

Statue
A fun piece of artwork under one of the grandstands


As I gathered my things and joined the enormous crowd pouring out of the stadium I was buzzing with inspiration and a re-fuelled love for this crazy sport of ours. There is nothing like the best in the world to make you remember what is so magical about the rhythm of a horse’s heartbeat. Today I saw incredible training, horses with more talent than I knew was possible, seats I would sell my soul for, bling to drive a magpie crazy, riders who made our sport into an art and sportsmanship to be proud of. I saw the Australian flag flying high for Jamie Kermond and some of the riders I have dreamed about for years. My inner child was well and truly fed and Rotterdam I thank you. You certainly did not disappoint! I truly believe there is no show quite like Rotterdam – emerging from the woods like a scene from a fairy-tale to reveal world class sport. What a dream come true!

Rider's Party
The rider’s party kicking off with a live band, plenty of champagne and a great dance floor!


Until next time,
Happy riding!

 

Aachen – More than Just a show

Growing up competing horses in Australia, we are always hearing about the magical world of ‘Europe’ – where it seems grand prix horses grow on trees, prize money falls like rain and every second rider has a gold medal. I think most of us dream of having the opportunity to experience this world for ourselves but very few of us are ever lucky enough to make it a reality. My mother always told me to “create my own luck” and so in March this year I packed up my things, put my horses out in the paddock and got on a plane to Germany. I was working at McLean Reitsport in Germany through to the middle of May when I took a few weeks off to travel. At the beginning of June I moved to Belgium and am now working for and training with renowned Dutch-duo Penny and Johan Rockx at ‘La Fazenda.’

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Cuddles with Simone Pearce’s beautiful ‘Little Lion’ in Germany

One of the things I was 150% convinced I would get to whilst on my ‘European riding adventure’ (as it has come to be called) was Chio Aachen. This year the show fell in the weeks I had free to explore Europe, so off I went. Everyone has always said that it’s the best show in the world but I had already seen Hagen Horses and Dreams so it would have to be pretty good to impress me THAT much more. Well, I can safely say that even after everything Hagen had to offer, Aachen completely and utterly blew me away. I didn’t want to miss any of the action so I bought tickets to the dressage and the jumping and caught a train down to Aachen on the Friday night so that I would be there first thing when the gates opened at 8am on Saturday. When I walked out of the train station I immediately knew I was in the right place – there were huge bronze horse statues out the front of the station and every bus stop had instructions on how to get to Chio. Luckily the bus stop right out the front of my hotel ran regular busses to the venue so a 7:35am bus saw me waiting at the gates at 7:45. As I waited for the gates to open with the handful of people who came off the same bus as me, I was beginning to doubt if many people would come. The enormous venue looked deserted and I hoped that all this build-up would be worth it. In only ten minutes the line grew from five people to fifty and by 8am there were over 100 excited spectators anxious for their first look at Aachen 2015. In the end, 45,000 people attended Aachen over the three days of competition.

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The picturesque entry to the main stadium

I walked through the gates and headed straight for the show jumping warm up. The classes didn’t start for another hour and the shops were still opening up, so it was the perfect opportunity to have a sneak peak at the competitors before the Preis der Soers – the first competition for the day. Well I nearly had to pick my jaw up off the floor – if I though Hagen was star-studded I had another thing coming! Warming up for a big day of competition was absolute show jumping royalty including Bertram Allen, Daniel Deusser, Marcus Ehning, Rodrigo Pessoa, Kevin Staut, Hans Dieter-Dreher and Lucinda Diniz – just to name a few! The Preis der Soers competition was a single round with placings determined on penalties and time, with no jump off. It was set at 1.50m with €30,000 prize money and a special prize for the best performed German rider in the class, presented by the start and finish line and fence judges. The class was won by Frenchman Patrice Delaveau on the holsteiner stallion ‘Lacrimoso 3 HDC’ and second place and the special prize went to German young rider, 21 year old Laura Klaphake on the eight year old hanoverian ‘Cinsey,’ owned by Paul Schockemöhle.

Patrice Delaveau Aachen 2015
Delaveau and ‘Lacrimoso 3 HDC’ on their way to winning. Photo by Dirk Caremans

The second competition for the day was the Sparkassen Youngsters Cup Final for seven and eight year old horses with €10,000 prize money. The first round of this competition was run on the Friday and all horses who finished on Friday were eligible to compete on Saturday. The seven year olds jumped first, competing in reverse order of their points from Friday’s competition, over a 1.40m track. The eight year olds followed, also in reverse placing order, but with the fences raised by 5cm. All horses who jumped clear in the first round then went on to a jump off to determine final placings according to time. Every once in a while a horse catches your eye and captures your heart all at once – Scott Brash’s ride Hello M’Lord did this for me. The beautiful bay gelding jumped with an effortlessness and an ease that I doubt I will ever forget. Brash rode like the ultimate professional he is and it was a performance that really stuck with me and reminded me that it is not only your wins that will be remembered, the combination were placed fourth, but that every time we ride we have the opportunity to create real magic. The class was won by Christian Ahlmann of Germany with a time of 40.23 seconds on the eight year old grey Cassini III stallion ‘Casuality Z’.

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Scott Brash and the uber classy ‘Hello M’Lord’

The Winning Round was next up and this was an opportunity for the horses competing in the Rolex Grand Prix the next day to have a warm up class. With €60,000 prize money this 1.55m competition was very hotly contested. Each rider could start only one horse and in the first round competitors rode in reverse order of the World Rankings as at the start of the event, with those not in the rankings starting first according to a draw. The best ten athletes from the first round qualified for second round, where all scores were reset to 0 penalties and placings were determined according to penalties and time from the second round only. My favourite rounds in this class went to Denis Nielsen, Christian Ahlmann, Ben Maher, Bertram Allen and Daniel Deusser. These were not necessarily the rounds that were clean, or the fastest or with the most spectacular horses; but they all looked effortless. There is something about watching a round which flows in perfect harmony between the horse and rider, like water flowing smoothly down a river, which I find just magical. The class was won by David Will for Germany on the fifteen year old chestnut mare ‘Mic Mac du Tillard’ with zero jumping faults and a jump off time of 45.61 seconds.

David Will Aachen Victory Lap
David Will and ‘Mic Mac du Tillard’ enjoy a victory lap

By now the huge main stadium which housed the show jumping was packed out and the crowd was 100% behind every rider – feeling their pain when they took a rail and cheering like crazy for every clear round. The last class for the day was the Jump and Drive. A jump and drive consists of a show jumping round and a driven obstacle course. The rider starts first and jumps a course of eight obstacles. After the last fence they dismount, give their horse to a groom, run to the drivers’ waiting area and get on the back of the vehicle. The driver then has to complete a course with ‘marathon-type’ obstacles with the rider joining the team to help balance the vehicle. Ten riders and ten drivers were invited by the organising committee to form teams and compete. Looking at the program earlier that day I had thought that perhaps I would give this class a miss and head home for an early night as it was starting to get quite late, but the stadium was only getting more and more full so I thought I would stay and see what all the fuss was about – WOW OH WOW! Being front row for the Jump and Drive was what I can only describe as a cross between a rock show and a football game. The competition was fierce. The jumping riders were taking tighter and tighter turns and when it came to dismounting they were throwing themselves off the horses at canter and hoping the grooms would catch them. The carriage horses were cantering full speed in front of a roaring crowd, through water and tight turns, and the times were getting lower and lower.

Most of the teams came from one country but where there were carriage teams with no rider composite teams were made. When Bertram Allen and Boyd Exell entered the arena the crowd went WILD! Naturally so, what a dream team! Exell is the world’s leading driver with two WEG gold medals to his name and Allen is in top form at the moment, taking the show jumping world by storm. Together they proved to be unbeatable, posting a time of 142.27 seconds to win the class, nearly six seconds ahead of second place. As the Australian flag was displayed on the big screen and Exell performed his lap of honour I was swelling with pride and cheering like crazy and I understood exactly why everyone loves Aachen. I walked away at the end of that day on a total high and keen as mustard for the next day.

Jump and Drive Aachen
Concentration faces! A great photo of the jump and drive by Dirk Caremans

Sunday morning I was back at the stadium bright and early, this time to watch the Deutsche Bank Preis Grand Prix Kur CDI5* (dressage to music). The top fifteen combinations from Saturday’s Grand Prix CDI danced for judges from France, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and England in hope of taking home the €150,000 prize money. Anticipating another huge crowd I got to the stadium bright and early to save a front row seat – I was not missing any of the action! The first horse entered the arena and I was a little girl in a lolly shop – Thomas Wagner’s Abanos x Lord Sinclair Hannoverian gelding ‘Amoricello’ absolutely lit my fire! Representing Germany, they rode to a mash up of Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’ and U2’s ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ that had the whole crowd dancing and cheering for more. The horse was perhaps a little green and made a few mistakes that damaged the score, but showed MEGGA talent. Wagner made riding look like art and it was electric to watch. A disappointing score of 74.27 meant they were out of the placings but they were a combination to remember and I will definitely be keeping my eye on them in the future!!

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Thomas Wagner and the irresistible ‘Amoricello’

Fanny Verliefden of Belgium on her own Lord Loxley daughter ‘Annarico’ was next. The horse showed a softness and lightness which was absolutely standout, but sadly struggled with the changes and made too many costly mistakes to be competitive. Next to ride into the packed-out stadium was the young German girl, Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl on the Son de Niro x Jazz mare ‘Zaire 14’. This combination showed perhaps some of my favourite choreography in the competition and their music had textbook light and shade to match. Sadly though, the horse was too tense and looked too strong and tight to be competitive. Jeroen Devroe of Belgium on Daniel Lousberg’s ‘Eres DL’ were next and also out of the placings on 71.60. Terhi Stegars of Finland followed on her and Tanja Kayser’s little black stallion ‘Axis TSF.’ This super sweet horse did a nice test, the highlight of which was a canter pirouette coming straight from walk. This looked very special and I made a mental note to remember that if I am ever lucky enough to compete at such a high level! They finished on a score of 73.55. Our first five horses were over and it was time for a short break. As the athletes were competing in reverse placing order, I couldn’t see what the next set of tests had to offer!

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I was very lucky to have such a great view, right up the front for all the action!

First up for section two was Michael Eilberg for Great Britain aboard the big bay Rufs x Mitjulands gelding ‘Marakov.’ Whilst this music wasn’t so much to my taste, the transitions between the light and shade and also between paces were standout! The textbook effortlessness that melts from one part of the test to another and leaves you surprised when you realise you have gone from trot to walk and on to canter without even noticing. The picture was seamless and harmonious, however a little spoiled by an unsustained halt to finish and a tough score of 74.77. Following this big bay was a super spunky little chestnut gelding by Quattro B, ‘Qui Vincit Dynamis’ ridden by Fabienne Lütkemeier for Germany. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this combination was total WOW factor changes. They were such a highlight and paired with lovely music this test showed some super moments. Unfortunately these were spoiled by tightness in the mouth and this also spoiled the score, bringing it down to a 74.53.

Shelly Francis on Patricia Stempel’s Diamond Hit x Renoir gelding ‘Doktor’ was up next for America. With some lovely uphill work, good music and an entertaining performance they scored 75.35 to be in the lead so far. Diederik Van Silfhout of Holland rode a super test on the Royal Dutch Warmblood Hors la Loi son ‘Vorst D.’ This little chestnut was one of my favourites of the day. He showed a lightness in front and on his feet, matched with a quickness behind, that was very sporty and gave an impression of effortlessness. The piaffe was very good and a highlight for me, creating a test to remember. The score of 75.45 put them into the lead but was a little disappointing for such good work. The last combination of this second section were from the Ukraine – Inna Logutenkova on the Don Cardinale stallion ‘Don Gregorius.’ This horse was very nice with a good engine and an obvious work ethic. Unfortunately the combination were just too green for the competition and looked a little flustered, scoring only 72.07.

After another short break the tension in the stadium was rising and there was so much suspense in the air you could have cut it with a knife as the obvious crowd favourite, Isabell Werth, rode in and the fans jumped to their feet and roared with excitement and adoration. To see this many people so excited about an equestrienne gave me goose bumps – I have only ever seen this kind of outpour for singers, actors or AFL players and to be surrounded by thousands of people uncontrollably excited to see a dressage rider was a feeling I can’t quite find the right words for. That is a moment I will never forget! Werth rode Madeleine Winter-Schulze’s Don Frederico x Warkant gelding ‘Don Johnson FRH’ for Germany. A confident canter entry and a perfect square halt – she was off to a cracking start. I have to admit I liked the music in this test more than the actual work shown. There were perfectly timed, subtle changes in the music to mark the features of the test (piaffe, passage and extended trot and canter) and the modern twist on classical matched the big horse to a tee. Unfortunately ‘Don Johnson FRH’ was often downhill, and unsteady and tense in the contact at times and this, paired with some uneven steps behind in the piaffe and passage, and being a bit too slow off the ground, spoilt this test for me. Nonetheless, Werth rode very professionally and played to the gelding’s strengths in front of the home crowd with an impressive half-pass ‘zig zag’ in passage to finish for an extravagant score of 81.20 putting them way out in front. Werth has won the Grand Prix at Aachen ten times and at this late stage in the competition it looked like she might take home the title once more.

Isabell Werth
Isabell Werth and ‘Don Johnson FRH’
Photo by
Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Following a performance like that is a tough gig to say the least but when Patrick Van Der Meer and ‘Uzzo’ entered the arena it was clear he was more than up to the job. The Royal Dutch Warmblood gelding by Lancet out of an Indoctro mare was spectacular. I was mesmerised by how beautiful and soft the whole thing was. The horse was light, straight and super correct. This combination showed, in my opinion, the best pirouettes of the class and very good changes. The music melted from one phase of the test to the next and Van Der Meer matched it extremely well. Perhaps the gelding became a little too light in the contact at times, costing them a few marks, finishing with a score of 77.05.

The sight of Steffen Peters and the imposing Laomedon x Florestan gelding ‘Legolas 92’ entering the arena gave me butterflies. The American combination is one of my favourite on the international circuit and it was a dream come true to watch them in real life. With 14 other combinations entering the stadium in a fancy passage or extended trot, it was refreshing to see them enter in a small, unassuming rising trot. Peters halted his horse, raised his hand for the music to start and magic happened. If I know one thing it is that Peters’ timing is an art. Every movement was perfectly in time with the music and he timed every aid and transition to keep his horse focused, calm and on-the-job. Some of the transitions in and out of piaffe and passage showed moments of weakness which was costly for their score, but the whole crowd was rocking along to Peters’ remix of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ which had been altered to include references to dressage and the final score of 75.00 was disappointing. Next in was the German Young Rider Sönke Rothenberger with the Fidermark x Worldchamp gelding ‘Favourit.’ This horse just oozed talent and was one of the best behind – it was easy to see why he had placed second in the Grand Prix CDI! The music was a good twist on modern and Rothenberger made it look so easy I just wanted to get on and ride myself. Perhaps a little too slow in the piaffe, but overall a super performance for a score of 77.37.

Sonke Rothenberger
Sönke Rothenberger and ‘Favourit.’
Photo by
Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

With only one rider left to go, Werth was still well out in front and I was beginning to seriously doubt whether anybody could touch her. Little did I know, Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén was about to bring her A-game. Riding the Don Davidoff son ‘Don Auriello’ for Sweden, Vilhelmson-Silfvén produced a very confident test which showed an ease and mastery of all the grand prix movements which was a cut above the rest of the competition. There was a harmony, flow and ease which can only come from a true confidence with the work which really stood out. The gelding was truly MEGGA in front and this, paired with good music, had the crowd cheering for a clear standout winner. The score of 82.48 was well earned and as she took her lap of honour I knew I had seen a display of some truly awesome dressage.

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Presentations for the Deutsche Bank Preis Grand Prix Kur CDI5*

With a grin so wide my jaw ached and an unmistakable skip in my step, I left the stadium to see what else my second day at Aachen had to offer. You can imagine my delight to find that not only was the Rolex Grand Prix about to start, but I was able to find a place right up against the edge of the arena under the big screen so that for every fence on the other side of the arena I could look up and watch the big screen for a perfect view. To qualify for the Grand Prix, riders had to have completed the initial round of at least one CSI5* competition so far at Aachen. There were two rounds and a jump off, with a maximum of eighteen competitors returning for the second round based on penalties and time in the first. All combinations with zero penalties were able to return for the second round. Combinations still without penalties after two rounds went into the jump off to determine final placings. With €1,000,000 up for grabs and the special Challenge Trophy of the City of Aachen to be presented to the winning rider, this 1.60m class was the highlight of the show jumping program.

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A sneak peek at the warm up before the Rolex Grand Prix

To make it even more exciting, this was the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Initiated in 2013, the Grand Slam creates a series of the Chio Aachen World Equestrian Festival, the Spruce Meadows “Masters” and the CHI Geneva whereby the rider who manages to win all three consecutively will be awarded a one million euro bonus on top of the regular prize-money. For two wins in a row, a bonus of five hundred thousand euros is awarded; and for two out of three wins (not consecutively) there are still two hundred and fifty thousand euros for the taking. Basically – a huge amount of money which attracts the top show jumpers in the world! Having won at the CHI Geneva, Scott Brash and ‘Hello Sanctos’ were under a lot of pressure to not only perform but to win the Rolex Grand Prix at Aachen. Brash is quoted as saying, “it will be very difficult…we are all athletes – we need goals. The Rolex Grand Slam gives us a goal and we will do everything in our power to claim the bonus.” Other international superstars with their eye on a slice of the Rolex Grand Slam prize pool included 2014 Aachen winner, Christian Ahlmann; number two in the world ranking list, Daniel Deusser; and Olympic gold medallist, Steve Guerdat, who won at Geneva in 2013 and had his sights set on winning the remaining two rounds of the Grand Slam: “I will do everything possible to reach this goal.”

Once again the crowd was alive and it felt like I was riding with every rider as they soared over the big, square oxers and raced around the tight turns. My favourite line to watch was the open water and then five strides straight down to a steep, airy oxer. This was a test of how well the horses responded to the riders’ aids to shorten and lengthen their strides as they had to lengthen down to the water and then shorten and sit up to make the oxer. Here is where we saw the greener horses struggle – whilst five strides is a ‘long time’ (as I can hear my jumping couch explaining in my head), quite a number fell victim to either getting too close and having to chip in a stride, taking the front rail; or cutting out a stride and being too far away, coming down on the back rail. The riders that stood out were those who looked like they did nothing – they never pumped their upper body or took a dramatic pull with their hands but, as if by magic, the horse came effortlessly back underneath them and made the related line seem like child’s-play. Some riders who ticked this box included Ben Maher, Daniel Deusser and Lucinda Diniz. In a nail-biting finish, Brash was able to make it two starts for two wins and so take home the bonus for winning two Grand Slam titles in a row and put himself and ‘Hello Sanctos’ one step closer to taking home the ultimate one million euro prize. The crowd went wild for the lap of honour and the beautiful big bay horse cantered around the arena like he knew that he was making history – it was electric to be part of that crowd!

Scott Brash
Scott Brash and ‘Hello Sanctos’ in the presentations

In what I was now coming to realise is ‘true Aachen style,’ nothing was short of spectacular and the Farewell of Nations which served as a sort of closing ceremony was to be no different. A parade of ponies were ridden around the main stadium, each one carrying a flag for the countries represented at the competition. Behind the ponies came the competitors, grouped according to their country. As each country was called out a greeting in their native tongue was announced and a piece of music representative of their nation was played as they waved to the tens of thousands of cheering fans. After each country had been called out and the last ‘thank-you’ had been delivered, all the riders rode one final lap of honour around the enormous stadium. The catch? Every rider pulled a white handkerchief out of their pocket and waved it in time with the music and the crowd followed. Almost immediately everyone was on their feet waving their white handkerchief, singing and cheering until the last horse had ridden out of the arena. Words can’t do justice to the power of this simple action to unite so many people and how moved I was to have been a part of it.

Aachen Farewell of Nations
A view of the Farewell of Nations from one of the grand stands, from the official Chio Aachen website

I stood on the edge of the stadium as tens of thousands of people put away their handkerchiefs, picked up their numerous shopping bags and started to walk towards the exit with a feeling I can only describe as pure elation. I was high on the adrenaline, the joy and the celebration of incredible horses and top-class sport I had just shared with so many other people just like me from all over the world. Chio Aachen – you, quite simply, blew my mind. I can’t pin-point whether it was the energy of the crowd, the quality of the competition, the atmosphere, the venue, the horses…I’m not sure what it was that made this show such a surreal, awe-inspiring experience. Something about the magic created by that show reminded me what it was like to be a little girl who fell in love with a pony and never looked back. Until next time, thank you Aachen for the memories and hats off to the organising committee for creating an experience like none-other on Earth.

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I was very sad to be leaving this behind – I hope I’m not saying goodbye, only ‘until next time!’

Until next time,

Happy riding!