It’s a quiet walk towards the CHIO Aachen showgrounds at 8am on Sunday, May 31st, the day of the €1 Million Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen. Give it a few more hours and the tree-lined avenue approaching the main entrance will be a surge of 43,000 intensely passionate fans of show jumping sport, but right now, I’m walking towards the entrance alone.
But then I hear a lone pair of footsteps behind me, shoes tapping quickly on the ground in the rhythm of someone who knows where he’s heading, and suddenly a man in a red Team Germany jacket is beside me. He nods his head and utters a quick “morgen” as he passes me by, making a beeline for the stabling entrance. It’s Otto Becker, coach of the German riders, and if anyone (other than overeager journalists) would be arriving early, it is fitting that he’s the first person I see. Becker stops just inside the gate to chat with a groom holding the end of the lead rope of Ludger Beerbaum’s Chiara while she grazes. Also alone, the mare is still wearing her blankets and is relaxed as she munches.
Some seven hours later I watched Becker alternatively congratulate or reassure his riders as they exited the grand Aachen arena after the grand prix. Competing here, in “their house,” the German riders were a tight knit bunch, walking the course as one and supporting each other throughout the weekend. That’s the German way, and since it began holding horse shows in 1924, Aachen has been a monument to the sport that Germany holds dear.
The grounds are a perfect, picturesque blend of efficiency and beauty – nothing is overdone but everything operates in smooth, seamless harmony.
Imagine a show where everything works, from the schooling area (enormous, immaculate grass fields), to the barns (gorgeous stone permanents, absolutely no tent stalls to be found) and the riders’ area, a full service raised bar next to the ingate pathway, with perfect views of the warmup.
Of course, at this year’s edition of the CHIO Aachen CSI5*, Germany couldn’t have it all – the home team just missed out on seeing one of its own claim the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen title. But you would have been hard pressed to find a disappointed show jumping fan in the stadium on Sunday, as it was such a thrill to see the incredible Scott Brash ride last in the jumpoff and claim victory in dramatic style.
Two years ago CHIO Aachen became one of three shows designated as part of the Rolex Grand Slam. The high stakes of one of the world’s most prestigious, and most difficult show jumping competitions were raised even more with the Grand Slam’s offer of half a million euros for the rider who could win it in succession with one of the other legs. So if Scott Brash, who was the winner of the previous leg, hadn’t won this year’s Rolex Grand Prix, Aachen’s finale would have had a much different energy. But that he pulled it off, in front of an incredible crowd on a quintessentially cloudy German afternoon made the finale of CHIO Aachen 2015 an unforgettable experience.
That is what Aachen will mean to me – witnessing Brash make history on this epic stage. But Aachen means many things to many people. To some it Aachen means top-level dressage, which was underway concurrently with the show jumping. Or it means combined driving, which drew big crowds who cheered on teams of horses and drivers from around the world. Some people came expressly for the shopping, or a top chef event that was held on Friday evening. As I was leaving the grounds late on Friday, I was perplexed as to why hundreds of people were still pouring into the grounds long after equestrian competition had ended. The answer? There is always something happening at Aachen.