Horse sport is built around tradition – a rich, multi-faceted history runs deep through today’s current iterations of disciplines past. Much of our current-day sport centers around competition, and we still carry the spirit of those traditions through the many customs and practices that have become practically obligatory in and out of the show ring. While honoring tradition is great, there’s something to be said for moving forward, modernizing, and evolving. The former? That is something the equestrian community excels at. The latter? Well, perhaps not so much.
It’s not necessarily that we’re stuck in the past, but we’re certainly not the earliest adopters of modernity, especially when it comes to horse shows. However, there is one man who has made it his personal mission to help the concept of horse showing evolve into the modern age, and do it with style. He’s bringing shows into the age of the blogger and influencer, utilizing social media, fresh concepts, and progressive thinking to create a venue and events that expertly walk the line between the past, present, and future.
That man is Michael Mronz – the man behind CHIO Aachen, one of the largest and most well attended equestrian events in the world (and one that sits atop many a horse enthusiast’s bucket list).
“We have the privilege of the history – it’s a big tradition,” Mronz remarks, speaking to the historic events such as the World Championships and European Championship that have allowed CHIO Aachen to invest in some seriously remarkable infrastructure, which allows the venue in Aachen, Germany to house an exceptionally large number of attendees. “We are very lucky with the number of spectators we’re able to host – up to 350,000.”
With such a large seating capacity, you might think that photos from CHIO Aachen would tell the story of empty seats and a quiet stadium (a la the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina). The massive main stadium, however, is more reminiscent of an American football game, with rowdy fans decked out in their country’s colors, packed in shoulder to shoulder and cheering loudly (but respectfully – this is horse sport, after all) after every round. It’s not a sight often seen in the horse show world – turning equestrianism into a spectator sport has been a long, uphill battle across the globe. Michael welcomes this challenge with enthusiasm, using creative tactics – and the wonders of social media – to create an environment that lends itself well to a consistently packed house.
“In general, equestrian sport has to think about how to address the younger audience,” he explains. “All the social media activities we are doing, the bloggers [and influencers] we have here… people come not only for sport, but also for the lifestyle. That’s the reason I think we reach a large audience, because we are more than just a horse event, we are [an experience]. Some love horses, some love good food, the next one likes to be entertained in the shopping area, and so on.”
Looking forward, he’s hoping to continue progression, not only for CHIO Aachen, but to help move the sport forward in general to ensure its longevity and viability in a landscape dominated by Instagram stories and fast-paced digital media. He’s hosting influencer ‘meet-ups’ at the show where both equestrian and more mainstream lifestyle influencers meet and greet with fans and offer social media photo ops. Exciting food offerings – everything from traditional German street food to upscale fusion sushi – tickle the tastebuds of horse lovers and foodies alike, while lively bars with flowing Aperol Spritzes and thumping techno music keep the party going in true European style long after the final victory gallop. The shopping is on par with the best in the world, and even warm up rings are designed to be entirely spectator friendly. Thinking beyond the basics of horse showing, Michael is always looking towards what comes next for the equestrian community. “It’s important that we stay cutting-edge. For example, the average age for the spectators here in Aachen 10 years ago was around 52, but these days it’s closer to 44. It’s getting younger. It’s important that we [in horse sport] don’t lose that young audience. That’s the biggest challenge we face.”
And it’s not just all Instagram influencers and entertainment for Michael – he’d like to the sport itself develop, too. “We have to go a step further and to think about how to have more exciting classes for riders under 18 and things like that,” he says with an excited smile. “We should think about adapting to doing classes for disabled riders, too. You don’t have a lot of tournaments where you see that [adaptaive and traditional sport] is combined, and I think in the future that should be more normal.”
He may work in a traditional sport, but Michael Mronz believes in a bright future – one where our spectators rival those of soccer and football games, tickets always sell out, and families plan weekends around attending horse shows. A future where adaptive athletes and young riders draw the same big crowds as the G.O.A.T superstars, and bloggers and influencers would never miss a show day. One where the experience of the spectators and the integrity of the sport are cared for with equal fervor, and there is no doubt that horse sport will continue to live on for many years to come. “I have a lot of ideas, and.there are a lot of possibilities for us to grow.”
Photos by Andreas Pollak.
Written by Erin Lane
Erin Lane is the Director of Insider at NOËLLE FLOYD and a living definition of crazy horse girl. A lifelong hunter/jumper rider and avid polo player, Erin believes that equestrian education should be accessible to all riders and is on a mission to bring that to life through Insider. Shaped by the horse community, Erin wants to give back, build relationships connected by a passion for horses, and vibe with her fellow horse girls. You can pretty easily win her over with bay horses, weenie dogs, and wine in any form.