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The CHIO Aachen: top-level equestrian sports

Anyone who is interested in equestrian sport in Germany knows the CHIO Aachen. Horse lovers from all over the world meet at this championship every summer, either to take part in international competitions or experience the unique atmosphere as spectators. However, in Germany horse riding is also the subject of public discussion and debate.

For ten days every summer international equestrian sport comes to Aachen, a German town close to where Germany, Holland and Belgium meet. The CHIO (Concours Hippique International Officiel), also known as the ‘World Equestrian Festival’, is a top-level championship. Competitors take part in five disciplines: jumping, dressage, driving, eventing and vaulting, at international standard. Many people from all over the world go there to enjoy equestrian sports and the very special atmosphere of the CHIO Aachen.

CHIO Aachen: a traditional competition and a real crowd-puller

More than 360,000 people attended the CHIO 2012 and while there, a lot o people purchased tickets in advance for this year's competition from 21 to 30 June 2013. The CHIO Aachen was introduced in 1924 and since that time it has undergone continual development. Today it is the center stage for all the big stars in international equestrian sports, because everyone who wants to be successful in horse riding has to face the competition in Aachen. Many famous riders in the disciplines jumping and in dressage come from Germany and thus have the home advantage – and the spectators love seeing them.

Fun and excitement surrounding equestrian sports at the CHIO Aachen

The CHIO also offers an interesting programme of side events. Every year there are events based on the partner country. For example, in 2012 Brazilian wild horses could be admired in the huge jumping arena at ‘Soers’ (the name of the competition grounds). Denmark is the partner country for 2013. And of course around the stadiums you can buy all kinds of equipment needed for equestrian sports.

Every year, the grand finale of the CHIO Aachen is the ‘Farewell of Nations’. All the human and equine competitors appear before the spectators once more. The participants and spectators take part in a delightful tradition in which they wave white handkerchiefs to bid one another farewell to the sound of the German folk song ‘Muss i denn zum Städele hinaus’.

CHIO Aachen 2009 – Farewell of Nations

Equestrian sports are criticised

In equestrian sports, as in many other types of sport, discussions occur again and again about training methods, doping and the role played by financial interests. At the CHIO Aachen there is a lot of money involved because in 2013 the winner of the Grand Prix of Aachen (the most difficult and most important showjumping competition at the CHIO) will take home one million euro. In 2010, Germany’s most famous dressage horse at the time, the stallion Totilas, was sold for ten to fifteen million euro from the Netherlands to the German breeder and ex-show jumper Paul Schockemöhle. The topic of doping attracted most attention in connection with the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, when the German showjumping team was stripped of the gold medal because one of the horses had been treated with an ointment that was banned.

But the fact that emotions are important even in the toughest equestrian sports is shown by the CHIO Aachen ‘dream team’: in 2011 the German-American showjumper Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum said an emotional good-bye to her 18-year-old horse Shutterfly as he went into well earned retirement (during his career, the gelding had jumped his way to three million euro of prize money). And of course he did it at the CHIO Aachen.

CHIO Aachen 2011: last competition for Shutterfly before retiring

As Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum says in the video: ‘It’s good-bye to the best horse in the world at the best competition in the world.’ And the spectators at Soers also show their best side. So it really is a world festival for equestrian sports.

Equestrian sports in Germany

Equestrian sports have a long tradition in Germany, just like the breeding of top-class horses for riding and driving. There are breeders’ associations for Hannoveraners, Holsteins and Oldenburgs (for example), which are known all over the world among people interested in horses.

According to the ‘Deutsche Reiterlichen Vereinigung’, currently about 1.24 million people in Germany go riding regularly, and around 300,000 people earn their living in this sector. It is mostly young girls who are keen on horses and take regular riding lessons. Perhaps they dream of a career in showjumping, but for most of them their interest in horses remains a hobby.

Riding is often accused of being an elitist hobby. It is certainly an expensive sport, but at around 15 euro per lesson the costs are definitely comparable with those of other sports.

June 2013

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