Since the 1920s, the German town of Aachen has been famous for holding one of the most prestigious events in the equestrian calendar.
Text PETER BENNETT / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.8
It’s the best, most difficult, scary, and beautiful event in the world. Somewhere you dream of riding when you start out as a professional,” says Danish national showjumper Tina Lund of the international World Equestrian Festival CHIO held in Aachen. From its humble beginnings in the 1920s, this horse show has evolved into one of biggest and most prestigious in the world, as important as Wimbledon is to tennis, staging competitions in showjumping, dressage, vaulting, eventing and driving. Here the audience can experience the world’s best riders and see the most athletic and expensive sports horses competing for honour, money, and important World Cup points.
The first horse show in Aachen was held in 1924 as part of a horse-racing weekend. But the region surrounding this town in the western part of Germany near the Belgian and Dutch borders had already witnessed riders competing against each other for hundreds of years – a tradition which meant that Aachen had a reputation of a being a magnet for horse riders until the 19th century. Then in 1898, the squires, factory owners, land owners, cattle traders, and riding instructors from the region joined forces to form the Laurensberger Rennverein. Their intention was to liven up the everyday life of the equestrian-loving people of Aachen. And indeed they did.
After the early years of the Aachen horse show, the Laurensberger Rennverein – the equestrian club which still organises the event – moved it to its present location site at the Soers end of Aachen. The first horse show in 1924 included flat and hurdle races watched by over 20,000 spectators. Within a few years it had become a six-day event and the horse race wasn’t the main attraction any more. The first showjumping tournament, the so called Nation Cup, was held here in 1929, and apart from the years of the Second World War, the Aachen venue has been the centre of international top horsemanship ever since. Reflecting on just how special it is to be part of this event, the Hungarian rider Tibor von Pettko-Szandtner said in 1952: “I saved for three years, so that I could come to Aachen again this year.” To this day, riders continue to hold Aachen in the same regard.’
In 1938, a staggering 120,000 spectators from all over Europe came to the Soers to see top riders compete against each other in 50 competitions with over 600 horses involved. Aachen has been a stronghold for the best German riders in particular, and here new stars like Fritz Thiedemann, the Schockemöhles, Dr Reiner Klimke, Liselott Linsenhoff, Nadine Capellmann, and Isabell Werth all received their big breakthrough. The legendary German showjumper Hans Günter Winkler sums up the importance of Aachen for the German top riders when he says: “Aachen was my equestrian homeland. I was lucky enough to be able to achieve great victories there. And for me it was the crowning finale, being able to end my career in front of 50,000 spectators at the 1986 World Championships in the Soers.”
Aachen now attracts over 70,000 spectators a day, an interesting mix of enthusiastic horse lovers and crowned and uncrowned heads of high society: Royalty of all kinds, presidents, church delegates and celebrities from international sport, media and show business. Aachen is not only one of the biggest horse shows in the world, but also one of the most fashionable meetings in Europe. The VIP tents are all located near the showjumping arena well away from the crowds, where the likes of ex-tennis champion Martina Hingis, footballer David Beckham or president of the International Horse Federation (FEI), Her Royal Highness Princess Haya of Jordan are served gastronomic delights as they watch horses in action. This year’s horse show will be the biggest ever in terms of number of spectators, horses and riders: Over 800 riders, 600,000 guests and 1.8 billion TV viewers are expected this year. There’s plenty on offer for guests beyond the obvious horsemanship.
And throughout the ten days of the festival, hundreds of stands and tents will offer horse equipment, fashionable clothes and other stuff that riders and horse lovers just can’t live without. At night, once the floodlights of the main horse arena are turned off, the exclusive VIP parties begin as Aachen’s nightlife gets into swing. The showground is ready for this summer’s new golden equestrian moments, and many more to come. •
For more info see chioaachen.de