The Austrian capital, where imperial history and splendour are everywhere, has never seen an equestrian event like the Global Champions Tour debut: A who’s who of equestrian sport, mixed with culture and class.
Photography CAMILLA STEPHAN Text MARIA GRAAE / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.6
The Rathausplatz in Vienna became the central focus of the riding world when the most prestigious showjumping series in the world, the Global Champions Tour – Vienna Masters, took place from the 20th to the 23rd September. The neogothic City Hall served as a gorgeous backdrop. The sold-out VIP lounges and tribunes were packed to the rafters for the showjumping spectacular, where over 4,000 guests watched the horse show and competitions. The see-through roof gave the visitors a full experience of being in the very heart of Vienna, with a view of the impressive City Hall and the surrounding Rathauspark, with its mature trees, flowers and beautiful fountains.
It was a breathtaking location for the 260 show horses that attended the event, under the slogan “Pferd findet stadt” (“horse finds city”). The warm-up area was open to the public and was a crowd-puller for all ages, creating a unique opportunity to see the very best riders in the world and their magnificent mounts up close while training.
With the top 15 riders from the world rankings (with the sole exception of Canada’s Eric Lamaze) on the Grand Prix starters list, the course walk was virtually a who’s who of international showjumping. Doda Miranda and patron Athina Onassis walked side by side while taking advice on the course from German legend Ludger Beerbaum, as his brother Markus Beerbaum and sister-in-law Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum played hide and seek with their daughter Brianne Victoria. Later the toddler was playing with Sophia Pessoa, daughter of Alexa and Rodrigo Pessoa, while the Brazilian showjumper small-talked with American Laura Kraut and her talented student Jessica Springsteen.
As the evening approached, the magnificent, floodlit City Hall towered over the action-packed showground where public grandstands and VIP tribunes were at a bursting point for the five-star Grand Prix Saturday evening. Spectators were on the edge of their seats as Pénélope Leprevost on Mylord Carthago made a popular win in superb style. The elegant French rider shared the podium with Olympic silver medallist Gerco Schröder, who was just beaten by a stunning clear round by Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum.
In front of the City Hall, white tents offering a variety of traditional cuisines and specialities were tempting, inviting you to try more than one. Several riders including Kevin Staut were seen enjoying the evening atmosphere here.
In the Silver tour, famous Austrian rider Hugo Simon, who competed at his first Olympics in 1972, gave young hopefuls like Princess Grace’s granddaughter Charlotte Casiraghi a good fight for the final placements. But it was Mohammed Bassem from Qatar aboard Cantinero who was fastest in the exciting jump off.
On Sunday, the Spanish Riding School’s iconic Lipizzaners left their stables within the nearby imperial palace, treating the visitors to a rare open-air performance of their white ballet. The stallions danced in perfect synchronicity, demonstrating their mastery of the spectacular and powerful dressage movements known as “airs above the ground”, with their equally elegant riders dressed in the school’s original brown and cream coloured uniforms that haven’t changed since 1815. While the Viennese afternoon sun caught the gold and brass on the bridles, the sound of classical music and the waves of applause from the audience filled the crisp air.
Like the other star riders at the GCT Vienna, Rolf Göran Bengtsson, number one in the world ranking, was impressed by the spectacular location for the showground, surrounded by some of the city’s great architecture. “It’s a fantastic setting,” he said, “truly in the middle of the city. Everything here is a little smaller to fit in, the warm-up and the narrow arena; you need to have your dressage absolutely together to perform well here.” On the subject of the Global Champions Tour, he added: “This formula works because you can go to shows to ride for your nation and be part of this tour. If you are good at this sport, it’s makes sense to take part in it – and of course the prize money is good too, which means the owners are willing to keep the horses.”
You can find more information at www.globalchampionstour.com •