by Chris Kappler
Last month I flew to Europe on business. Upon landing, I realized the Grand Prix of Aachen would take place that very day. I happily rescheduled my first appointment so I could see the “Grosse Priz von Aachen”.
I have ridden at Aachen many times, and it is an overwhelming competitive experience. In fact, comparing the thrill of an Olympic gold medal or the Aachen Grand Prix win, most riders would be given pause. What makes Aachen such a unique sporting event?
I jumped into my rental car and arrived early, around 10:30am. Crowds were already making their way into the show. Although I could have gotten rider’s credentials, I decided to experience Aachen as a spectator, not a rider. I went to the ticket counter to buy seats, but of course, the box office was closed since they are always sold out on Grand Prix Sunday. I was lucky to find someone selling a pair of front row seats and gladly paid the scalper’s price!
The first class started at 12:30 with 40 entries in a 1.45 speed competition– just a teaser for the great class to come. At Aachen, all the riders bring their “A game”, which makes for great watching. Still, I made time to tour the many shops and food stands. By now, it was “standing room only”. I could hardly move about among the nearly 50,000 people. Back in the show ring, the first round ended with 20 clear rounds returning for a jump-off. To the vast crowd’s delight, the dressage and driving champions for the week were brought into the main arena while the jumper course was set and walked. Prizes were awarded with victory parades around the ring. I was astounded by the crowd’s deafening reaction to the presentation!
The course designer, Frank Rothenberger, built a real jumping contest for the second round. This most difficult test produced only 4 additional clear rounds allowing a jump off between four of the fiercest competitors in show jumping. The result? Number one on the world ranking list, Eric Lamaze and his wonderful stallion Hickstead won, and number two in the world, Pius Switzer finished second!! No one needed wonder how they had achieved their world rankings!
At the conclusion of the Grand Prix, no one left the stands. At most events I attend, people scurry away like rats on a sinking ship. At Aachen, the crowd stayed to cheer for the awards ceremony and the parade of teams right to the end. I felt like I was in the middle of a patriotic rally, a send-off of the German teams to the World Equestrian Games with the nation’s great hopes, honor, and pride. All the German Federation was there, including past International champions, to support their riders at this important moment. Anyone would have been proud to be a German equestrian that day!
I can’t think of a show in America that comes close to what Aachen can produce in every way. I don’t want to pick on America, since no country in the world can reproduce the rich history, pride and competitive atmosphere that Aachen does. We can, however, significantly improve our events in America in the many areas I experienced as an Aachen spectator. We can begin with American spectator attendance at WEG this October.
According to the local Lexington newspaper, only 260,000 of the available 600,000 seats at WEG 2010 have been sold. Approximately 100,000 of those seats were actually given away to sponsors and guests of the WEG. How can only 140,000 tickets be sold despite all the years of planning and promoting the WEG? How can an important World Championship be so poorly attended by its host country? The Games cannot have meaning and importance without an enthusiastic audience.
Please come support our American teams! The plans and improvements have been spectacular. What location could be more beautiful than the Blue Grass State in October? Tickets have sounded very exclusive, but in fact they are still available and the price has recently been reduced! Hotels vacancies remain, and with a little searching you can find something not too expensive. I plan to stay near Cincinnati, a mere 60 miles away. The original pain-in-the neck-parking situation has been resolved with convenient on-grounds parking a short walk from the competition areas. Three great reasons to get your plans organized now!
American riders in every discipline need and want your encouragement. That’s why the German people go to Aachen—to cheer on their team against the best competitors in the world. WEG is American horsemen’s chance to take part in a spectacle that brings the best riders in the world together as we cheer our American teams on to great success. Let’s dig in, make every effort possible, and encourage everyone to buy tickets. We Americans can make the Kentucky World Games our Aachen in 2010!
Courtesy of North American Riders Group www.narg.org