The Horse Shows…..

Dublin…

The Dublin Horse show hosted by the Royal Dublin Society and sponsored by Longines

Location: Dublin, Ireland

Address: Merrion Rd, Dublin 4, Co. Dublin, Ireland (map here)

Well I arrived very late in Dublin, so by the time I had made my way to the famous Burlington Hotel, things were in full swing and the bar was full. I was of course exhausted, after missing my initial flight out of Birmingham and having to wait 5 hours until I could catch the next flight. Despite the rocky start, everyone at Dublin airport were incredibly friendly especially considering it was close to midnight when I arrived. I took this big charter bus to the hotel which incidentally had free Wifi, which I thought was a complete marvel. Driving through Dublin in the middle of the night and Facebooking at the same time; brilliant!

Now don’t think for a minute, I went to join the party after I had checked in at the hotel. I said hello to a few familiar faces and headed straight up to bed like a good girl. Besides, I thought I should get as much sleep as possible, before a week of partying like only the Irish can do. Sure enough, my predictions and foresight was well timed because from Thursday through to Sunday it was quite a ride. Dublin is probably one of the more social shows I’ve attended. So many people come from all over the country, booking their rooms months and months in advance. Hosted by the Royal Dublin Society, it is clearly one of the most anticipated events on the social calender.

I met some very interesting people and the neat thing about the Irish horse community is everyone knows everyone and so it’s just one big snow ball effect. You meet one person and all of a sudden you catch yourself being introduced to a dozen more people. I found the Irish very friendly and very inclusive, and enjoyed an great week of great hospitality and a lot of laughs.

The show itself is merely 15 minutes walk from the hotel so I enjoyed a few days of walking through the lovely neighborhood and admiring the big old manors which seem to have been converted into generous apartments or embassy’s for such countries as Switzerland, Belgium and Germany.

It is very obvious when you arrive at Dublin horse show because the sheer number of people takes you by surprise. Never in my life, have I seen that many people packed into a show that size. Not just on the weekend either. The walkways and the stands were virtually packed almost through out the week with a few quieter days here and there. The show really was buzzing, so naturally it created a great atmosphere.

Now, at Dublin horse show there is everything from Hunting classes to Confirmation classes to Pony races; not just Show Jumping. Its incredibly diverse! I for one thoroughly enjoyed the outfits of the judges, who had to dawn bowler hats, black suits and red ties. Tres chic, wouldn’t you agree!! I was able to catch up with Bernard Courtois, who is the Vice President of Selle Francais and President of the ASEP (Association of Private Stallion owners) in France. An absolutely lovely man, and a fountain of knowledge.

The show itself I found very helpful and friendly but very busy. I thought it was brilliant so many people turned up to watch but many times I felt somewhat like a sheep in the corral, slowly making my way from one end of the show to the other. This would be my only true complaint; the constant crowds of people. It is sort of a silly thing to complain about really, for our sport, but after a whole week, the crowds do become a bit bothersome.

The riders remarked positively about the generous size of the warm up rings and the overall atmosphere in the ring. The crowds were incredible and the riders made a point that Dublin is always one of the most fun shows to ride in during the year. There were remarks made about the footing, overall they weren’t positive. I spoke with some of the staff at the show and it turns out that the ring is actually used as a rugby pitch normally. So no wonder the footing wasn’t tip-top, it’s used to 200 lbs men grinding and wrestling all over it for weekends on end.

Overall, as a spectator I would defiantly suggest to add this event to your travel itinerary for next year. The combination of friendly Irish culture, a substantial collection of top International riders and very well planned parties proves to make for a great week. I for one had a great time and I will defiantly book my ticket for next year. You should too!

For more information, check out their website here

Hickstead…

The Longines Royal International Horse show; the Official Horse Show of the British Horse Society

Location: Gatwick, London, United Kingdom

Address:London Rd, Hickstead, Haywards Heath RH17 5NU, United Kingdom (map here)

Well I arrived at Gatwick airport on Wednesday evening, just a day after competition started for the Longines Royal International Horse show. Hickstead is a show, like Rotterdam and Aachen, that has competition starting on Tuesday rather then Thursday or Friday and offers a wide variety of disciplines, such as Dressage and Driving. I was there, of course, for the show jumping… only!!! Although I did sneak a peak at the Hunter ponies and Hackneys and that was pretty neat. I love the traditional aspects of English horsemanship, there are so many lovely facets of the horse sport in England. It truly is a country of equine enthusiasts and has been for hundreds of years.

All shapes and sizes of horses were out at Hickstead last week. It was a very colorful and eclectic atmosphere with Hunter ponies, Hackney horses, Eventers, Dressage and Drivers all out to compete for their consecutive titles. You may not know this, but I am a bit of a show jumping snob, I really love this sport and I just don’t share the same passion for other disciplines. But I was rather interested in what was going on in the other rings and Hickstead was the perfect place to satisfy my curiosity. There were more horses there that I could count and competition going on all the time.

The Longines Royal International Horse show is the official horse show of the British Horse Society and its Patron is none other then her Majesty the Queen herself. Having celebrated its centenary in 2007, the RIHS is now the venerable age of 106, and one of the oldest horse shows in the world. In 2007, her Majesty the Queen wrote a letter for the British Horse Society to congratulate them on celebrating 100 years of horse competition.

The location is quite historic and it has that traditional, English countryside feel to it which I adore. You were waiting for the hounds to come bounding around the corner, howling after a bright red fox and flanked by the whole English hunt club, wearing red jackets and top hats.

The show grounds are spread across acres and acres and the rolling hills through out display that mature topography that England is so well known for. You walked through the eventing course and even the trees seemed old, as they twisted to create odd shapes. When I arrived on Thursday morning, it was busy with lots of spectators already there to watch their favorite English riders and spend some money at the various stands. If you want to shop, Hickstead is the show to go to. The amount of stands and shops available is incredible with a huge assortment of tack, riding attire, saddlery shops and food. At first the whole atmosphere is really overwhelming. It’s as it you’ve gone to the local farmers market, everyone is there, chatting and laughing with old friends.

The main international ring is surrounded by a traditional wooden fence, as well as three or four houses that have been on the property for over 20 years apparently. The houses have been converted into a restaurant, champagne bar and show office. The show office is literally a 3 -storey house with VIP rooms upstairs to offer the best view in the house. The second level has a medium-sized balcony where all the riders, grooms and chef’s gather to watch. Its very charming and unpretentious with no flashy white tents and red carpets. Its a very down-to-earth place with a lot of atmosphere.

I couldn’t believe that they allowed cars to park right next to the main international ring but John Whitaker explained to me that it was not too long ago when the whole show was surrounded by parked cars and spectators, who came from all over the country to watch. They would drive to the show and park as close to the ring as they could. John said that you could ride into the ring and see hundreds of parked cars, all around the ring, as far as the eye could see. Now since then, a very large grand stand has been built, which looks as though it could seat 20,000 easily. So spectators are allowed to view the extra large ring from 2-3 stories high. I for one, went to the top of the grand stands to take some pictures of the entire show grounds and the view was superb.

Now you may know Hickstead for its famous Derby that occurs every year in June. The very best of the best have always ventured to the historic show with hopes of joining the long list of winners. Legendary riders such as Nelson Pessoa, David Broome, Harvey Smith, Nick Skelton, Paul Schockemohle, Eddie Macken, Michael Whitaker, Peter Charles, Ben Maher and William Funnel have won the infamous Hickstead derby.

The Carpetright Derby is one of the most famous equestrian events in the world. Founded in 1960 by the late Douglas Bunn, it is the only competition that sees riders take on the front descent of the infamous Derby Bank, the biggest of its kind to be found anywhere in the world. It is an iconic event, that makes heroes of its human and equine stars, and in which the course itself is as famous as the horses and riders that embark upon it. No other event in the world asks this much of its entrants, and no other course creates this type of drama.

I for one was not disappointed by the overall experience at Hickstead. It made me miss all things English and the cherry-on-the-sundae was enjoying some Pimm’s in the stands with the girls Friday evening, while watching the Nations Cup. The energy of the show is incredible and I must say I have never heard so much laughter at a show. I think it makes everyone feel as though it is their local show; whether they are from Brazil, Canada, Belgium or Australia.

That is the uniqueness of the Hickstead Horse show.

Recommendations…

Hotel: make sure to stay at the legendary Copthorne hotel, which offers an hourly shuttle to the horse show, a cozy bar and a spa.

Drinks: Castle Inn, is the well-known pub where everyone goes to celebrate the day’s win

Always bring: a pair of Hunter rain boots…. it can get muddy so wearing suede loafers is probably not a good idea.

Dress up for: Saturday’s legendary Ladies day… ideal opportunity to sport the biggest, most outrageous hat you own

Aachen…

Location: Aachen, Germany

Address: Albert servais allee 50, Aachen Germany, 52070 (map here)

Well I arrived on Thursday with friend and colleague, Frederick De Backer of Horse-Live. It was already busy and already super hot! The humidity was quite high but fans and shade were in abundance as well as ice cream and fruit drinks so I was a happy camper. The shops and the tribunes were already packed with people and this was 1:30 pm on a Thursday afternoon. Competition started on Tuesday and attendance was record, from day 1. I was really surprised by the crowd’s mid week but then again, who am I kidding, this is Aachen, the biggest horse show in the world.

The atmosphere was incredible from the start and the lay out was really something. The size and height of the main stadium is really something to behold. It’s even bigger then the main International ring at Spruce Meadows. The stands are incredibly high and standing in the press/competitor tribune was like standing atop a cliff, overlooking the valley below.

Attendance is high at this horse show with 363,000 spectators last year. CHIO Aachen had a total of 33 nations representing this year with 341 competitors and 535 horses on the grounds competing. But for show jumping,

Aachen is an exclusive show with strict international attendance only. 18 Nations were present this year in the main stadium, with 64 riders and 219 horses competing in the Show Jumping events.

This place certainly takes your breath away and the first time I heard 40,000 people cheer Marcus Ehning when he completed his first clear round in the Nations Cup on Thursday, I stopped and enjoyed the sound for a moment. It really is a great sound to hear with your own ears! The vibration and the acoustics cannot be well described in words.

I loved how expansive and grand the show was and the choice of food was excellent. I was very impressed with the treatment of riders and press, as I was able to eat for free all day in the Rider’s Lounge and have my choice of seats in the Rider’s tribune, with the best view. It really was the best show I have ever attended, with hospitality and organization at a premium level. And so it should be, Aachen is known for it’s World-class organization and delivery.

It’s no reason this facility and organization has been around for longer then a century. Aachen has been hosting international events since 1927. That legacy has lasted 85 years and trust me, you can tell. These guys know what they’re doing and they do it well. The atmosphere is one of history and of respect. You feel a sense of awe and admiration for all that Aachen stands for; the respect of top international horse sport.

I learned so much this week. I met some amazing people, who have been working in this sport for longer then I have been alive. They have seen the likes of Paul Schockemohle, Franke Sloothak, Nelson Pessoa and Otto Becker win the famous Sunday Grand Prix. It was incredible to talk to Michael about how he has been trying to win the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen for over 30 years or meet Nick Skelton for the first time, who has won it three times.

The legacy of this show along with the riders who have won here and ridden here is amazing. It is something that took me through out the week to really understand and appreciate. To watch history in the making, as Michael won for the first time with his stallion, Gig Ami, I realized that 20 years from now, I will look back and see the change and evolution that has occurred in the sport, same as those that I met this week. I will attend Aachen years from now, and speak about when the famous Michael Whitaker who won with a super fast time of 49.73…… 5 whole seconds ahead of Thomas Voss of Germany. I will remember how the whole Rider’s tribune were cheering him on and how the stands erupted when he galloped across that finish line. I will remember how emotional and humble Michael was during the ceremony and during the British National anthem.

You don’t realize, but these moments stay with you forever and you come to appreciate them later. This sport of show jumping, is full of stories and history that always seems to be at the tip of everyone’s fingers. One thing I learned and came to appreciate this week was the knowledge and history that everyone, involved in this sport, has over here.

They remember who won last year and they remember who won 20 years ago. Some can describe to you the jump off or the turn or the ride that won the class and they can describe it in so much detail you would think it happened yesterday. This passion and respect for those who have won before is incredible and humbling.

There is so much understanding and respect for the sport here. Now, I most look forward to hearing the stories that people tell when I attend a show or catch up with friends in the Rider’s lounge or the VIP or the warm up ring. The descriptions and the history of this sport is so rich and we can learn so much.

It is the stories that are most important I think. It is the ability for different generations to compete together, regardless of age or experience, that makes this sport so unique.

It is that uniqueness that allows for such an incredible community to be surrounded around horse sport.

However fast show jumping is evolving and changing, we must always respect and learn about the history and about those that have come before us.

To respect those who have laid the foundation of the sport of show jumping and honor them as best we can.

You just have to sit one day with John or Michael Whitaker to truly understand the richness of show jumping history. It is this that stands out the most to me after theweek in Aachen. It is this understanding and appreciation that I leave Germany with the most I think.

To stand at the foot of the winners wall; mounted at the entrance to the main stadium, and admire the hundreds of names engraved there forever.

All the hard work and sacrifice it took for these riders to earn a spot on that wall. To become immortal in history and remain there even after they have retired or left the sport for good.

Coming to Aachen was coming to a piece of horse sport history. A place where so much as happened, and so much more is still yet to come.

For more information about Aachen, visit their website

Rotterdam…

Location: Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Address: Kralingseweg 120, 3062 CG Rotterdam (map here)

Well despite the weather, and I mean there was weather… rain and cold temperatures in the last weekend of June (it is supposed to be summer!!); Rotterdam was pretty cool. Not only is it a piece of show jumping history but it has a certain sense of sophistication that a show ground can only achieve when it’s been around as long as Rotterdam. I mean there is a full, mature forest situated within the facility and you have to use these wooden plank walkways to get from the main international ring to the warm up ring. The show really has a certain exclusive ambiance that you just cannot ignore. It is an impressive show but not intimidating. Which is something I really appreciated because there are some shows here in Europe that are quite intimidating. I mean you arrive at the show grounds and you really don’t know where to go but Rotterdam has a real welcoming feeling that made me really enjoy my weekend up North.

The showgrounds in Rotterdam hosted the 1980 Substitute Olympics for show jumping. As John (Whitaker) was so kind to explain to me, Moscow was hosting the 1980 Summer Olympic and the United States led a boycott against the games. The US and its allies along with virtually the entire free world (except for such countries as Mexico and Italy) elected to boycott the official games due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Three locations were chosen for the substitute competition; the Eventing took place in Fountainbleau, France, Dressage was held in Goodwood, Great Britain and the show jumping was contested in Rotterdam, Holland. In the official Olympic equestrian competition, the Soviet Union won eight medals, more than half of its all-time total in the sport.

57 competitors representing 18 countries gathered at the Kralingse Bos, including 13 full teams, using the standard Nations’ Cup format, Canada won team gold along with Britain winning team silver. Interestingly enough, I learnt that Nick Skelton, almost a sure thing for London 2012, has never won an Olympic medal. He earned silver for the Team competition along with John in 1980, but because Rotterdam was officially a substitute Olympics, it is not officially recognized. I found that amazing, the ‘all-time’ Nick Skelton, with all his accolades in the sport of show jumping, does not have a Olympic medal to add to the his wall. Let’s hope he can give it a good shot at London in August.

Anyways, back to the show. Rotterdam is defiantly a must-see if you are ever in the area. There is a great VIP section and lots of great shopping. I loved the way they laid out the bar near the entrance, with a huge white canopy raised high above a oval-shaped bar. A large flat screen was situated so you could enjoy a glass of wine and not miss any of the action. If the weather had been better, I am sure this would have been a great spot to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Alas, I elected to stay dry in the Rider’s lounge, where there was an awesome spread of food available breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Rider’s Lounge was also perfectly situated next to the ring (of course!!) so I could catch up with everyone and still sneak a few snapshots while avoiding the random torrential downpours.

What I found marvelous, was at the entrance of the showgrounds, you saw hundreds of bicycles. Many spectators elected to bike to the show, instead of drive. A wonderful aspect of Dutch culture and a very unique thing to see at such as show.

Security was quite tight but I appreciated how understanding the security guards were when we all realized I had forgotten to print my official parking pass. A healthy dose of Canadian charm seemed to be sufficient for these boys to let me through and I appreciated their understanding. However, note-to-self, always remember to print your official parking pass or do as the natives do, and bring a bicycle.

All in all I give Rotterdam a full 5 -star rating and recommend anyone who is visiting Holland, to visit this super show and check out the patriotic Orange spectators, who are guaranteed to attend, rain or shine.

For more information, check out their website

One comment on “The Horse Shows…..

  1. […] of the Week…..Horse Show of the Week…..News…Photos of the Day….Recent Results….Rider of […]

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