I’m always excited when I think of the Aachen horse show in Germany. There is no other competition I have attended that combines show jumping, dressage, vaulting, driving and eventing in one venue—all while having the best shopping! The vendors carry the latest and greatest apparel, which costs much less than buying it in the States, where it usually is double the cost. Needless to say, my luggage was overweight coming home.
My trip also included a mission to find horses for a couple of clients, so I was busy traveling around Germany and Holland looking at a wide range of prospects, from young green horses to Grand Prix schoolmasters.
One of the many exciting pieces of being at Aachen involved cheering on our U.S. dressage riders and the team. I was fortunate to catch up with my trainer, Debbie McDonald, right after I arrived and watched our team members all get into the main arena for their seven minutes of schooling and acclimation.
Our team was a strong one consisting of Laura Graves and Verdades, Adrienne Lyle (Salvino), Kasey Perry (Dublet) and Olivia Lagoy-Weltz (Lonoir). We also had individual riders in the 4-star Grand Prix; Shelly Francis and Kathleen Raine.
There was a lot of hype about the duel of Laura and Germany’s Isabell Werth, the world number one-ranked dressage rider, going head to head again after the World Cup in Omaha where Isabell won and Laura was second. Laura was very definite in her conversations with the media that she wanted to win one against Isabell.
The first day of competition was very exciting. I love seeing the upcoming horses in the Small Tour and finding out how the judges are placing these horses. Anna Kasprzak of Denmark and her Quarton were the clear winners, with Juan Matute riding for Spain close behind with his Dhannie Ymas, who we see competing in Florida. That horse looks stronger and more consistent now.
In the Grand Prix, Adrienne was our first rider in on Salvino, who is just getting started in the international ranks. What a tactful ride she gave him. It was conservative, just as it should have been considering the stallion’s level of experience, but you could see how much more power and finesse there will be as this pair grows together.
I was so happy for her to score a 71.81 percent in just their third time in the CDI arena. That’s especially true because of the atmosphere at this famous show. The energy at Aachen is hard to equate to anywhere else I have been. The stadium lifts around the arena to give a rider a feeling of being surrounded, and all the seats are filled with an extremely knowledgeable audience.
Next to go was Kasey and Dublet. Unfortunately, rider mistakes brought her score down to 68.92 percent. Then Olivia and Lonoir entered and had a very nice conservative ride as well for another 71.51 percent, which left us in a good position if Laura could pull off a big score.
Isabell scored an amazing 83.17 percent on Weihegold, with the most fluid transitions. Her harmony with this mare is beautiful. There was, however, one mistake in the change between the pirouettes, and the horse’s collected walk can be tricky.
Then in comes Laura, very focused, with Verdades listening and fluid. She unfortunately had a big mistake in her two tempis, so her score was only good for second place with a 79.51 percent. Team USA was sitting in the Silver position after the first day with our scores, while Germany was leading for Gold and Sweden holding onto the bronze spot.
The following day, a rest day for Grand Prix dressage, we were off to look for horses. I managed to put almost 2,000 kilometers on our rental car. We traveled around to numerous barns looking for our unicorn-to-be. It is always difficult to find specific horses when the criteria is more than just a few standard “givens:” Size, age, type, show record, rideability and so on to locate the perfect fit for clients. You want the best possible match when you are the one having to teach the clients on these horses after they buy them, as well being involved with their long-term care and management. We narrowed it down to a couple of horses and hopefully the best one will vet well. Fingers crossed!
Back at Aachen for the Intermediaire I and Grand Prix Special, I was excited to watch what would be the final score that crowned the teams for Nation’s Cup at Aachen.
Our first rider was Kasey with Dublet. Again, there were some unfortunate rider errors, but they looked better for a score of 71.60 percent. Adrienne, next on Salvino, went for a little more power in safe places and was rewarded with 73.60 percent. This is going to be quite the combination to watch this coming season in Wellington.
Olivia and Lonoir were third to go and had a nice test for 72.11 percent. Of course, after that, we were all watching for Isabell. Her ride had a big mistake in the two-tempis that cost her and brought her score to an 81.05 percent.
Our last rider, Laura, and Verdades entered after Isabell’s performance. She had a beautiful, flawless test to beat Isabell with a score of 81.82 percent and win the Special. It was Laura’s birthday as well, so the entire stadium sang “Happy Birthday” for her at the end of the class. I’m sure this will be one of her fondest memories of a lifetime when she thinks back on victories with this horse that she has brought along since he was a baby.
What a thrill for her to have such a score with all the pressure leading up to this competition and clinch the silver medal for the U.S. behind Germany’s gold. I’m very proud of her and the team after watching and comparing all the rides I saw. We definitely made a great impression on the spectators. As I waited in line for coffee, I could hear everyone talking about our team. They were impressed with the rides and how smooth they all were.
Debbie McDonald was training the entire team at this show and I must give credit to her for her style and approach. She has such an eye and is so mentally comforting for our riders in her teaching and warming up for competition. There is much to be said for that.
And Robert Dover was an amazing chef d’equipe. There was so much organizing and managing of our horses and riders in Europe and abroad leading up to this. Debbie and Robert make a great pair, both doing what they do best. We had other riders from the US riding in the 4-star Grand Prix as well. Shelly Francis on Danilo and Kathleen Raine riding Breanna were entered as individuals. They had tests scores in the high 60s and low 70s, but mistakes cost them good placings.
Another horse that impressed me was Damsey, the stallion that won the 4-star Grand Prix with Helen Langehanenburg riding to a score of 75.90 percent. Damsey, who looked very happy with his rider, is owned by Louise Leatherdale. I was happy I had a chance to see her and congratulate her after the victory.
Sunday was a great time of watching freestyles, which count individually. Isabell has won the freestyle numerous times at Aachen through the past few decades, starting in 1992 with Gigolo, on whom she won for seven years in a row. She was beaten one year in 1999 and then won once again on Gigolo in 2000. She is one tough competitor, especially on her home turf.
Kasey was first to go in the class. She had her best ride, fault-free for 75.5 percent. Her harmony with Dublet was very apparent and she focused on her ride being flawless. Olivia, next with Lonoir produced a 74.42 total. A couple of little mistakes and swinging changes held them back from higher scores.
Then it was time for Isabell to appear. She was determined to see her name go up again on the wall where all the winners are listed, and you could see how intense she looked as she entered. Her mare went flawlessly and was credited with a high score of 89.67 percent, which we knew would be very tough for Laura to beat.
Laura, who came into the arena right after Isabell, had a much more sensitive Verdades to deal with as the crowd continued to cheer for Isabell while the German rider left and the American entered.
Verdades seemed a bit edgy with his music at times throughout the test but the biggest mistakes involved going off the half-circle of two tempis to the one tempis on the short diagonal. They just weren’t there when Laura asked, so she wound up only with a few on both attempts. That cost her and although the score reflected that, it was still an 82.55 percent.
The last horse to go was one I had been admiring the entire show who is very impressive in his movement. It was Sonke Rothenberger’s Cosmo 59. He is a solid bay, an elegant type with movement that flows over the ground and a technique that could make him one of the best horses in the world with a little more finesse from his rider. It is a pair that is growing together and their freestyle was really amazing for second place in this class, scoring an 85.75 percent.
Overall, our team made an impact on the very knowledgeable audience at Aachen. I was proud of them and how every one of them had a very smooth style and harmony with their horses, something you did not see as much with most of the others there.
It was a great experience to be there in person and watch such a high level of competition. I feel if we keep on exposing our riders to this type of atmosphere, we will continue to grow in this sport and be competitive. It is important for aspiring high performance riders to come and watch the competition at this level and experience the way things are done in Europe, compared to the U.S.
The sport is so much more of a lifestyle and supported so differently in a positive way over there. You have to be there to really feel the difference. I always walk away feeling inspired, and I am waiting for my chance to be there one day with my boy, Reno.