Aachen, Virtual mini-Olympics, Opens

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The World Equestrian Festival opening ceremony in the main stadium at Aachen. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

AACHEN, Germany, July 12–The World Equestrian Festival, the single largest annual horse sport competition, opened Tuesday night in a display of pageantry and celebration of equestrian competition before a near sellout crowd in the 40,000-seat main stadium.

The dressage competition in the permanent Deutsche Bank stadium is sold out for the featured CDIO5* Nations Cup in which eight teams are scheduled to compete–Belgium, Denmark, Great Britain, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United States. An estimated 68 riders on 95 horses from 16 countries are entered for the CDIO, the CDI4* and the CDI-Under 25, one of the fastest growing segments of dressage.

Dressage competition begins with the CDI4* Wednesday in the 5,000-seat stadium and ends Sunday with the Grand Prix Freestyle.

The veterinary check for CDIO horses is scheduled for Wednesday.

Eva Salomon, chef d’equipe for the U.S. team, said that all of the horses are “in good shape and we’re very happy.”

The U.S. is fielding a team for the first time in years and is made up of Californians Steffen Peters of San Diego, and Ravel, Günter Seidel of Cardiff, and U II, Jan Ebeling of Moorpark, and Rafalca, and Todd Flettrich and Otto of Wellington, Florida.

The only combination defending their Grand Prix of Aachen title is the USA’s Steffen Peters and Ravel who won the championship here in 2009, the first American ever to do so.

Steffen Peters and Ravel at Aachen in 2009. © 2009 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

Last year’s winner, Edward Gal on Moorlands Totilas, is a partnership no more, but the superstar stallion will probably be the most intensely scrutinized horse at the entire CHIO with his rider, Matthias Alexander Rath. The German pair won a place on the team after only three competitions–Munich, Wiesbaden and the German Championships in Balve, since the horse was bought from the Netherlands after last year’s World Equestrian Games.

Isabell Werth won the title in 2007 and 2008 on Satchmo, but will be aboard her rising young star El Santo NRW as her CDIO mount this year.

Competition will be fierce.

The world’s top two riders, Holland’s Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival and Great Britain’s Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris, as well as a host of other combinations, will all be looking to be on the medals podium and, for some, win a place on their nation’s team for the European Championships just a month away that will be the deciding test for an Olympic team for London next year.

Germany, The Netherlands and the U.S. have already qualified for the Olympics, as has Great Britain as the host nation.

To put the CHIO Aachen into perspective, it draws well over 350,000 spectators during the 10 days of competitions in dressage, driving, eventing, jumping and vaulting over 10 days. The WEG in Kentucky last year over 16 days which also included reining, endurance and para-equestrian and are world championships in all the disciplines that are held once every four years, reported 420,000 spectators.