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August 21, 2006

Aachen Is Truly The Mecca Of Horse Sports

Aachen's place in the history of horse sports is legendary. So it's logical that sooner or later the famous Aachen Soers, on the outskirts of the German city of Aachen, would host the World Equestrian Games, which take place Aug. 20-Sept. 3.

Aachen's show grounds have staged more international championships in equestrian sports than any other site in the world. And the Federation Equestre Internationale regularly names Aachen the best outdoor venue for show jumping, dressage and four-in-hand driving.

But this is the first time in WEG history that an existing show organization is respon-sible for the seven-event WEG and the first time that all disciplines take place on the same show grounds.

The Aachen organizers are used to such challenges, however. Each year the famous CHIO Aachen, the "World Festival Of The Horse," attracts more than 300,000 spectators (337,000 in 2005), among those royalties, politicians, industrialists and stars from show business, media, culture and sports.

Until the first WEG in Stockholm (Sweden) in 1990, all disciplines held their World Championships separately. That first WEG was deemed a success, so it was next held in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 1994, and the show grounds there were developed from scratch. In Rome in 1998, where CSIOs are regularly held, the WEG was split into two parts, one half held in a soccer stadium in Rome (show jumping, dressage and vaulting) and the other half at Pratoni del Vivaro (eventing, four-in-hand driving and endurance).

In Jerez in 2002, the WEG was held in the south of Spain. There, a soccer stadium was the main site, though the driving marathon and the eventing cross-country took place 12 miles away.

At Aachen, no soccer stadium will be necessary, since the main equestrian stadium (Stadium 1) of the Aachen Soers holds more than 40,000 spectators.

Richest In History
For nearly a century, Aachen has been home to the best horses and riders in the world--and this is no exaggeration.

Hans-Günter Winkler, the most decorated show jumper in the sport's history, calls Aachen his equestrian home.

"I was so lucky to achieve great victories there," said Winkler, who is a two-time World Show Jumping Champion (1954 and '55) and five-time Olympic gold medalist. "The crowning conclusion was for me the ending of my career at the 1986 World Championships at Aachen in front of 50,000 spectators."

Bertalan de Nemethy, the former U.S. Equestrian Team coach, renowned trainer and course designer, holds Aachen in high esteem.

"You have the impression, if you meet a citizen of Aachen that everyone just lives for the horse show," he said. "This starts with the customs official and ends with the hairdresser. You have to go to Aachen, if you ride, and you have to go to Aachen as many times as possible, if you want to continue to ride."

The history of the Aachen-Laurensberg Racing Club goes back more than 100 years.

It was founded in 1889 by landowners, factory owners, farmers, animal dealers and riding instructors of the Aachen region as the Laurensberger Rennverein. Their aim was to entertain the Aachen citizens with horse races.

The equestrian tradition at Aachen actually goes back much farther, in fact to Charlemagne, who regularly held mounted knight games at his home. Aachen was the town of Charlemagne (768-814), and it remained the capital of the Holy Roman Empire until the middle of the 16th century. Over hundreds of years, 37 German emperors were crowned in Aachen.

In 1923, the club moved to today's show grounds in the vast Aachen Soers. In 1924, the organizers added a riding and driving horse show to the scheduled racing days. This first event drew 20,000 spectators.

From that moment on, Aachen grew quickly. In 1927, the first international horse show--including a three-day event--was held with eight participating nations. Germany's Maj. Lotz aboard Olnad won the first Aachen Grand Prix in 1927.

In 1928, the big lake became part of the main arena, and that year international-level dressage competitions were added. The following year, Aachen hosted its first Nations Cup in show jumping, which was won by the Swedish team.

It was in 1929 that Aachen was designated a CHIO (Concours Hippique International Officiel). In 1930, Aachen organizers added a marathon for the four-in-hand driving teams.

At the end of that decade, at the 1938 Aachen CHIO, the event had grown to include more than 600 horses, with 50 classes, and 120,000 spectators from all over Europe.

As with many horse shows of the time, World War II disrupted Aachen, but in 1946 the horses were back in action on a national scale. By 1947 the first post-war international horse show took place, with 440 horses.

Among the six participating nations that year were the former wartime enemies of Germany, including Great Britain, the United States and the Netherlands. This attendance showed the value of sports in the understanding among nations.

In 1948, Col. Wing, aboard Totilla, earned the first U.S. victory in the Grand Prix of Aachen. George Morris with Night Owl followed in 1960, and in 1966 and 1971 Neal Shapiro riding Jacks Or Better and Sloopy, respectively, took top honors. In 1991, Anne Kursinski rode Starman to the title.

Where Champions Gather
In the 1950s, Aachen began hosting international championships. Through today, four World Championships in show jumping (1955, 1956, 1878, 1986) and one World Champion-ship in dressage (1970) took place at Aachen, plus four European Championships in show jumping (1958, 1961, 1965, 1971) and three European Championships in dressage (1967, 1973, 1983).

In the first World Show Jumping Championship held at Aachen in 1955 (the third overall in the history of show jumping), Germany's Winkler defended the title he had won one year before in Madrid aboard his famous mare, Halla.

But, in 1955 Winkler's victory was hard-fought. After riding Halla and the horses of his three competitors, the German rider had 8 faults, as did Italy's Raimondo d'Inzeo aboard Merano. Therefore, the two riders had a jump-off to determine the gold medal. While Halla had to go two more times, d'Inzeo replaced his Merano with Nadir. The tension could not have been higher. Both riders had one pole down in the first round of the jump-off. In the second round, Winkler stayed clear aboard Nadir, while d'Inzeo had one pole down aboard Halla and the title stayed in Germany.

Until 1990, when the first WEG took place, World and European Championships normally took place in the country of the titleholder (show jumping, dressage and four-in-hand driving). At this point there was no team competition.

In 1956, it was D'Inzeo's turn to win the title aboard Merano, and the World Champion-ships left Aachen until the 1970s, when Hartwig Steenken won the 1974 World Champion title at Hickstead (England) aboard Simona. When the championships returned to Germany and to Aachen in 1978, it was held in a four-year rotation and the team championships began.

At those 1978 World Championships, Gerd Wilt-fang rode Roman to the gold medal, while Ireland's Eddie Macken and Boomerang finished a close second for the silver. While the German rider jumped clear with all four horses, Macken had .25 time faults. U.S. rider Michael Matz earned the bronze medal that year aboard Jet Run with 4.5 faults.

The championships tradition was interrupted in 1982 when the World Championships were held in Dublin, but this didn't keep Germany from winning--Norbert Koof (aboard Fire).

So in 1986 the World Championships returned to Aachen, for the last time held as a single event. Pierre Durand of France had been the best rider after three qualifiers aboard Jappeloup, but after swapping horses he fell to fourth. Canada's Gail Greenough, with Mr. T., took the gold medal with four clear rides in the final, followed by U.S. rider Conrad Homfeld aboard the venerable Abdullah. Great Britain's Nick Skelton with Raffles Apollo took bronze.

Over the years, Aachen proved to be a good stomping ground for the United States show jumping teams. In addition to winning the 2005 Nations Cup and being runners-up in 2006, the U.S. won the 1986 World Championships (Katie Monahan Prudent/ Amadia, Katharine Burdsall/The Natural, Michael Matz/Chef and Homfeld/Abdullah). The U.S. team has taken victory in the Aachen Nations Cup five times.

From 1927 until 1962, Aachen hosted an FEI dressage competition (Grand Prix). Twice these competitions took place in the Aachen Soers. In 1954, Denmark's Lis Hartel and Jubilee topped Switzerland's Henri Chamartin and Woehler, who won three consecutive FEI championships in 1955, '58 and '59. In 1961, Germany's Josef Neckermann and Asbach won the title.

Starting in 1963, the European Championships took place every other year, and Aachen hosted the championships three times. In 1966 the first Dressage World Championship was held in Bern, Switzerland, with German Josef Neckermann and Mariano triumphing ahead of Harry Boldt with Remus and Reiner Klimke aboard Dux. The first team competition featured a victorious West Germany ahead of Switzerland and the Soviet Union.

So in 1970 the World Dressage Championships was held at Aachen, with the Russians dominating. Elena Petuschkowa rode Pepel to the gold, and Iwan Kizimow and Ichor took the bronze. German Liselott Linsenhoff and Piaff broke the Soviet Union's streak by taking the silver medal. The Soviet Union took team gold, while West Germany (Linsenhoff, Neckermann, Boldt) won silver and East Germany took bronze.

Currently, Aachen is the only CHIO that includes Nations Cups in three disciplines: show jumping, dressage and four-in-hand driving. In 2005, a test three-day event and a test endurance ride took place in preparation for the WEG, and during the 2006 CHIO Aachen in May vaulting was added.

Aachen is now the place for champions of seven disciplines to gather to make more history.

Special Memories
In addition to celebrated victories and heartbreaking defeats, Aachen has also hosted great farewells. German show jumping legend Hans-Günter Winkler had his final championship moment at Aachen, as did dressage champion Harry Boldt. Famous horses such as Fritz Thiedemann's Meteor, Ludger Beerbaum's Ratina Z and Marcus Ehning's For Pleasure had their saddles removed at Aachen.

The "Farewell of Nations" at the end of each CHIO is always special and unique in the world. After the last competition, the Grand Prix of Aachen, the participants of the CHIO from all three disciplines return to a final goodbye parade in the main stadium, and the spectators, who all usually remain in the stands, wave with white handkerchiefs. This tradition began in 1953 and continues today.

For the WEG, this farewell parade will be extended and will take all of the World Championship participants through the city of Aachen on the afternoon of Sept 3.

Aachen is also famous for its exhibitions. Many breathtaking and fascinating demonstrations have entertained the spectators, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Spanish Riding School from Vienna, which first traveled to Aachen in 1929.

They're Prepared
Before the World Equestrian Games, the Aachen management team spent years preparing. Major reconstruction work took place in the Aachen Soers in 2004 and '05, which updated the 30-acre facility to the most modern equestrian stadium in the world.

After the 2004 CHIO, the building consisting of the club offices, the judges' tower and one section of stands was torn down and replaced by a larger building. Then, the remaining stands were enlarged around Stadium 1. The footing and the drainage in the main arena was improved and replaced. Since the quality of the grass footing hadn't been satisfactory during the rainy 2005 CHIO, Aachen management worked hard through the year until the 2006 CHIO. There, the footing received positive reviews from the riders. Show jumping and dressage will be held in this main area, Stadium 1.

Stadium 2, the arena for the three-day dressage and the four-in-hand driving dressage and cones, lies directly behind the main stands of the main stadium. Because of the demand for tickets for the three-day show jumping, it's been moved from Stadium 2 to Stadium 1.

Stadium 3 will host the WEG vaulting and reining competitions and will be covered by a temporary aluminum tent. It's a three-minute walk from Stadium 1.
To facilitate spectator attendance, the marathon course for the four-in-hand driving and the three-day cross-country course is also being held at the Soers. No other WEG has included all disciplines in one general area.

The endurance is the slight exception. On the first Monday of the WEG, the competitors will traverse their 100-mile course through three different countries--Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands--before they cross the finish line in Stadium 1.
 
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