Foam Fingers, The Wave And Life In The Herning Bleachers

Aug 12, 2022 - 5:39 PM

Foam fingers without sarcasm.  

Dressage and show jumping as sports for the average sports fan. In Scandinavia, we have that down.

I say “we” loosely. My family is from Denmark, and Danish is my first language, but I grew up in the U.S., aside from long periods of time back in Denmark, so I am very Danish in some ways, and in others I’m a bit out of practice. And it’s been a decade or so since I have been back. Horses are expensive and so are tickets to Europe.

Swedes in Herning
Swedish fans in the stands at the Agria FEI Jumping World Championships. FEI/Leanjo de Koster Photo

Back in 2021 as the pandemic lingered, I got an email update about the FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark. I sent it to my dear friend Linda Fraunhofer, whose husband is German, without comment—I didn’t have to say a word, as we’d for years talked about taking a joint trip to Europe. 

We were on: Herning 2022, me, Linda and her best friends, mother and cousins. And now, here we are in Denmark. It’s like 85 degrees here—a veritable heatwave—and I am in horse heaven. Cairo is being cared for back home, and I am distracted from the stress of trying to get her unruly uterus to behave and carry a foal.

Linda was excited for me to translate for everyone. Not to be useless, but I had to tell her that pretty much everyone in Denmark speaks English. It’s so commonly spoken that Danes and Swedes, despite each speaking a Scandinavian language, will switch into English rather than try to understand each other. Danes have a glottal stop—think Cockney. And Swedes are like, “Why are you swallowing half your words?” Danes are right back at them with, “Is that even a word you are saying right now?” Remember “My Friend Flicka”? “Flicka” is Swedish for girl. In Danish it’s “pige” (basically pronounced “pee.”)

We flew into Copenhagen (København if you are cool) and met my family. My parents live just outside the city, so while the rest of the U.S. group went shopping and did some fun tourist stuff—there were many visits to the statue of the little mermaid—I visited my parents at their small garden cottage in Herlev, where they spend half the year.

I am the only person in my immediate family who rides. I say this because I need to explain that while the average Dane may not be a horse person, they still care about horse sports in a way the average American doesn’t seem to.

We got to the cottage and turned on Danish TV Channel 2. It was all horses, all day, followed by Herning updates on the national TV news. Linda, who knows Cairo’s reputation, mistakenly thought I didn’t like dressage so I didn’t have tickets for dressage at Herning, but in Denmark, it didn’t matter; it was on Danish TV for all to see. Imagine if the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, had taken over NBC in 2018: All horse sports, all day. 

I happily tuned in. Mom and Dad humored me. Or so I thought. 

Honestly, despite Cairo’s difficulties in dressage, I love the challenge. Dressage is an art. But there’s my little eventing challenge and then there’s watching Lottie Fry on Glamourdale and Dane Cathrine Laudrup-Dufour on Vamos Amigos.

On Aug. 7, Danish TV covered the Grand Prix dressage and mixed in coverage of  the vaulting. Even my non-horsey parents were impressed by tempi changes and canter pirouettes and women standing upside down on horseback. My father was perfectly happy to watch video of Dane Sheena Bendison fall on her dismount but still take the bronze in vaulting—which is good because it was on the evening Danish news, the late night news and again in the morning. (Her longer took the blame in an interview with TV 2, and it really made me appreciate just how much control a good person on the longe line can have.)

But what did it for my dad was the dressage live scoring. When Laudrup-Dufour came down the centerline, he knew what was up: points.

I’m watching dressage, and my dad is watching a team sport. Who cares if it’s fancy prancing? There’s a world championship at stake! I’m holding my breath, and my dad is beside me watching the passage-piaffe with zero idea of what the horse is doing, yelling things like, “Come, come, come! Come to grandpa!” Followed by, “Look at at that snot fly!” (He meant the foam from the horse’s mouth.) 

When Laudrup-Dufour won, he celebrated with yells of delight and a fist pump or two. We rehashed the ride in the slow-mo replays. I barely know what I’m watching when I’m watching a piaffe. Dad can’t tell a piaffe from a carousel horse. But it was sport, and it was good.

So forgive me if I thought Danes really took equine competition seriously. Because, after we caught the train to Herning, I discovered true dedication: the Swedes. 

Foam hands, furry hats, flags, clappers. The Swedes came to Denmark to cheer and win.

When we took our seats for Round 1, a kindly looking lady noted our party had American accents and informed us that while she was glad we were here, the U.S. needed to share the spotlight, and it was the Swedes’ turn (indeed, as a I write this the Swedes are in first in the team competition and neither the Danes nor the Americans qualified for the top 10). 

Every time a Danish rider entered the ring, the hometown crowd cheered.

When a Swede entered? The Swedes went nuts. Until the buzzer rang, at which point the Swedes hushed everyone who might break their precious rider’s concentration. A clean round? Time to go crazy. Actually, any clear round resulted in soccer-esque rhythmic clapping, but if the rider was Swedish, it was all hands on deck for the party. Clappers, face paint. They even did the wave. 

The finals of the team competition start tonight, and I have to be honest: I’m going to root for Sweden. If they win, it’s going to be a heck of a party, and I’m there for it, whether or not they can understand my congrats in Danish! 

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