Aachen CHIO — an insider’s guide

  • Find out why Aachen CHIO is deemed the greatest horse show on earth and how to get the most out of a visit ahead of the bulk of the competition which kicks off tomorrow (18—21 July)

    Aachen CHIO is nirvana for horse lovers — the ultimate international horse show besides an Olympics and World Games. Some argue it is on a par with European championships — Aachen CHIO is that well attended, well organised, and well loved by the equestrian cognoscenti. This year’s opening ceremony alone attracted 38,000 visitors.

    Why? As photographer Jon Stroud puts it: “Nothing can prepare you for the sheer enormity of the main stadium. For excitement, nothing in the equestrian world compares to the atmosphere for Thursday night’s Nations Cup showjumping.”

    Even though it invariably rains, 65,000 to 68,000 spectators turn up to watch.

    At any other show, the dressage arena would be deemed top rate, but its over-achieving sibling the jumping stadium over shadows it.

    The atmosphere compensates — you will not find a more passionate or knowledgeable dressage audience. I learned more about dressage from the “boo’s” and “aah’s” at Aachen than by writing for dressage judges on many Sunday afternoons.

    Horse & Hound correspondent Kate Green adds: “To win at Aachen is really quite an emotional, stirring thing. And with many nations choosing to field their crack teams, the show provides a good indicator for that year’s Olympics, Worlds or Europeans.”

    In addition, one of the most moving parts of the show is the parade on the last evening called the “Farewell to Nations”.  The Aachen website explains this parade as “a tradition since 1953: the emotional closing ceremony of the CHIO Aachen. Accompanied by the sounds of the German folk song ‘Muss I denn’ and waving with white handkerchiefs, participants and spectators say goodbye to each other.”
    “It really is something – everyone in the stands waving white handkerchiefs and the riders too! I think all the riders are invited to take part, although they are usually given safer horses to ride than their own!” says H&H’s Polly Bryan.

    Eventing at Aachen

    Dressage and jumping have inhabited Aachen for decades, but eventing was only introduced for the 2006 World Equestrian Games and has stuck around. People doubted you could create a three-star event on such a small plot, but as Horse & Hound’ eventing editor Pippa Roome points out, the fences’ proximity to each other is what makes for such an amazing spectator sport.

    Kate Green adds: “It has an urgency akin to the Hickstead eventing grand prix. The fact they finish in the main arena is great fun.”

    On Saturday’s cross-country day, it’s worth walking over to see the driving marathon. Driving is taken very seriously in Germany, and watching these strapping horses charge past you in fours is pretty overwhelming.

    And then there’s the shopping…

    The Aachen Haribo stands are infamous, not least because the gummy bears are much larger than the ones you get in the UK.

    For a fast food fix, Jon Stroud suggests a sliced krakauer sausage served with fresh crispy pommes — that’s chips, not Brits.

    “The crepes sold by the dressage arena are also particularly good,” he enthuses.

    I put on a good 6lb in waffles last time I was there, too…

    Also make sure you don’t miss the great coffee:

    “The main dressage arena is home to, arguably, the best coffee to be found on the show ground, a small truck tucked away behind the C end of the arena. If it’s hot, an iced latte from here is an absolute must!” says H&H’s dressage editor, Polly Bryan.

    If you thought Olympia was good for horsey shopping, wait till you get to Aachen.

    The Schockemohle Sports stand always has great show offers — this year, Jon Stroud reports they are selling “bling snaffle bridles”, complete with reins, at half price.

    There’s also a Pikeur and Eskadron Outlet store. Yes really, an outlet too.

    Jon Stroud, the man who has lightened his wallet significantly purchasing riding boots from Dutch bespoke bootmakers Petrie this week, recommends the Pimp My Horse stand for “pocket money” purchases.

    Rub shoulders with the stars

    You can watch the warm-up at Aachen, which, as Kate Green says, is pretty cool given that some of the top dressage riders are deemed as royalty. They never complain about one hundred clicking camera shutters, either.

    For autograph hunting, hang around outside the media centre after the prize giving, as riders will head out of here following the press conference.

    Jon Stroud suggests lingering at the bottom of the riders’ grandstand for the same reason, adding: “All the riders can be found having a beer or glass of wine at the Bunte-Bar at some point during the day.”

    Where to stay for Aachen CHIO

    I’ve benefited from my disorganisation before and booked an economical last-minute room in one of the hotels used by riders — the Mercure. I can only assume teams reserve more rooms than they end up using and some become available again. But I wouldn’t bank on this strategy.

    Jon Stroud suggests: “Accommodation can be cripplingly expensive in Aachen during the CHIO. A better, cheaper option would be to book into a hotel in the Netherlands — the border is about 10km away.”

    How to get there

    “Take the Eurostar to Brussels and change for Aachen — the second train journey is lovely and you really don’t need a car in Aachen,” says Kate Green — this is because shuttle buses run so regularly and reliably from town to the show.

    Jon Stroud argues: “The best way to get to Aachen is to drive — how else are you going to get all your shopping back home? It’s only three hours from Dunkirk or Calais when travelling through Belgium via Brussels and Liege.”

    Düsseldorf is the most convenient airport for UK visitors. Pippa Roome’s top tip — born of bitter experience and an expensive taxi ride — is: “Be aware that Düsseldorf has two airports — go for Düsseldorf international airport as the Düsseldorf Weeze airport is further out with very little access to public transport.”

    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

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