Equestrian Life
Awesome Aachen!

 This article has appeared previously with Equestrian Life. To see what's in the current issue, please click here.

What a line up! Our winning Eventing team - Sonja Johnson, Chris Burton, Sammi Birch and Shane Rose - © Roger Fitzhardinge

What a line up! Our winning Eventing team - Sonja Johnson, Chris Burton, Sammi Birch and Shane Rose.

© Roger Fitzhardinge


With 2019 CHIO Aachen (and Equestrian Life's tour!)  just around the corner, we take a look back to 2016 when Roger Fitzhardinge joined in the action...


As I fly out of Dusseldorf after a week at the greatest horse show (for me) in the world, I find myself reflecting: Why had I travelled halfway around the world to watch a sport that is frequently criticised, exceedingly difficult, dangerous and complicated?


Why, indeed. A glass of champagne high in the sky and an hour or so of viewing my Aachen photos (how privileged I am), reminds me of the past week. Being fortunate to see the greatest riders in the world on the greatest horses, grooms, enthusiasts, journalists, champions and those who came last in the class, dressage, show jumping, eventing, driving, million euros for a win, to those losing a lot of money for simply being there, and everyone in between. Russians, Australians, Swiss, Belgians, Brits, Fins, Spanish, Swedes, Ukrainians, Japanese, all side by side. From the trade stand sellers and parking attendant, to the bus drivers and baristas, and the guys who pick up the manure from every arena and roadway. The green-jacketed crowd controllers and bag checkers, car dealers, horse dealers and those in the Champion Circle in Hermes gear sipping vodka and eating oysters, to the backpacking equine enthusiast gulping down a beer and chowing down a bratwurst. The horse has brought this diverse 350,000 strong crowd together, and it is quite amazing to see so many people as one family, smiling and content, regardless of class or creed.

Aachen is the most multicultural equine experience you can imagine; rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, the international riders, the chefs d’equipe, the trainers from every nation, the humorous, the serious and then the happy winners and the stories of good luck or misfortune. Despite the show’s opulence, everyone is treated equally, with the backpacking horse-lover’s story seen as big and heart-breaking as the most wealthy competitor’s story; the barriers and social stigmas are all banished at Aachen, no matter the level, breed or discipline. 

The closing ceremony is a truly moving experience, one I wish all horse lovers could experience at some time. Every person in the stands waves a white handkerchief to the traditional song- waving goodbye to each other and promising to meet up again at next year’s event. (Here’s hoping!) Shoulder to shoulder, who cares what car you own, the discipline you ride, the cost of your horse, where you live, your bank balance or the clothes you wear; all you know is the person next to you is also loving the moment, ogling at the riders on their wonderful horses. The togetherness this truly beautiful animal has been able to create is extraordinary. This is when you understand why we in the equestrian world persist with a sport that is complex, tumultuous and money-consuming. Aachen inspires people to try harder, ride better and give it a go. 

Why Aachen? For the riders it could be the promise of Olympic selection, international recognition or simply the sense of achievement in producing an equine athlete to be accepted at such an elite event. For us in the stands, it is the sense of being part of the sport, seeing a certain rider or horse you support or watch on You Tube up close; Aachen brings that dream to reality. To see, and be part of such a show on any level is infectious.


I am still gobsmacked, proud, inspired, humbled but not surprised by the amazing performance of each and every Aussie who competed at Aachen. Australians are incredible competitors who will never give up and Aachen was a perfect example of that spirit. I am so proud to feel part of all their success as I am an Aussie and I ride a horse! Let’s look at how the Aussies fared:

DRIVING (One competitor; Boyd Exell and his team of four)

•    Won all three phases in the driving (dressage, marathon and cones).
•    Was the overall competition winner.
•    Won the individual speed class. 
•    Was the linchpin in winning the ride-and-drive competition. 
•    Seven classes, seven wins!


Boyd Exell – such a formidable force.

Simply amazing and the only Aussie in the driving competition that was so strongly contested by the internationals. Boyd is a wonderful, confident and competent sportsman, who manages to be humble yet is as serious and calculated competitor as you would ever find. He is probably the most successful and exceptional equestrian that Australia has ever produced, having been three times World Four-In-hand Champion and multi World Cup Indoor Driving Champion, as well as being awarded the Order of Australia Medal for service to equestrian sorts. Boyd is the ultimate horse and sportsman. 


•    No competitors.


•    Winners of the team competition and the very first time the Germans have been beaten at Aachen. 
•    Second in the individual.
•    Shane Rose - second individual and in the winning team.
•    Chris Burton - in the winning team.
•    Sammi Birch - in the winning team.
•    Sonya Johnson - in the winning team.
•    Andrew Hoy - in the top group as an individual.


CP Qualified looks quite pleased with the result!


•    Lyndal Oatley - top group in the Grand Prix and Special and in the top 15 accepted in to the Freestyle (amazing performance).
•    Sue Hearn - a great test and percentage in the Grand Prix in the huge atmosphere.
•    Maree Tomkinson - immaculate and professional to be accepted in to the quality field.


Maree Tomkinson and Diamantina are both in their element at Aachen.

To be an Australian and succeed in a sport that is dominated by the Germans and Europeans, especially at Aachen that is more German than sauerkraut, is amazing. There were only nine Australians competing amongst the hundreds of internationals, and their achievements have brought a new realisation that Australia is truly competitive in the eyes of the world in equestrian sports. While we never really doubted this, it just needed a bit of good luck, a lot of good management and self-belief and confidence. That is what Aussies are made of.


Remmington and Sandro Boy talk secret men’s business under the watchful eyes of proud mums, Sue and Lyndal.


The horse is loyal and sensitive and forgiving, and draws all types of people together; rich, poor, fat, thin, atheist, Muslim, vegan, carnivore, tall or short. This wondrous animal helps us to be more compassionate and understanding. Don’t underestimate the power of a horse to make any person feel good. Cherish the moment. Let’s never forget the far-reaching generosity and humility our equine partners bring to our lives.






© copyright. Equestrian Life. Thursday, 2 December 2021