It’s the weekend, and the weather is glorious. I think the entire region has come to Hagen. The stands are full, the vendor village is full. The beer taps are flowing and everyone is walking around with ice cream cones. Fat Shetlands are making little girls dreams come true by stolidly carting them around the pony ride track. Jumpers are jumping, dressage horses are passaging, and crowds are cheering.
A bit about the amenities. The dressage VIP tent sits in between the warm up and the main arena. There are heaters for the cold mornings, and sides that open for the warm afternoons, and an outdoor area with black wicker chairs with white cushions for those who want to lounge in the sun by the practice arena with a glass of white wine. Flowers and Russian dolls decorate each table. The food is delicious: small plates of salads, pasta, beef, chicken and fish, different each day, ice cream for dessert, and really good coffee from the espresso machine. There are dogs everywhere. The wait staff brings them bowls of water and bowls so they can share their humans’ meals. (Note to local American health departments: please pay more attention to restaurant kitchens, and worry less about whether dogs are in the dining rooms. We like them there. Note to American dog owners: please put manners on your your dog so it can behave properly in a public dining room.)
And the closer: you know every detail has been covered when the portable bathrooms have mood lighting, frosted glass doors, a designer sink and fresh flowers, and are cleaned constantly. Everyone was impressed. Hey, here in the States, with a few notable exceptions, we are used to the show facilities being little blue houses with scary surfaces!
There was frost on the windshield when we left the hotel on Saturday morning, so I’m glad that the sun is strong and there is barely a breeze. The first class of the day is the Grand Prix for the Freestyle. Even though the Grand Prix for the Special was perhaps the stronger field, the scores for the top six were still above 70%. Andreas Hegelstrand wins it on his new horse, Akeem Foldager, and Steffens Peters is second on Legolas. Legolas’ eyes opened wide when he entered the arena and saw the crowd and the flowers and the tents, but by the time they had halted at X and Steffen saluted he’d become comfortable in his “sandbox”.
But the real treat of the day was the finals of the Young Horse Grand Prix. This is a class for 8-10 year olds, and my gosh, I apologize to anyone standing next to me if I was drooling. The test is a compact Grand Prix, kind of an Intermediare 2.5, just long enough to show what these green-at-the-level horses are made of. Isabel Werth, Ingrid Klimke and Bridgitte Wittig are all riding future champions, elegant steeds with three brilliant gaits, full of go and lift and elasticity. And each of those riders have the know how and experience to bring horses along from the very beginning to the very top…. So rare, and such a pleasure to see these three masters together in the awards.
Sunday, we continue our great luck with the weather. Amazingly, the crowds are even thicker today. Axel is judging the first class of the day, the Grand Prix Special, so we scored a good parking space. Mistral Hojris and Laurel Bechtolsheimer from Great Britain win the class. “Alf” is 18, and I haven’t seen him in person since the World Equestrian Games in 2010. He’s as strong and feisty as ever, and as he powers brilliantly through the passage/piaffe/passage of the final center line, straight as an arrow, rhythm as regular as a metronome, I see Laurel grin…. I mean, who wouldn’t? She dabs her eyes as they walk out on a loose rein … really … who wouldn’t?
Following that is the German Professional Riders championship. Sixteen riders competed, and three qualified for the Derby format Finals. These three ride a short Grand Prix test, first on their own horses, and then again on each of the other two horses. The second and third riders only have five minutes’ warm up time to get to know their new mounts, so these pros better have a gift for catch riding! It is amazing how well they each do, on all three horses, and how accommodating those horses are, with unfamiliar partners in an electric atmosphere.
The final class of the day is the Grand Prix Freestyle. The place is jammed: the “in” crowd is six deep by the in gate, it is standing room only in the general bleachers, and the VIP tent is packed. There are more people lining the warm up than spectate at most shows’ main arenas at home. (And, I might add, that the kiosks beside the warm up are so perfectly situated that one barely has to turn ones head away from watching the practice arena to order a coffee.) The rides themselves are consistently good, although it is hard to hear the music inside the tent. Andreas’ ride seems the most solid, but Steffen and Legolas are just .08 percent behind them in second place. Steffen is heading home to San Diego, where next weekend at the Del Mar National they will officially retire his star partner Ravel. Tomorrow Axel and I are off to Ermeloh, Netherlands, for the International Dressage Trainers conference, and then a few days of sightseeing before heading for the show in Saumur, France.