Once upon a time there was a princess who rode her horse on the emerald green lawn of a pink castle that overlooked the Rhine river.
Okay… a whole lot of dressage royalty, including one actual princess (Nathalie zu Sayn-Wittgenstein from Denmark). And while the spectators stand on the emerald green lawn, the dressage arena itself is covered in high tech footing installed specifically for the show. But it really does look like a setting out of a fair tale.
The castle grounds are now the Biebricher Schlosspark, a public park that for 77 years has hosted this multi-faceted and visually gorgeous show. Where else can you watch a three-star cross country in the morning, then wander up toward the castle to see Grand Prix dressage, and when you’re tired of that, follow the cheering toward the jumper stadium for a Longine’s Riders Tour class? And for something different, there is a vaulting competition, and a carriage driving scurry.
The first person we run into on Friday morning is non other than the inimitable George Morris. Retired from coaching jumper Team USA, he is here training Doda Miranda and Athina Onassis de Miranda who ride for Brazil. It’s a quiet morning for the jumpers, so he hangs out with us by the dressage arena, discussing the relative merits of shoulder ins with Axel and Uwe. He admits that he’s secretly always wanted to be a dressage rider. When he says that, I think, he has spent his life teaching riders to do dressage between fences, and the jumping world is so much better for it.
The show is held Friday through Monday on the holiday weekend of Pfingsten. The crowds are huge and casual. Entire families comes to watch, and they bring blankets and lawn chairs and have picnics in the grass under the ancient trees. Aside from the usual suspects clustered at the in gate, they are not necessarily dressage aficionados, but having been to this show every year, as well as watching dressage on tv, they are enthusiastic, cheer for every contestant, and sigh when a change is missed. Parking? There is no parking. Riders and officials take shuttles from the hotel, as we did at Hamburg, and spectators arrive by the bus load.
Beside the Grand Prix, the dressage competition ranges from Ponies to Juniors to Young Riders…. And let me tell you, these kids can ride. Every one of them has an excellent seat and position. Every one of them knows how to present a horse in a test. Few of them give away any points with inaccuracies: they ride into the corners, they do their transitions at the letters. By the time they graduate from the Young Rider ranks, they have ridden up the center line in dozens of CDI competitions, they have navigated crowded warm ups, narrow paths between ranks of spectators and tight arenas surrounded by popping umbrellas and the clatter of catering.
The jumpers are barely a hundred meters away, in a beautiful grass arena shaded by huge trees and surrounded by grandstands and the requisite VIP tribune. Turn right, walk down the tree lined avenue overlooking the stadium, through the vendor village, and you’ll arrive at the edge of the cross country course. It twists and turns to take advantage of limited acreage, and ends with three fences in the jumper stadium. This makes it an incredibly walkable and accessible course for spectators. Almost all the cross country jumps are “skid” fences, moveable with a fork lift or tractor…. Because most of the year, this is just a public park. In the middle of a town. Behind a castle. On a river.
There is amazing shopping, of course. Handbags and hats, scarves and saddles. Warm pretzels, cold beer, pastries and candies, bratwurst… All the things that I shouldn’t be inviting to stick to my ribs and hips.
My favorite spot near the dressage is a cafe at “E”, where I can sit with a coffee or a white wine under monstrous Henkel umbrellas and watch the dressage a few yards away while getting photos of the competition with the castle in the background. Yes, yes, I’ve mentioned this sort of lounging spot in previous posts from previous show, but this is truly beautiful besides being comfortable. Besides, it’s the last stop on our 2013 European Hardship Dressage Tour, so I’m savoring the moment.