Saturday morning, I wander onto the cross country after the Pony dressage class is finished. I’m used to being a credentialed photographer for these things, but at this show I am Frau Richter (Mrs. Judge), so instead of trotting down the edge of the galloping track on the press access, I meander with the massive throngs on the spectator paths. It’s been a cold, wet spring in Europe, but today the sunshine is glorious, and folks are turning their faces up to it. I’m always amazed, though, that fair-skinned northern Europeans simply don’t wear hats. In the States, everyone would be wearing a baseball cap, and I would be wearing my faded teal straw boater. But the sun here is kinder, I hope. The crowd movement is different from the States, too: where at home people choose a fence and camp there, here the crowd ebbs and flows. Because of this, I can step in and get photos at a variety of fences in spite of the large number of people.
The last rider on course is Ingrid Klimke. Can you say national hero worship? I can tell where she is on course because of the swell of noise that follows her as she gallops around the course. No need for crowd control whistles to announce her arrival, just listen for the wave of cheering. She wins the event on FRH Escada. Later, we are sorry to hear about the death of Dirk Schrade’s King Artus following the cross country: his Olympic partner had been in third place, and had finished with a clean round, but collapsed from an aortic tear while cooling out.
Ingrid, however, a few hours later is piloting Dresden Mann to a 70% in the dressage Grand Prix. She has just moved this horse up to the Big Tour from the Young Horse (8-10 year old) Grand Prix. He’s a stunning stallion, a horse for the future. In this age of specialization, how many riders can do both disciplines so well?
As I have come to expect at these grand European shows, there are children and dogs everywhere. While I photograph the Grand Prix from a vantage point behind “A”, I at some point have a dachshund asleep on my foot, a terrier ask me for a treat, and a large dog of mixed breed accost me with his dangerously wagging tail.
Behind me, children are wading in the fountain. One little girl, dressed in her weekend finery, steps in barefoot, only to discover that the bottom is just slippery enough for her to slide, still upright, to the deepest part. Which elicits giggles until she realizes that she can’t get traction to walk back to the edge. The entire group she is with forms a human chain, reaches for her and just as her fingers are inches away … splash! Fortunately her dunking only causes her to giggle more. Beyond her, a pair of tiny sisters gleefully dash about in the sun while shucking off as many articles of clothing as they can before their mother can catch up with them, little boys make up games while wearing paper crowns, preteens pretend to be ponies, and children of all ages hang over the rails of the warm up area, dreaming of riding their very own piaffing horse.
The dressage competition itself is a visual treat, with the pink and white facade of the castle as the backdrop. I wonder if any horses notice the kids doing gymnastics on the lawn between the arena and the castle, but I figure the thick crowd between the judge’s boxes might block their view of the cartwheels and handsprings. The afternoon light is liquid and golden, the cast shadows from the grandstand creating long patterns across the sand. The view from where I am standing, near the in gate, is made even more special because Axel is judging: he rode in his very first show here, at the age of nine, and today, in his last year of judging internationally, he has the honor of presiding at “C” for the Grand Prix.