Rüdiger Schwarz’s Aachen cross country course officially opened for walking this afternoon, so I scooted out of the media center before the horse inspection to snap photos and bring you all a front-row view of the track. The U.S. hasn’t competed here since 2013 (click here to see that year’s course), and Rüdiger has definitely made some key changes since then. Canada has never competed here, so it’s all going to be new for the Cannucks. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
The first three fences start out as they always do here at Aachen: flowing, gallopy elements to get horses and riders settled into a rhythm. The first question on course comes once again at fences 4 and 5, which this year are tables set on two mounds. With it being two years since I’ve been to Aachen, the most noticeable difference that jumped out to me at this point in the course is the quality of the turf and galloping lanes.
If you read my Aachen preview last week, then you know it’s been 10 years since eventing came to Aachen. This track was first laid out in 2005 for the test event for the 2006 World Equestrian Games, and eventing has returned to Aachen every year since. Fast forward 10 years, and you have turf that is continuing to improve each year the event runs. So kudos to the grounds crew, who were out there diligently punching the ground today while I walked. Your hard work is paying off.
The first water complex has in years past typically featured a combination with an imposing corner, which has brought numerous riders to grief over the years (including Marilyn Little when she competed here in 2013 for Team USA). This year, that combination is an inviting skinny rolltop to a wedge, which looks like it should ride fairly smoothly based on how it walks — or at least more smoothly than that corner did.
Horses and riders will then gallop on to the Normandy Bank complex, which in years past has featured more complicated questions like a skinny brush combination coming off the bank. This year, there’s just one brush corner coming off the bank instead of multiple elements. Next up is a series of single fences that showcase Rüdiger’s penchant for using landscaping to keep the riders honest to their lines. Both fences 14 and 15 feature sweeping lines of shrubbery that force you to make a plan and stick with it.
Fence 16 brings us to into the real meat of the course. There’s almost always a sharply angled combination at Aachen, and this year it takes the form of two skinny tractors that leave very little room for error (though these fences are very nicely presented with good ground lines). Remember that Michael Jung and Sam made one hell of a save at the angled fences in 2013, and Paul Tapner and Kilronan also pulled off a super save last year. This combination regularly surprises the world’s best.
If horses and riders make it through there unscathed, then they kick on to the coffin complex at fence 17, which sports a difference look this year with an owl hole as the out element. Then comes the second water complex at fences 19 and 20. Riders will splash through the water first before jumping a table on the turf at fence 19, then they’ll make a sharp lefthand turn to 20AB. Remember how I said that tricky corner was missing from the first water complex? It’s now on the back half of the course at 20B. #surprise
Next up is a right-pointed brush corner to an inviting open oxer at fence 22ABC, the final combination before riders enter the electric main stadium, where Friday’s promising weather forecast will almost certainly attract thousands of cheering, screaming fans. The final four fences are virtually identical to how they appeared in 2013, meant to give the spectators a great viewing experience at the end of the course.
Horses and riders will jump over a table at fence 23 as they enter the main stadium, followed by a lefthand turn to the third and final water complex at fences 24 and 25 — a sizable brush jump in, an up bank out, and then on to a narrow brush — before pressing on to the last fence, a brush table, at fence 26.
There’s plenty here to keep horses and riders on their toes, and the last half of the course is definitely stacked with combinations that leave little room for error. Paul Tapner, who is competing this weekend on Indian Mill, hailed Aachen a “CIC4*” in last week’s episode of the Eventing Radio Show, and that’s a pretty accurate moniker for the track. You just never know what’s going to happen at Aachen, and that’s half the fun of being here to see it all live.
The good news for everyone watching back home is that I have been assured by the good people at ClipMyHorse.tv that cross country will stream live in all countries outside Germany on Friday. So plan to tune in at this website at 2 p.m. local time (8 a.m. EST) to watch Team USA, Team Canada and a slew of the world’s best eventing competitors battle it out around Rüdiger’s track. Stay tuned for much more from Aachen. Go Eventing.