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While CHIO Aachen‘s course might not be the biggest four-star track in the world, nor the most influential where jumping penalties are concerned, it still offers a serious challenge and an almost guaranteed leaderboard reshuffle every year. That’s because designer Rüdiger Schwarz has two major priorities: first, to keep horses and riders safe and avoid any major incidents, and second, to ensure that cross-country remains the sport’s most influential phase. To accomplish this, he designs a track that makes catching the optimum time seriously difficult — though the first handful of fences are always straightforward, in order to encourage rhythmic and bold riding, the intensity and technicality begins early on and builds throughout the track. Even the sporadic single fences are set on hairpin turns, in or after mounds or quarries, or require horses and riders to navigate through busy decorations and swarming crowds, so there’s no part of the course that’s just a ‘run and jump’ challenge. As a result, it’s incredibly easy to waste valuable seconds on setting up and overriding turns, and Schwarz’s design says one thing with absolute clarity to competitors: if you want to catch the time, you have to take a risk. You need to ride combinations in the established rhythm and trust that you’ve laid strong enough foundations that your horse will look for the flags.
Though on paper, it might sound like a bit of a kick-and-pull go-kart track, the results speak for themselves: this year, just one rider was eliminated and only three competitors picked up jumping penalties, including the overnight leader, Kirsty Chabert, who had a glance-off at the penultimate combination — which should be renamed the Aachen Heartbreaker, really, because it’s the place where the competition has been lost over and over again. There’s every chance that what Aachen really represents is a vision of the future of the sport, and it’s one that’s well worth paying close attention to.
But enough of all this terribly serious analysis — you’re here to cast your eye over some of our competitors, and then cast your vote for your pick of the best effort. Today’s edition of Who Jumped It Best is a rare double feature, because the two fences are so intrinsically linked that it seemed wrong not to show both. We’re looking at 13AB, an open oxer to a right-handed corner on a forward four-stride line, which came as the final part of a tricky complex: first, competitors had to jump up a steep bank to an owl hole on a one-stride line, after which they cantered down a slope, turned left to jump another airy oxer at 12, and then executed a hairpin turn to the right to pop 13AB. Some riders opted to hold for a conservative five-stride line here, including Laura Collett, who finished second with Dacapo, because she knew her horse’s adjustability was better while shortening his stride than it was while lengthening. Another factor to consider is the tight turn into 13A, on which several horses slipped slightly and lost their rhythm. A scrappy jump over the A element negated either a quick readjustment of the stride pattern or a bit of a kick-and-pray ride, but though we saw a few dramatic efforts through the day, the only fault picked up here all day was an activated MIMclip.
Now, let’s take a look at our contenders, and then cast your vote in the poll at the bottom of the page to crown your Aachen champion.
TOM CARLILE AND BIRMANE
TIM PRICE AND FALCO
LINDA ALGOTSSON AND FAIR SPOT
ROMAIN SANS AND UNETOILE DE LA SERRE
TAYLA MASON AND CENTENNIAL
MALIN HANSEN-HOTOPP AND CARLITOS QUIDDITCH K
LAUREN NICHOLSON AND VERMICULUS
LARA DE LIEDEKERKE-MEIER AND ALPAGA D’ARVILLE
KAZUMA TOMOTO AND BERNADETTE UTOPIA
JEROME ROBINE AND BLACK ICE
ALEX DONOHUE AND KILCANDRA BONNIE REWARD
Cast your vote: