In Aachen, Germany, on Tuesday a big number "6" flashed up on the display board at the famous show grounds. That's how many days are left before the competitions begin at the World Equestrian Festival, CHIO Aachen 2007, to be held July 3rd-8th. With German engineering precision, the countdown proceeds smoothly, without a ripple of panic. At least no visible ones.
Over the next two weeks you will surely read posts from me related to the happenings in Aachen, so here's a little background inspired by that big "6" in the sky:
10.2 million: total of euros added to the budget for this year's event
441: number of horses en route to Aachen as I write this
23: nations represented
253: total of competitors entered for this year's event
5: number of disciplines to be contested (jumping, dressage, driving, eventing, and vaulting)
10: that's how many of the Top Ten international show jumpers will be competing at Aachen. Yes, every single one of them will be there! Among them: FEI World Equestrian Games 2006 medallists Jos Lansink (BEL), Beezie Madden (USA) and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER).
134: number of countries in which the telecast will be shown
16: number of cameras in the show jumping arena alone
5: number of days left now before the first horse steps into an arena!
In eventing, World Champion British rider Zara Phillips, grand-daughter of Queen Elizabeth, returns to Aachen to defend her reputation at the site of her great triumph there at the World Equestrian Games last year. Also returning is top German event rider Bettina Hoy, who lives in England, right down the road from Phillips. Rolex Kentucky winner Clayton Fredericks will be there for Australia with Ben Along Time, and his wife, Badminton 2007 and Burghley 2006 winner Lucinda Fredericks will ride WP In Limbo.
And in dressage, all eyes will be on Isabell Werth, Team and Sp?ciale World Champion from Germany and Dutch rider, Anky van Grunsven, Freestyle World Champion. The two arch-rivals will meet in the same arena for the first time since Anky's sabbatical to give birth to her new daughter. Just to keep the suspense level up, Anky has not announced which of her horses she will ride! The German team is favored to win the team dressage medal.
Catherine Haddad (Maximus JSS), Courtney King (Idocus), Arlene "Tuny" Page (Wild One) and Steffen Peters (Lombardi II) will represent the USA in dressage. Evi Strasser will ride for Canada.
In case you're wondering, my personal favorite horse to cheer for, Blue Hors Matine of Denmark, will not be competing. You may remember that she was injured before the World Cup in Las Vegas this spring. She is being prepared for the European Dressage Championships in Italy this fall.
The German show jumping team is also favored in the Mercedes Benz Nations Cup, which will be a very special outdoor jumping on grass under the lights. Look for the defending champion Germans: Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Christian Ahlmann, Ludger Beerbaum and Marco Kutscher, along with defending WEG champion Marcus Ehning to be looking through some very competitive ears in that event. I'm not sure, but I think the final will come down to the famous switching of riders and horses, which makes for a very exciting finale.
In show jumping, the USA Samsung League team of Margie Engle, Laura Kraut, Beezie Madden, Richard Spooner and McLain Ward will saddle up.
I don't know how, if, or when Aachen will be telecast in the USA, but if you have a chance to watch, don't miss it, especially the show jumping. German sports network Sportschau will use the innovative "Spider-Cam" that was tried and tested at the FEI World Equestrian Games last year. This camera "flies" next to or above the horse and rider on a cable system. According to Sportschau producer Steffen Simon, the camera "gives the spectators a feeling for the dynamics, speed and distance between the jumps for the first time."
In the US, broadcasting will be via World Championship Sports Network (WCSN); in Canada, it will be broadcast on the CBC. I admit, I don't understand how WCSN works, i.e. if you can watch Aachen live on the web or just highlights...or what. According to their (excellent) web site, they are only broadcasting the show jumping. CNBC will broadcast the event in Europe.
Aachen comes a bit close to the Pan Am Games in Brazil, to be held later in July, and most US funding has been directed to send teams there to compete. In the meantime, Aachen will still be the show to watch, if you can figure out how to tune it in on your tv or PC. And if you do, let me know how you did it, I want to watch too!