Reigning Aachen champions Will Coleman and Off the Record. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

There’s nowhere quite like CHIO Aachen. Nestled in the crook of Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium, it’s an absolute oasis of horsey excellence that has no rival in any discipline – and if you want to see the best of the best, all in one place, this is where you want to be. This week sees the creme de la creme of showjumping, dressage, driving, vaulting, and eventing come together to battle for some of sport’s most coveted titles, and in between standing at the riders’ lounge bar and marvelling over the fact that Daniel Deusser is to our left and Isabell Werth is to our right, we’re managing to carve out some time to cover (in our humble opinion) the finest competition of the week: the CCIO4*-S.

We were rewarded for our efforts with a thunderstorm that began as promptly as this afternoon’s first horse inspection did, putting an end to several days of blazing sunshine. But all’s fair in love, war, and horse sports, and so we all cracked on undeterred, watched on by several pure dressage riders schooling in an adjacent arena and probably wondering why on earth any of us whinge about flying changes when they can do approximately 480 in a row without breaking a sweat.We jest, but actually, herein lies the real magic of Aachen: from beginning to end, it’s an extraordinary educational experience for everyone who crosses the threshold, whether they’re a fan, a rider, a groom, a trainer, an owner, or whatever other role they hold. Want to learn how to approach an airy upright? Go watch Steve Guerdat do it at 1.60m. Want to see how to set up true collection? Nip over to catch Catherine Dufour piaffing in the Deutsche Bank stadium. Want to get a sense of what figurative balls of steel look like? Head over to cross-country to see our competitors giving a fine display in the art of abject bravery and trust in a horse.

Cathal Daniels chats to the ground jury before representing CDS Cairnview Romolu. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

But before we get to all that, of course, there’s the formalities — and today, that was the horse inspection, held before the ground jury of president Dr Ernst Top (GER), Peter Gray (CAN), and Christina Klingspor (SWE), the latter two of which will make up part of the ground jury at this September’s World Championships.

Just one horse was held at the very start of the afternoon’s proceedings: that was the eleven-year-old Irish Sport Horse CDS Cairnview Romolu, one of two mounts for Ireland’s Cathal Daniels. They were accepted upon representation, though after some deliberation, and no further holds were ordered, though France’s Camille Lejeune was asked to trot Good Size des Quatre Chenes a second time. With minimal drama – and a palpable desperation to get everyone back under the safe cover of the bar – the horse inspection concluded with all horse-and-rider pairs, plus all presented Jump and Drive entrants, accepted to begin the competition tomorrow.

It’s all pretty fast and furious on the schedule for the eventers here at the CHIO. They’ll begin with dressage tomorrow from 8.30 a.m. local time (7.30 a.m. BST/2.30 a.m. EST), and then, after a couple of hours’ break, they’ll head over to the famous main stadium for showjumping as the sun sets. Cross-country follows on Saturday morning, and by beers o’clock, we’ll know who our 2022 CHIO champions are. Efficiency is key — we are in Germany, after all.

The field of entries we’ve got in front of us is as heart-rate-raising as the timetable, mind you. Aachen, which is an invite-only event and also a team competition — though not part of the FEI Nations Cup series — always commands a seriously good line-up, but this year’s feels particularly excellent. That’s been further qualified by the chaps over at EquiRatings, who crunched the numbers and have dubbed it the most competitive four-star field of this year so far – particularly wild when you consider that that includes the likes of Thoresby, which was a pivotal Badminton prep event back at the start of the season.

Sarah Bullimore and Corouet begin their redemption campaign. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Many teams are using this as a way to help with their World Championship selections, and a great performance under pressure here will certainly help some riders’ chances: among those excellent competitors who are here for a redemption run are British entrants Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser, who took individual silver and team gold at Tokyo but had a hugely uncharacteristic crashing fall at Badminton, and Sarah Bullimore and her homebred Corouet, who won individual bronze at last year’s European Championships but picked up a green 20 in the horse’s five-star debut at Kentucky. For Germany’s Anna Siemer and FRH Butt’s Avondale, who have been excellent at two European Championships and helped the Germans to team silver at last year’s Europeans, it’s a chance to put an early fall at Pratoni’s test event to bed, while Boekelo winners Sophie Leube and Jadore Moi have rerouted here after an early retirement in the mare’s five-star debut. They led the dressage here last year and will certainly be among those to keep a close eye on, particularly if you like following future gold medallists — they’ve got an enormous amount of talent to burn and will no doubt be mainstays at major championships before too long.

Olympic gold medallists Julia Krajewski and Amande de b’Neville. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

It’s also our first chance to see some serious heavy hitters back on the main stage after major victories: Michael Jung will ride his Kentucky champion fischerChipmunk FRH, and our Olympic gold medallists, Julia Krajewski and Amande de b’Neville, come to Aachen off the back of a win in the CCI4*-S at Wiesbaden a few weeks ago. Last year’s Pau winners, Tim Price and Falco, will be on the hunt for a serious result, as will individual Olympic bronze medallists Andrew Hoy and Vassily de Lassos. We’ve also got our reigning World Champions, Ros Canter and Allstar B, on the bill, plus this year’s Luhmühlen winner Felix Vogg, who rides his Pratoni hopeful Cartania this week. Of course, it would be remiss of us to miss out a sterling sophomore appearance at Aachen for Off The Record, who is the reigning CHIO champion with the USA’s Will Coleman. They return to the show with a rejigged dressage bitting set-up that we saw in action in their test-run dressage at Luhmühlen CCI4*-S, where they put in one of the leading efforts before withdrawing.

India’s Fouaad Mirza and Seigneur Medicott return to the world stage after impressing at Tokyo. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Prefer to focus your attentions on the stars of the very-near-future? There’s plenty to sink your teeth into, including Great Britain’s Yasmin Ingham, who was second at Kentucky with Banzai du Loir and rides Rehy DJ this week, and India’s Fouaad Mirza, who was impressive at Tokyo with the former Bettina Hoy mount Seigneur Medicott. Austria’s young superstar Lea Siegl, who’s just 23, comes forward with DSP Fighting Line, with whom she was 15th at the Olympics, and Switzerland’s Nadja Minder, who delivered two of the seven clears inside the time at the Pratoni test event, will ride Aquila B.

In total, we’ve got 13 nations represented across the 42 competitors, and the USA has a crack line-up in Will and Off the Record, Buck Davidson and CarlevoMeghan O’Donoghue and Palm Crescent, and frequent flyers Sydney Elliott and QC Diamantaire, who once again took advantage of some pre-show training at the Belgian base of Lara de Liedekerke-Meier and Kai Steffen Meier.

Fancy catching all the action as it happens? You can tune in via ClipMyHorse.TV or via the Aachen website (though you may need a VPN for the latter!). You can find the times for tomorrow’s dressage here — and in the meantime, here’s the soggiest trot-up gallery you’ll see this year, maybe.

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