Story by Robyne Naylor|
Pictures by Christine Hartstone
Article © Robyne Naylor 2006
Mares and foals loose in the Aachen arena made for a spectacular display during the opening ceremony.
However, before becoming totally involved in this Equestrian extravaganza, I first had to overcome the fact that I was separated by 26 hours travelling time from my beloved furred, feathered and woolly children. Would they survive without me? Would the housesitter let the dog sleep on the bed? Would she remember which treats were for the parrots and which were for the dog? So many worries. However, a very, very costly phonecall after our arrival, (I now own if not all, at least a large part of German Telecom), put my mind at rest and I could sit back, relax and say ... Bring it on!
The first pleasant surprise came when we arrived at our hotel. It was superbly located in the heart of downtown Aachen. Shops, restaurants and bars surrounded us. If absolutely desperate, there was a McDonalds right across the road. You never know when a Big Mac will beckon! Things got even better when we discovered that we were the only non WEG officials or team members staying there. We shared our accommodation with the Australian Dressage Team, the Polish Team, the Austrian Team, and assorted Arab Endurance riders. A local Aachen volunteer manned a desk in the lobby which gave us up to date news on WEG, the draws and scores were all printed out for us and freely available for the taking. In true kiwi style we chatted or attempted to chat with the non English speaking riders and officials. These chats were very animated, with much hand waving and if we still couldn't get the message across, we would resort to the old stand by of speaking very, very slowly and loudly. Apparently when you speak in this manner, the 'foreigner' immediately grasps the language ... (including the Aussies)!
The following afternoon we were off to the Opening Ceremony. Shuttles were provided free of charge to take you to/from the show grounds. The only negative was that the weather was very threatening, however we were prepared for the worst with our wet weather gear. On arriving at the show grounds, we, along with thousands of others slowly shuffled our way to our seats. And shuffling is the only way to describe it.
We had paid for 'A' category seats and although split up our seats were well situated in the centre of the long side of the Arena. In fact we were next to the 'Royal Box' so had a good view of Princess Alia of Jordan who officially opened that Games and all the other associated big wigs. At some stages of the ceremony it was more entertaining watching them that the goings on in the Arena. The body guards/secret service guys were not all that discreet and their attempts to blend in with rest of us failed miserably. Dark suits, nervous mutterings and ear pieces were a dead giveaway. The action in the arena was predictable and as this is the second WEG Opening Ceremony I have attended, I felt it lacked the flair, colour and sheer extravaganza of Spain four years earlier. To me the highlights were the running of the mares and foals and the Quadrille. The latter was executed with true German expertise and precision. Very impressive.
Displays of all things equestrian dominated the streets of
Aachen during the WEG.
Oh, and don't get me started on the food concessions. Waiting forever to get served, paying the equivalent of my mortgage for a sandwich and a drink and then finding nowhere to sit and eat it. What a rip off. I suppose those concessionaires are now laughing their heads off, living on a super yacht somewhere in the south of France with a male or female supermodel (depending on their personal preference).
For those not 100% enthralled with the action in the arena, you could always check out the trade stands of which there were literally hundreds. Everything imaginable to do with the equestrian world was available. This was when the credit card really came into its own! Yeah, just put it on the plastic was the common cry. No thought at the time of getting those larger purchases home!
At this stage I should point out that I don't 'do' crowds. Getting from A to B by shuffling forward five steps at a time, then stopping, then having to step around those inconsiderate dolts in front of you who just stopped for a chat. Couple this with an equal number pushing their way through from the opposite direction. Absolute chaos. My patience was wearing thin, my blood pressure had far exceeded the limits known to modern man and for the safety of those around me decided that I would only attend what I desperately needed to see. My fellow 'kiwis' were on the whole Dressage enthusiasts with a couple of Eventing folk thrown in for good measure. (This accounted for the fact we were only there for the first week). Now I love horses, have owned a few in my time, have even ridden the odd one or two. I take an interest in most equestrian sports, however, I could not see myself riveted to my seat over the next two days watching every horse and every movement. I decided I would amuse myself in other ways ... and after making that decision, I found it very easy to do.
Aachen had thrown itself whole heartedly behind the event. Everywhere you looked there were colourfully decorated horses (not the real kind, I might add). Most of the shops had an equestrian-based window display. I aimlessly wandered the streets and in doing so I made an exciting discovery.
What I referred to as the town square, (as in most European towns and cities, an area dominated by a large Cathedral and surrounded by restaurants and bars), was a hive of activity. This Square had all of the aforementioned with one difference ... a huge 20ft screen and on that screen a dressage test was in progress. The whole event was being broadcast live. I found myself a ringside seat, ordered an expresso, relaxed and soaked up the atmosphere. I hardly gave a passing thought to my fellow companions who weren't fortunate enough to have 'A' category seats and who were now sitting at the top of a stand using binoculars just to make out the horses. I doubt whether they were able to tell whether it was tracking up or stuffing up its one time tempi changes! And here I was watching it close up and what's more I could walk unobstructed to the toilet and partake of a free pee. Life was good!
I did however brave the crowds and attend the Final and the Kur. There is something to be said for being there, being part of it. Each and every one of us was riding our favourite horse to victory. For my part I was unsuccessful but hey ... I was there!
It came to an end all to quickly and our small group split up to go our separate ways - some to return to New Zealand, others off on their own adventures. I had a date with a cruise boat that was waiting to take me down the Danube to Budapest ... Now that is another story ...!