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Saturday I hit the road early to head to Aachen to watch the GP Special at the European Championships. I have been to Aachen once before, many years ago, and I know what an amazing facility it is, but it completely blew me away all over again. It is really like a horse city. There are so many arenas, barns, vendors, food places, etc, etc, it’s just crazy.

I helped organize The Dressage Foundation’s International Dream Program this year. This is a trip for 4 very lucky Advanced YRs to go to Europe and learn from the best of the best for a week. Usually they drive around to a different trainer’s barn each day to watch and learn, but this year we sent them to Aachen for the whole time. Not only did they get to watch all of the competition, but they also met up with trainers, riders and judges to talk throughout the week. I was really happy to meet the four wonderful young women who were selected this year – Rosie Simoes, Sarah Cohen, Sadie Lahey and Jennifer Foulon. Charlotte Bredahl from CA was the primary chaperone this year, as she was when I went on this trip 12 years ago! Annie Morris from CT was the secondary chaperone, and they both were wonderful choices to lead the trip. I had such fun chatting with them and sitting with them all day to watch the Special.

I won’t give a blow by blow report, because you can read a very good account of it on Eurodressage. But I will say that Valegro was absolutely more incredible in person than on the video and deserved to win by a wide margin, which he did. Jessica Werndl, Tinne Vilhelmson, Kristina Sprehe were some of my favorites to watch, whom I’d never seen before. Carl Hester was like watching a master class. He ended up 5th overall, and his horse is not as amazing as Valegro or Desperados, but Carl’s riding was the absolute top, I think.

I got to watch quite a bit of the warm up, which is always more interesting to me than the actual show. I got there about an hour before the competition started, around 10am. Edward Gal was schooling Undercover when I arrived. He worked him for a long time, riding every movement multiple times. He gave him many walk breaks, so the horse was not overly sweaty or exhausted, but I kept thinking, wow – you are going to ride the GPS in a few hours and then (presumably) a GP freestyle the next day. I would think you would not want to work the horse so hard. But clearly he had a strategy to try to get the horse to calm down/use up some nervous energy. Unfortunately it didn’t work, because Undercover came into the ring having a full blown panic attack. He looked like what I imagine it would feel like to ride a TB in the starting gate. Or maybe they are more relaxed than this…. And then halfway through his test, one side of the arena started whistling and cheering, and we realized he had been wrung out for blood in his mouth.

The other drama was that Patrik Kittel had to retire because Deja got her tongue over the bit and reared in both piaffes. During his warm up his groom came into the ring 3 or 4 times to adjust something with the bridle. The mare must be very sensitive in the mouth.

I hurried home to put Daniel to bed and get to sleep early myself. My mom was supposed to arrive the next morning at 6am into Dusseldorf. But we heard from her that evening that her flight had been postponed because of computer problems, and she would not be arriving until Monday at 6. This was a bit of a problem since Linda (Jonathan’s mom) was flying out Sunday morning, so that we would only need to make one trip to the airport – to drop her off and pick up my mom. But we decided to just stay in Dusseldorf overnight Sunday and pick my mom up the next morning.

We had fun exploring Dusseldorf, even though it was Sunday (when everything except restaurants are closed) and it was raining all day. But we did a Rhine River cruise anyway and had some great food.

Below are many pictures from Aachen.