Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping


Inside CHIO Aachen 2022: Friday 1 July

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Mclain Ward wins the RWE Prize Of North Rhine-Westphalia


Fifty of the world’s best show jumpers and their equine partners contested Friday’s feature jumping class – the RWE Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia – in front of an excited and enthusiastic crowd, which would serve as the final opportunity for riders to qualify for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, one of the four Majors which comprises the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

A 1.60m competition featuring a jump-off, the Frank Rothenberger-designed course included 14 obstacles, providing a tough challenge to a line-up that included 1992 Individual Olympic champion, Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum, fellow compatriot and the current Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender, Daniel Deusser, and Swiss maestro and Rolex Testimonee, Steve Guerdat.

Sixteen combinations eventually navigated the first round fault-free, advancing to the jump-off, which would be contested over a shorter eight-obstacle, but no less demanding, course. The first five riders to go, including Ireland’s Conor Swail and Germany’s Jana Wargers, each picked up one fault; however, sixth to go, Frenchman Nicolas Delmotte, soon broke the trend going double clear in 42.95 seconds. Delmotte’s clear was shortly emulated by Germany’s Christian Kukuk and Jur Vrieling of The Netherlands, with the latter crossing the line in 42.79 seconds to temporarily take top spot. Vrieling’s lead however was short-lived, with current world number 29-ranked rider, Steve Guerdat knocking over four tenths off his time.

With two riders to go, including Dutchman Harrie Smolders and McLain Ward from the USA, Guerdat faced an anxious wait, hoping his time would be unbeatable. However, Wednesday’s winner of the Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe, McLain Ward, and his consistent partner, Contagious, soon demonstrated their harmony and class, knocking Guerdat off top spot, crossing the line in 41.70 seconds to claim the honours.

Delighted with his second win in as many days aboard his 13-year-old chestnut gelding, Ward, commented: “I think he’s [Contagious] on really good form and we’re aiming him towards the World Championships, it’s one of the reasons we had this week planned for him, so we’ll stick to our plan and hopefully be able to be in the mix.”

On his partner for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, Ward, said: “It’s always nice to have a good week, as it gives you confidence. It makes you take a breath and focus. Azur [HH Azur] is older now and I know her very well, she’s my old friend. We’ll just do what we do, I don’t think today or Wednesday has much to do with what’s going to happen on Sunday. We’ll just focus and do the best job we can on the day.”

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

Walking the Course with:

Frank Rothenberger


What do you like to do away from show jumping?

I sail a lot, sometimes three or four times a year. Six weeks ago, I went to Croatia, and later this year I’ll go back to Croatia, and also visit Majorca, the Mediterranean, Thailand and the Caribbean. I go skiing with some of my friends, who are riders, including Lars Nieberg and Otto Becker – as junior riders we did the German Championships together when we were 16, 17, 18. We’re now planning to go to skiing in America, but two of the team are a bit older and a little bit sceptical, but I said to them, ‘if we don’t go now, we will never go’.

What does a typical day for you at a show look like?

I get up every morning at about 5.30am or 6am. I arrive at the showground at around 7am, depending on when the first class will start. Generally, we prepare for the following day, so if I come in on Wednesday morning, we will be preparing for Thursday. All the work for today is done – all the plans are organised and supplied. Measurements and distances and sponsors’ jumps – these are all the little things we have to organise. We supply the course plans the night before, so during the day everybody knows what to do. We have almost 50 people in five groups in the arena, mostly all course designers. It's a good atmosphere, and everybody works very hard. We have four nights where we must build during the night – last night the class finished at 10pm and then we worked until 1.30am this morning. We will do the same tomorrow night.

What advice would you give to a budding course designer?

Someone wanting to be a course designer should be a rider first, to know the feeling of how to ride a course. Then you need a lot of passion; you must love it. If you just go into course designing to make money, it will not work. My daughter is becoming a course designer at the moment – she's doing the FEI level two seminar this year, and she's doing some small international shows with me. She is also doing some big events; she assists with the European Championships. She was in Aachen last year and is doing a show next week on her own. My advice is that you must continue course designing permanently – not just once or twice a year.

How do you see the future of course designing?

Course designing is always developing – it runs parallel to our education around horses. As the riding improves, the strides are getting smaller, so we have to adjust the distance combinations between jumps. I’ve done this job for 40 years, and when I started, we had big bulky jumps, but this has almost gone. Now we have smaller, more open jumps with light poles. The length of the poles has reduced to 3.5m here in Aachen, when before it was always four metres. We changed this about six or seven years ago, so the jumps are much lighter now. It's very difficult nowadays to get the right number of clears. Years ago, out of 40 riders, 10 could win the class, but nowadays 30 are sometimes in contention.

What’s your favourite course designing memory?

I remember here at Aachen, we once had 25 horses in a class and the course we built had every jump down except one. Out of 25 horses! That was a really, really nice course and I always remember it. Another memory was when I was in Calgary, and they asked me to supply the course plans before the show. I said, ‘no, I haven't been here before, so I must see the ring, the arena, and the position of the cameras first’. And then they forced me to do the course plan. In the end we had to change everything because we had a lot of rain overnight so the plans no longer worked, so we had to prepare everything all over again.

When and where was the first course that you designed, as head course designer?

I believe it was a national show, and I built a course with 20 jumps, but that was maybe 40 years ago. I remember when I built my first Nations Cup course in 1992 in Poland. I wasn’t actually allowed to build it because my name wasn’t on the list, but a Polish course designer put his name on paper, but I built it. That was really funny. I’ve done 97 Nation Cups so far – and really hope to reach 100.

Which course designer has inspired you the most throughout your career?

I worked for 10 years with Olaf Petersen and at that time he was the most outstanding course designer in the world. Nowadays, we have lots of good course designers, which means we have very good courses all around the world. I’d say we currently have nine or 10 top course designers on the global circuit, so it's difficult to pick just one.

Tell us about this Sunday’s course and who you think will win the Rolex Grand Prix?

The riders are all really well prepared, and I expect to see some horses on Sunday, who haven't competed previously this week. I just hope we don’t get too many surprises, like too many clears or not enough clears! The Grand Prix course is really technical and enormous, but as ever it will be over two rounds, with eighteen pairs advancing to the second round. For me, a good result would be to end up with between 10 and 13 clears from the first round, and then three or four double clears. This is my wish. All this makes our sport so interesting – you just don't know the result beforehand, and it could work out very well. Sometimes you don’t have a jump-off, but the class can still be absolutely thrilling without it!

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Kit Houghton) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Kit Houghton)

Word from the Organiser:

Michael Mronz



You must be delighted that this year’s edition of the CHIO Aachen is going ahead with full capacity?

Yes – we are very happy. It is the first, full capacity CHIO Aachen to take place in the last three years [since 2019]. It is great to have all the best riders from around the world compete here, do the show and in particular, take part in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday.

Is there anything new this year that CHIO Aachen has introduced?

One of the major developments and focus areas has been the digital movement to improve the communication issues, which now means some classes that are not on television are available to watch. We have 109 hours of equestrian sport here across five disciplines and only about 30 hours are shown on television. So there has been a lot of content which is simply not being shown on television. Hence, we have been trying to see which target groups we could reach via new social media channels. One example is TikTok, which allows us to reach the younger audience effectively. On TikTok, viewers can now follow classes live on the app that are not shown on television. We really focused on what we could do with the amazing content that we have and how we could amplify it.

We are also evolving and have ventured into the metaverse and NFT space. In the CHIO Aachen Metaverse, the NFT is a “CHIO horse” and there are 1,000 horses available. Owners of such an NFT automatically become members of an exclusive community – the “CHIO Horse Club”. The first one was presented to McLain Ward yesterday evening [Wednesday 29 June]. As with all new innovations, it takes time to develop the metaverse offering but it is a really great opportunity and one that adds another element of fun to CHIO.

Are you taking any inspiration from other big shows or sports?

Absolutely. However, I am someone who recognises that lessons can be learned, and inspiration can be drawn, from not only the biggest shows but the smaller ones, too. It is important not to be arrogant and look to all events. There are numerous examples of small events with great ideas and it is often these events that are the most innovative, as they have to overcome a range of challenges due to their size and access, such as getting into the media. It is very interesting to see this constant innovation but it is not just in equestrian. We always look broader and into the wider sports world.

One big point for us in the future is going to be focusing more specifically on adding youth riders to the Aachen show. We can already see this year with the Youth Olympic Games taking part here in Aachen and we want to start developing a close relationship with the young riders at an earlier stage, rather than when they have reached the senior level. We want to involve the younger riders in the main events in some capacity. For example, when the farewells happen in the evening at the Aachen show, we will look to integrate the younger riders into the ceremony so they ride into a sold-out arena of 40,000 spectators after the Rolex Grand Slam. This experience will help ensure they really get a taste for and understand what is so special about Aachen. The aim is to inspire aspiring riders and get them dreaming about riding at Aachen. We also want to build a second stadium arena, an indoor arena. We are in discussions right now with the politicians to help accelerate the process.

What qualities do you look for in team members? And what makes a successful team?

To be a successful team you need to start from the point of view that you can be just as successful as a team. There needs to be the understanding that each member has an important role to play in achieving collective success. It is also important to be constantly looking to improve and to analyse the team’s strengths and weaknesses. Being reflective like this allows you to strengthen the team in core areas. If you have strong team members working together, it will be beneficial for the whole team. It is important to not be afraid of bringing in the best possible individuals to work in your team.

You’re very involved in the development of the North Rhine-Westphalia region in terms of sport and entertainment. Can you tell us a little bit about your hopes and aspirations?

In terms of aspirations, we would love to apply for the next Olympic and Paralympic Games. The IOC has a new regulation that looks at the level of infrastructure a particular city or region has. Regions are now able to apply for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Take the Rhine-Ruhr region for example, it has 90% of the infrastructure already in place and can present sport disciplines like show jumping, riding, dressage, eventing, swimming, hockey, basketball, handball and volleyball with large spectator crowds – 40-50,000 in some cases. Not having to build brand new arenas because the infrastructure is already in place means nothing has to be purpose-built for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and is a huge advantage.

At the same time, within a 600km radius – and 6 hours by train – you can reach more than 220 million people. We have large capacity venues, huge crowds and from a sustainability point of view, it is easy to come to Germany by train. It raises the interesting question of whether we should bring the Games to the people or the people to the Games? I support the idea of hosting the Games in the region and think it would be great.

What are you most looking forward to seeing this week?

I am really looking forward to Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, part of the Rolex Grand Slam. Everyone in show jumping is looking forward to that prestigious event and then, of course, the dressage. It doesn’t matter if someone is winning or losing, the Aachen spectators are really supportive and celebrate every rider, which is great to see.

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