One of the most amazing things about my job at SmartPak is that I get to travel the world looking for new and exciting products for our customers and their horses. We’ve learned over the years that Europe is a great place for this treasure hunting. Each year, we go to Europe at least once and always try to make it to a show where we can see fashion and horse products in action. This year, that show was Aachen and my goodness was it an amazing adventure!
One of the things I’ve learned is that horse showing in Europe is very different than horse showing in the US. Here, we’re lucky to get our friends and family to come to the shows to watch us ride. Spectators at the shows tend to be mostly competitors who are there to ride. This is not the case in Europe. Horse shows are packed with literally thousands (or in the case of Aachen 60,000) people some of whom are certainly riders but many of whom who are just fans of equestrian sport and the athletes (both human and equine). Vendors at Aachen ranged from typical tack store types to home décor, boutique apparel and Mercedes Benz. The crowds in the vendor area were so dense on the weekend that it was difficult to move. It was a blazing 90 degrees, and we were packed in like sardines. Nobody seemed to really care though. We were after all in Aachen with the most amazing horses and lots of good shopping ☺
So, what fun things did we find in Aachen? Well, bling apparently is still very much a thing. One vendor had two walls full of blingy browbands in every color and style you can possibly imagine. Bling on boots (mostly human but some horse), belts, helmets, gloves, coats, breeches, shirts…everywhere!!! Riders in Europe are always more daring with color than riders in the US tend to be. We saw some absolutely gorgeous shadbellies with very beautiful and very subtle piping in the dressage ring. Charles Owen helmets with piping to coordinate was also very prominent. In the jumper ring, colored stirrups were everywhere. We even saw some very creative color matching with stirrups, saddle pads, fly bonnets and coats. Coat colors were pretty amazing in the jumper ring as well. My favorite was this really pretty electric blue that was worn by a bunch of different people. Breeches…well, let’s talk about breeches for a second. There is absolutely no shortage of fun and daring colors and styles. Do you like leopard print? Yup, that exists in breeches in Germany ☺
Oh and the athletes in Aachen were just extraordinary. It was a Who’s Who in Equestrian sport as we watched Olympian after Olympian and their amazing horses enter the ring to perform. These athletes really like rock stars…the fans love them and can’t get enough of them. The cheering is ground shaking loud when there is a good ride. The oohs and ahhs of disappointment when a rail drops or a lead change is missed during tempi changes is just another demonstration of how the crowd is hanging on every single hoof beat. Some of the most profound moments for me were the times of absolute silence during the jump-off rounds of the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday…60,000 fans in the stands and the silence was deafening in those moments as we all held our breath waiting and hoping for a clear round.
Thanks to a good friend, we also were able to get passes into the barns. One of the things that I am always very intrigued by in Europe is that the barns look very different than they do at shows in the US. Here, especially at the larger multi-day shows, barns do very intricate and elaborate “set-ups”. Aisles are sparkling clean and everything is very neat and organized. The barns I’ve seen at shows in Europe are pretty much the opposite of that. While I’m sure everything is very organized, it doesn’t always appear that way. The focus is definitely on the care of the horses and the riders and not on the appearance of the barn. I say they’ve got the priorities right! The rider sighting was also quite fun. Reed Kessler was sitting on Cylana (her London Olympics horse) having a conversation with her parents. Margie Engle was standing beside a manure pile talking on her cell phone. It was a nice reminder that they are people just like us ☺
I often find myself saying “is this really my job” and feeling really fortunate that I get to do these kinds of things as part of my responsibilities. I was the little girl who did my homework in my pony’s stall because I just couldn’t stand to be away from her. Now I get to spend my days looking for and developing products that make your time with your horses and your ponies more enjoyable. How lucky am I?
Have a great ride!