The fifth FEI World Equestrian Games™ held in Aachen will stay in the memory of all equestrian fans for a long time to come. With 576,000 spectators attending the competitions and media coverage on an unprecedented scale, the Games were clearly a remarkable public and sporting success demonstrating the potential of equestrian sport to an enormous audience. After four Games at temporary sites, Aachen provided a venue that was established with full horse show facilities and perfected organisation.
The Games began for the first time with Endurance, accompanied by torrential downpours; however, the sight of the drenched leaders coming into the stadium cheered by the enthusiastic crowd was an emotional occasion not to be missed. They were also the first FEI World Equestrian Games™ for FEI President HRH Princess Haya.
The Dressage Team event followed predictable lines and it was in the Individual competitions that the real excitement was to be found. While not all were convinced about the two medal formula – one for the Grand Prix and one for the Freestyle – there was little doubt at the end of the day that two world champions had been crowned.
Aachen’s smaller indoor arena – Stadium 3 – provided the surprise success story of the Games and witnessed many emotional and loud moments. Reining and Vaulting are arguably the most disparate of disciplines but in terms of passion and excitement they exceeded all expectations. The original concept of the FEI World Equestrian Games™ was to give fans of one discipline a chance to see another. Aachen provided that opportunity and both Vaulting and Reining showed that they stand proud with the longer and more established sports. The Endurance ride took place over the hilly terrain between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, ending in the main stadium.
Eventing held its breath: the first four-star Championship without steeple chase, a new venue, torrential rain and inexperienced organisation. But what a success! The cross country course was a master stroke, difficult and challenging but safe. Crowds of tens of thousands poured in to see the home team dominate. Zara Phillips, who was later elected BBC Sports Personality of the Year, proved that she has what it takes to be a World Champion by holding her nerve to clinch the individual gold.
Driving saw another great competition, with Felix Brasseur’s gold medal just the start of a great weekend for the Belgians. Jumping always dominates the coverage of the FEI World Equestrian Games™ and this time was no exception. However, the real star of the show was the ground in the main arena where, after more rain than anyone could have imagined, the surface remained almost perfect.
In publicity terms, the WEG in Aachen made a very strong impact in the press. When compared with equivalent press coverage from a range of sources, they generated 60% more coverage than the FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Jerez in 2002