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Magic letters for the greatest equestrian events!

It is three magic little letters that make all the difference in the prestigious horse world: Take a C and an H and an I and then you have CHI, standing for Concours Hippique International – “International Equestrian Competition”. In the horse world this is a title of nobility, something rare that doesn’t come easy…

The official horse world still speaks French, not only because it has its headquarters in the French speaking Lausanne in Switzerland. At least the official abbreviations in horse sports are still widely used from the French language. Concours Hippique International… Organisers of a big show want this title, riders want to win at a show of this rank.

Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski
Jaroslaw Skrzyczynski (POL) and Crazy Quick in action during the Jumping competition at World Equestrian Games 2014. © Arnd Bronkhorst/FEI

A regular horse show is pretty straight forward. But as soon as you have international competitors things get more complicated. That is when the FEI – Fédération Equestre Internationale, another French abbreviation – comes in. The horse world’s governing body rules close to 1500 shows worldwide. A few of these shows stand out because they are more than just your usual shows.

The Federation Equestre Internationale rules close to 1500 shows worldwide. A few of these shows stand out because they are more than just your usual shows

Olympic Games and World Equestrian Games with its 8 equestrian disciplines are top of the list. But only a few notches below the fighting for classification and world wide ranking begins.

Beezie Madden
Beezie Madden (USA) with Cortes C – Second round team competition – World Equestrian Games 2014.
© Leanjo De Koster/FEI

Let’s get deeper into abbreviations: for instance CHI Al Shaqab (in Doha, Qatar) is a very valuable but grippingly short title. To be more precise a long version could spell like this: CSI3*/5* - CDI 5* - CVI3* - CEI2* - CPEDI3*. Get it? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. An international horse show often consists of Jumping – the “S” is for “sauter” or jumping in French, D is for Dressage – that was easy. V stands for “voltige” or Vaulting, E is Endurance and P-ED tells the initiated that they are having para-equestrian dressage at this particular show as well. All five disciplines make the horse show and there are not a lot of shows in the world, that have that many of those consecutively or even in parallel at the same location. And even fewer have the top level of five stars, meaning an absolute top notch.

Luciana Diniz
Luciana Diniz in Doha. © Al Shaqab

The only thing missing might be an “O”. This letter – abbreviation for “officiel” or official – is available only for one show per country and you have to apply for it two years in advance.

Which are the greatest shows in the world?

A “CHIO” stages an official team Nations Cup per discipline where a minimum of six international teams are competing, usually held outdoors. Probably the best known CHIO in the equestrian world is Aachen in Germany. 90 years ago the first CHIO was held at Aachen – where the organising club is more than 100 years old - and it runs Nations Cups in all Olympic disciplines (jumping, dressage and eventing) plus in four-in-hand-driving and vaulting.

Helen Langehanenberg
Helen Langehanenberg (GER) with Damon Hill NRW on CHIO Aachen 2014. © Dirk Caremans/FEI

In 2015 Aachen will break the tradition. They give away the “O” in their title for having five European championships instead. (Just for the record: In this case Germany’s official shows will be Mannheim for jumping, Hagen for dressage, Luhmühlen for eventing, Riesenbeck for driving and Verden for vaulting.) The famous Grand Prix of Aachen is one of the most desirable wins in the show jumping world. If you ask the German national coach Otto Becker, who won in Aachen and also an Olympic team gold he says it is hard to decide which is more desirable.

Equestrian sport at 5*level is a very exclusive circle. Even in Europe as the center of equestrian sport worldwide, there are only a dozen 5* jumping shows on the calendar, all being part of a CHIO. The Americas have seven, the most notable one in Calgary, Canada. The Gulf region’s only other 5*competition in 2015, apart from Doha and Ryadh, has been held in Abu Dhabi in February, serving as the Olympic qualifier for the region.

Andrew Nicholson
Andrew Nicholson and Nereo flew across country to take overnight fifth in the Eventing competition before the final jumping phase at World Equestrian Games 2014. © Arnd Bronkhorst/FEI

The biggest shows in the eventing discipline are called CCE (for Concours Complet d’Equitation (in french again!). The most difficult ones are called CCE4*, and only take place in Burghley and Badminton in Great Britain, Luhmühlen in Germany, and Pau in France.

Equestrian sport in Asia

Even without an “O” the CHI in Doha is the top ranking multi-discipline show in all of Asia. The continent has four shows with jumping at 5*level: apart from Doha there are only Hong Kong and Shanghai in China, plus Ryadh in Saudi Arabia.
Doha holds the only 5*level dressage show in Asia with two more in Japan, but only 3*level.

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Published 23-05-2015

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