I don't write as many editorials as I used to. Those who have followed Eurodressage since the early days (1997 as Junior-Riders.com, 1999 as Eurodressage) know that this website evolved from a personal diary reflecting my love for horses and dressage sport into a rather professional website as a major dressage news hub.
A while ago I relaunched my weekly Newsletter system. Each mailing I begin with a little "blog" talking about my week. If you are not subscribed to my newsletter, you don't get to read them as there is no online link to the mailings. All you have to do is sign up for free (there is a big red box on the frontpage for that).
For those who missed it and care to read what I wrote, here are the old Newsletter blogs of the first half of 2023
December 2022: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
once upon a time in a galaxy
far far away.....
Eurodressage used to have a Newsletter that was sent out once per week. However, several years ago - in 2018 as a matter of fact - I dropped that ball on that and let it slide. After creating a new Mailing List system I have finally mustered the courage to pick up where I left off.
My plan is to post Newsletters on a regular basis and to point you, loyal Eurodressage fans, into the right direction of which articles were our hit stories of the week and which ones we believe need particular attention.
I hope I can take you on my journey as an equestrian journalist and photographer, which started back in 1998. No less than 25 years later I feel like a dinosaur but I'm proud to say that Eurodressage has evolved with the time and has a strong social media presence on Facebook - Instagram as well.
Secretly I do hope that you continue to visit the actual website at www.eurodressage.com as this is the heart and soul of my project and which I consider the treasure chest where the real magic happens.
2022 has been a tough year for me. Business-wise Eurodressage is thriving, but as a one-woman company I have the feeling I reached the limits of my capabilities. Sliding into 2023 I feel a few changes need to happen. What these will be, you'll discover soon...
From the bottom of my heart I thank you for your daily visits and I hope I can continue to share the magic of dressage with you on Eurodressage next year as well.
--- Astrid Appels
January 2023: Happy New Year 2023
Eurodressage wishes you a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year; one in which kindness and compassion thrive.
In the "ED" headquarters in Belgium all is quiet and I have decided to spend the first week of the year at home, just working on the computer and going over a long list of unanswered emails or projects that I have been majorly procrastinating on.
There is no rest for the weary as the competition circuit keeps rolling with the CDI Exloo on 6 - 8 January 2023 as the first international of the year. My new year's resolution for 2023 was to work smarter, not harder, so Exloo won't be on my itinerary. My next horse show will be the 2023 Oldenburg Stallion Licensing in Vechta, where I'm meeting up with my Danish and American breeder friends. Looking forward to it!
January 2023: On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!
Week two of 2023 is in full swing and I need to whip myself into action. I started off the new year as a recluse, literally not leaving my house for seven days, just totally focused on working at home, enjoying my horses in all peace and quiet, and savouring the down time.
Week two is something totally different. It's Wednesday now and I have already been on the road every single day since Sunday and tomorrow it's the big 333 km trek to Vechta (GER) to attend the 2023 Oldenburg Stallion Licensing. I have to say I'm super excited to go this year as I will be meeting friend from Denmark as well as Florida which I haven't seen in a very long time. Vechta I do not consider work: it's watching beautiful stallions, talking horse for three weeks and sharing the love for the equine over late evening dinners in authentic German "Stubes".
I have a tracking system which counts the amount of readers per article and this week's most popular story - very much to my surprise - is "The Parotid Gland - the Hidden Indicator of Training Quality". It had the most reads of all and on Facebook it was super well received and shared by probably 99% of its readers. Surprisingly the 1% of negativity came from the "establishment" citing that it is non-scientific (and therefore "activism") even though the references to all the research was credited at the bottom. Then the detractors states that this science doesn't count (?) or that the research group was too insignificant. Shouldn't small probes of investigation not be a stepping stone for more research? Or shall we just burn down the validity of any research when it goes against the grain? What about common sense: use your eyes and empirically see what is happening?
Either way, both the author (Niina Kirjorinne) and I see it as an article that can be used for something good and begin a discussion. Respecting a horse's anatomy while training seems like a no-brainer to me.
January 2023: Viva Vechta!
Week three of 2023 was a fabulous busy week in which I added another thousand miles on my car driving to Vechta (GER) for the 2023 Oldenburg Stallion Licensing.
Vechta is always a "work holiday". Although I'm there in function, I see those three days more as a social event, catching up with friends, old and new. I finally have the time to sit down at a table, share a drink, and have a proper conversation instead of running around like a madwoman lugging that 10 kg camera on a monopod around, always eyes squinting to spot the best great photograph.
Vechta has something magical. It was my 20th year going there as I went for the first time in 2003 and it has been such a fun experience ever since. I usually connect with my Danish and American breeder friends; have lovely dinners in the evening with "Schnitzel and pommes" in our hotel in Dinklage and talk horse.
Since returning home on Saturday night, I have been on the move non-stop every single day but now, Thursday, I'm happily home again to work on the computer and watch over my horses as they happily nibble on their hay while some frost and snow cover the land.. it's winter, although it doesn't really feel like it in these fifty shades of grey.
January 2023: A Master Bows Out
The biggest news of the week that came round the corner at the and of January 2023 was Hubertus Schmidt bowing out as a competition rider.
Very few dressage riders have a career as impressive as the Riding Master from Paderborn: 50 different horses trained to Grand Prix, no less than 80 horses competed at Grand Prix level, three team gold medals with Germany, of which one is an Olympic medal, and then we haven't even looked at the list of riders Schmidt took under his wings and trained to be accomplished horseman. Students such as Emma Kanerva, Marcus Hermes, Minna Telde and many more started out under his tutelage. Health problems prevented Hubertus from moving on as a rider and he will now dispense his expertise and knowledge from the ground.
In Wellington the show circuit is picking up speed with a the Gold Coast Opener having moved from GDF to the Jim Brandon equestrian centre, while this weekend the second CDI of the month will be ridden there. In Europe the World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam is round the corner, so there will be plenty to cover this weekend.
I'm home at my base in Belgium and after a few days of pretty snow, I had enough of winter and happy that the roads are clear again. I'm counting down toward my own trip to Florida, jumping the puddle on Valentine's Day.
Happy reading Eurodressage!
February 2023: Georg Wahl, Master of the SRS and the Circus
This week we featured the third instalment of the "Welcome to the Circus" series which our invaluable correspondent, Silke Rottermann, wrote for Eurodressage.
The first part of the series was highly read and liked, but probably because we triggered the curiosity of the readers by using an iconic and very controversial photo that was published in St. Georg magazine. The article was titled "Welcome to the Circus" and stated that Totilas' performance at the European Championships in Windsor was a circus act which had people mesmerised and judged enthralled into giving world record scores.
Last week, Rottermann talked about the biggest horse trainer and circus director on the planet, the late Fredy Knie senior. His legacy is carried on by his children. This week, however, the series goes even closer to my heart and talks about Georg Wahl.
When I was a young adult Georg Wahl visited my trainers' stable in Belgium several times and I was fortunate to see this master at work. It was brilliant to read that my observations back then correspond with the impressions, wisdom and expertise Rottermann wrote about in her series. His use of the whip was extraordinary and he could make a horse piaffe in no other way, without tensions. A single touch at the right moment sufficed. His X-ray vision of the problem points in a combination were unparalleled and his patience to solve it for the benefit of the horse heart-warming.
I hope you enjoy the Circus series as much as I do.
-- Astrid Appels
February 2023: Disrespectful
Every week there is always a moment in which the wonderful, peaceful flow of life gets interrupted but an article I've posted with seems to cause regurgitations with some people
In the current climate in which social media has become the sandbox of bullies, extremists, and activists or the echo chamber for laymen as well as fanatics to voice an opinion about everything, I got my dose of accusations again and this time I was tarred and featherzd for being "disrespectful".
A legendary dressage horse died last week, Adelinde Cornelissen's Parzival. A phenomenal horse with a phenomenal list of achievements, but whose way of being ridden - old school Dutch - was not liked by all.
In a short period of time we lost several equine legends of the sport - Satchmo, Salinero, and now Parzival - and each of them got a tributary article on Eurodressage in which we described their life story in minute detail. The ups and downs. We reminisced on the atmosphere and climate they competed in, brought back to light the big duels between combinations, the roller coaster they all experienced.
Detailed, well researched articles in a factual tone are apparently not everyone's cup of tea. Sure; I'm fallible and make small mistakes on a date or so, here and there, but I always correct them when pointed out. However, with Parzival I was inculpated as being disrespectful. Why bring back to light the misfortunes of this horse (elimination WEG 2010, withdrawal 2016 Rio) now that he's gone? Should I have forgotten about those key moments in his career and simply resorted to emotional dwelling, mentioning the good parts. Does death truly prompt wiping the sponge over fact and history?
It gave me a lot of food for thought...
-- Astrid Appels
February 2023: The Great Escape
I just came into the house, fingers frozen, covered in mash, boots all muddy, hair wet and messy. It is raining and snowing at the same time today and a cold, piercing wind cut through my jacket. I am worried about my old pony (35) who's soaking wet but seems fine (not shivering, pleasant composure). When I put a rain blanket on, she struggles more, controlling her temperature, and she has a stable she can go into to shelter from the rain. This lingering worry about her condition is back. What best to do with my aging pony, who seems fine.It has me mulling in my head all the time.
Last Monday I landed in Schiphol airport after having spent the most brilliant three weeks in Florida. My batteries and vitamin D levels are fully recharged but it's so depressing to return to a reality of fifty shades of grey. I had a glorious time in Miami, Wellington, and Orlando: every day 30 C* and sunshine, a nice breeze, great horses, lovely competition and even better... spending quality time with some of my best friends.
Wellington is "The Great Escape". It feels like you are on another planet, all worries, bills, duties and obligations left behind at home. You drive through a town where all gardens are immaculate, palm trees line the streets, and horses are everywhere. It feels like you are in The Truman Show, the horse edition. Going to Florida is great for your "life work balance", to clear your head, and temporarily put life on hold. I needed it.
My three weeks in Florida went from me-time in Miami, to two weeks of Wellington excitement: getting educated at an Oldenburg GOV annual meeting, visiting farms and breeders, and photographing combinations in the CDIO and Palm Beach Derby. Evenings were filled with dinners and conversations that were inspiring and soul comforting. I spent a day at Universal Studios with fellow photographers Lily Forado and Petra Kerschbaum and had such a blast. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face, not even when you do the math afterwards of how expensive this one-day adventure park was (393 $ entry ticket, 27$ parking ticket, 30$ burger and drink). YOLO!
Despite the awful weather here in Belgium, I'm comfortable being home; back at the grindstone. I covered a lot of ground this week catching up on work, as well as published exciting news about shows, horses, and riders. See some of the past weeks' highlights below.
-- Astrid Appels
March 2023: Wait until Spring
It has taken me a few days to settle back into Europe's grumpy groove of grey realism and the daily grind. The home-coming from Florida was quite the shock but the comforts of home, the presence of my pets and family make up for it.
This week the daffodils and hyacinths came into bloom in my "unkempt" garden and for me those are the first signs of spring is around the corner. In my head I'm already planning my next holiday, even though a string of back-to-back shows is rapidly approaching and will be the first hills to climb this 2023 competition season: Aachen (no more Opglabbeek, boohoo), Sint-Truiden, Hagen and Compiègne. I'm contemplating adventuring to the brand new CDI in Nancy (FRA) but if I find a good offer for a direct flight and fancy hotel in Saigon, Vietnam, I might spend the end of May on an Asian getaway. I'm allowed to dream, no?
It has been a very interesting week behind the computer with several scoops, great news, and some shockers that made the dressage scene tremble. You'll find a summary below.
-- Astrid Appels
March 2023: A Streetcar Named Desire
I spent three days in London this week , a rather unplanned trip to Great Britain in the wake of my latest obsession with actor Paul Mescal. I watched "Normal People" in the first corona lockdown and who doesn't love a movie or tv-series in which you get to revisit a part of life, long lost!? I relish in recognising and visualising similar emotions, sentiments and situations from high school and university in a book, movie or play. In a way we strive to feel unique, special, one-of-a kind, but when you notice kindred spirits depicted with similar fragility of emotions, self esteem and knowledge, one realises that we are not alone and that "soulmates" are out there.
I tried going to "A Streetcar Named Desire" already in December 2022 but the tickets were sold out in a flash. I got more frustrated when the British newspapers gave 5* rave reviews of the play and so many famous Hollywood stars were able to see the show, well knowing it was a sold-out event. Fortunately the play moved to the West End and a new batch of tickets was released. I bought these mega expensive "Diamond Lounge Experience" tickets (the only ones available when I logged in) as I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity. It also meant I had to schedule an unexpected trip to London but convinced my neighbour to tag along and we had an absolute blast. The play was magnificent and Mescal lived up to my high expectations. He was tremendous in the role of Stanley Kowalski, embodying rage, anger, frustration, lust, and brutal desire. Grrr.
These cultural trips to the theatre, museums, cities are the best way for me to recharge my batteries and to keep me inspired in my daily work. I am ready to face the spring rush of international competitions and am counting down to the CDI Aachen "Festival 4 Dressage" (previously known as the CDI Opglabbeek) where I'll be photographing my first European show of the 2023 season.
-- Astrid Appels
April 2023: From Sponge to Tumbleweed
From a fully soaked sponge to a dried out tumbleweed: that's how I felt covering the 2023 CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage on 30 and 31 March 2023. It was my first European show of the year and I was armed and dangerous with my camera on a mission to photograph as many riders as possible, update the photo archive, and cover this show.
The past two years this event took place in Opglabbeek, Belgium, which is literally 8 minutes from my doorstep: a blessed convenience. Because the general manager at Sentower Park prefers to host more profitable show jumping competitions (and with all that coming and going of the drifter show jumpers he had to deal with an EHV-1 fatality this week), the Festival 4 Dressage relocated to Aachen. The riders, of course, love riding on the holy grounds of Aachen so not a peep was heard about this venue change from Belgium to Germany.
However, there was a lot of moaning and groaning on day one as torrential rainstorms drenched the show ground. On day two it stayed drier but a fierce wind blew all day. The two Grand Prix classes were super interesting, some of the judging of the Grand Prix for Freestyle was a riddle to me.
See my photo reports and critical analysis of the competition in the articles below. Happy reading!
-- Astrid Appels
April 2023: It's Giving Me the Chills
I often consider myself a broken record, repeating over and over again the same message, the same word constructions, echoing thoughts that I imagined were original until I read back what I wrote a few years ago. Originality is hard.
One of these repeat thoughts is the surprise I experience each time in spring when the outdoor competition season kicks off and my work flow goes from "driving miss daisy" to Formula 1.
Last week I felt like I came out of the washing machine, returning from the CDI Aachen Festival 4 Dressage after two days of photography in wind and rain. This week I covered the World Cup Finals' Grand Prix on Wednesday and went to the CDI Sint-Truiden on Thursday. The weather forecast was as lousy: rain, cold, grey, overcast. Nothing that says spring. In my mind I had prepared myself to photograph all day, from 7h30 till 20h00, with classes non-stop from pony level to Grand Prix. However, the forecast was so miserable and it only hinted at a dry spell in the afternoon so I arrived at Stable Gravenhof at 14h30. It was raining...
While the competition was interesting with lots of Danish and Swedish riders who ventured south, I gradually got wet feet and fingers, despite wearing gloves, and was chilled to the bone. While well dressed I didn't understand why I couldn't cope with the elements this time. Still, I stubbornly persisted, told myself not to be weak, ground my teeth and worked until the final prize giving was done at 20h, capturing the photo above. I drove home, seat and car heating full blast, and took a hot shower, after which the grind continued until 2 AM to organise photos.
The next morning I got up with cold chills and they rattled my teeth and shook my hands so much I couldn't manoeuvre my mouse on the screen. I'm not a pill popper but paracetamol did the trick. My plan to return to Sint-Truiden was a pipe dream. I was in no condition and just worked from home. In addition I had to get up again at 1 AM to cover the World Cup Finals' freestyle live. I closed the computer at 5 AM and shook myself to sleep under a double duvet folded double.
These chills lasted two days, even though i didn't feel sore or ill. This home time finally pushed me a long awaited report on the first annual GOV-NA Breeders' meeting I attended in Florida in February. Sometimes I'm fast, sometimes I'm slow. Just chillin'.
Enjoy the highlight stories of the week!
April 2023: In the Garden at Kasselmann
Woopsie, it's been two weeks since I sent a last Newsletter. For some reason life has been spinning its wheels faster than I thought and I already have my third CDI in Europe of the season down my belt.
Last weekend I was at "Horses & Dreams" at Hof Kasselmann, traditionally the first outdoor competition of the year in Germany, even though across Europe action has already been taking place outside for weeks with an FEI show calendar packed to the roof.
The CDI Hagen is always a feast for dressage lovers. Top quality horses and famous international riders fill the starters' lists. The first Louisdor Cup and Nurnberger Burgpokal qualifier of the year are set there and those divisions are the nursery for future greatness.
And Hof Kasselmann is so much more. It's were dressage aficionados meet. After the classes wrap up in the evening, the Kasselmann family opens its doors for networking and entertainment either near the show jumping arena or ,more privately, in the garden of their home. You hear the most amazing stories of past, present and future there: judges discussing the rides of the day, riders reminiscing on their tests, trainers regurgitating problems and so much more. It's where bonds and contacts are made.
Despite the fickle spring weather -- sunshine alternated with some freezing cold spells and rain (see photo above with colleague Petra Kerschbaum on the left) -- the 2023 CDI Hagen was a wonderful starter of a long year.
This week the FEI allocated the accreditation for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games and it was a hot topic for debate amongst the press in Hagen. There were 10 times more applications than spots available, so some applicants won and some lost.. but more about that later.
-- Astrid Appels
May 2023: Weatherproof
I've returned home from the CDIO Compiègne last week and spent overtime in the office processing the magnificence of this French show, despite the fickle weather.
Since the start of April, I have done four back-to-back CDI's (Aachen, Sint-Truiden, Hagen and Compiegne) and every single one of them was in the rain. Fortuntely, it wasn't cold in Compiègne and I had a blast there. It is the prettiest show of the year in Europe, for sure, and with a trade fair revamped with an "orangerie" style bar and lounge seats, the joie de vivre burst from this show.
In an attempt to work smarter, not harder, in 2023 I have decided not to do any more competitions until the CDIO Aachen at the end of June, although I wonder how long I can curb my enthusiasm and not jump in the car to photograph more horses.
More time in the office should mean more time to write, be creative, and fulfil requests, but it's been a bit of a challenge this week as my Newsletter system got spammed with 5,000 fake Russian email accounts, which were as difficult to get rid of as a wodka hangover (as a figure of speech ;)
Here is an overview of the trending stories of the last two weeks. Enjoy !
-- Astrid Appels
May 2023: Dry Spell
I have to admit that this whole spam attack on my Newsletter system in May has thrown my off guard and made me loose my mojo to send out weekly mailings. So often during the day I think, "oh that would make a good topic as intro for a new Newsletter" and then I keep on working and forget about it. After a day of 12 hours of almost non-stop work, it feels the Newsletter can wait until tomorrow or the day after. I shouldn't feel that way because the response to it is great.
So enough with the whining. It's been an interesting month since my last show in Compiègne where it poured. A dry spell has hit northern Europe and the weather has been glorious, but now almost too tropical with the first heatwave of the year a fact (3 days of 30° C in a row). The older I get the less I enjoy hot weather.
Two years ago during corona I decided I wanted to have my garden landscaped and I had an architect tentatively draw a pool into the plan. Typically me, I paid the architect for his work, got a quote to realise the garden which was triple the budget I had set, felt offended and abused, and then nothing happened. I couldn't commit to such an overpriced project (even without the pool) so kept everything the old way. Gosh, wish I had that pool now.. but then when you ask all your friends with pools, they all complain. "I never go in it, it's very expensive to maintain, it's a lot of work cleaning, something always breaks down," etc. etc. Definitely first world problems.
I haven't been to a horse show in three weeks and it's been part of my big new "strategy for 2023." Stay home more, get more work done on the computer (which I can't when I'm off frolicking at horse shows), and don't get so behind on everything. That's the plan. While it is certainly more efficient for my business to have me in the sedentary position instead of standing behind a camera and monopod, FOMO certainly has kicked in - the Fear of Missing Out.. Let's see how adamant I can be in this new strategy. Next show should be CHIO Aachen at the end of June.
-- Astrid Appels
June 2023: Brumation
I learnt a new word this week: brumation. It is the hibernation for cold-blooded animals such as reptiles and amphibians. Just like millions of other poor lost souls in the world, I have become addicted to "doom-scrolling" reels on Instagram after midnight. After a heavy day's work behind the computer I'm desensitising my brain with the endless scrolling of total nonsense reels until, once in a while, there is a funny or interesting one.
In the process I discovered a fun stand-up comedian called Matt Rife, but last night I got acquainted with Gwendolyn, a Murray River Short Neck Turtle, who is preparing herself for brumation. I associated myself with her, because that's what I have been doing the past seven weeks. I have not been to a single horse show since Compiègne. I did four CDI's in a row in a month time, all in pouring rain. Then it became summer in May in north Europe, dry as a bone and unusually hot, and I stayed home as part of my Masterplan 2023. Sometimes it felt like self-chastising, at other times it was the best for body and soul.
It's been an interesting period. I've done quite a bit of work, been able to write more creatively as well as stay on top of assignments. There are only a few loose threads left in the fabric I've been weaving, keeping readers as well as customers happy. The flip side of the coin is that I feel isolated and far away from live action and social interaction, but sometimes you can't have it all.
This is going to change this week as I'll do a double whammy: combine the CDIO Aachen with the CDI/CPEDI Grote Brogel on my doorstep. Lily Forado is flying in from Barcelona and Petra Kerschbaum is driving up from Austria. My two friends and colleagues will be staying at my house for a few days as we do the first days in Aachen. I'm ready !
-- Astrid Appels
July 2023: The Shape of Art
It might be my academic background in literature and my family's unlimited thirst for art and culture that I keep searching for inspiration and energy outside the horse world. It's probably been one of the busiest weeks of the 2023 show calendar, combining total coverage at the CDIO Aachen (GER) with photographing the CDI Grote Brogel (BEL) as well as a working one full day at a BBQ for a charity and philosophical organisation I've been a member of since 2017.
I felt totally overwhelmed this week but also had such a blast. I bit off more than I could chew combining three activities on one weekend, but I also felt so fuelled and motivated with the energy by experiencing top level dressage at the CDIO Aachen, while working alongside the best photographer colleagues in the world. Lily Forado and Petra Kerschbaum stayed at my house the first two days and my home went from a cave of isolation to a buzzing beehive of enthusiasm and activity.
Aachen was mega this year: such a great show, such a mind-blowing venue, and everything runs so smoothly. On Sunday I treated four of my family members and friends to a VIP experience of dressage and show jumping in Aachen, topping it off with the sensational farewell to nations on Sunday afternoon after a spectacular show jumping Grand Prix. It was pure magic. Best show in the world.
Every year in Aachen, the "Silver Camera Award" is handed out to the best equestrian photo of the year, but in recent years the quality of the three nominated pictures has gone down considerably and this year an emotion shot without horses, a big garbage bag in front and a black rail covering the people in the photo won. Congratulations to the winning photographer (who is such a sweet lady), but come on! Is that the best equestrian photo of the year? I doubt it, as I have seen work my colleagues sent it and that's true "equestrian art", in my humble opinion. Such a devaluation of the only horse photo competition in the world, organised by an equestrian organisation.
Circling back to my first paragraph, I wanted to share a quote with you that I discovered today after listening to Louis Theroux' podcast with Nick Cave. The musician and poet keeps a blog on his website "The Red Hand Files" replying to fans' questions. He pondered on what it takes to be an artist and I felt it resonated with us equestrian photographers and writers. He wrote:
"Art moulds us into the shape it wants us to be and the thing that serves it best. As a songwriter, I have come to understand that the more I try to make art that somehow reflects what I perceive myself to be, or the identity I wish to project upon the world, the more my art resists. Art doesn’t like being told what to do. It doesn’t like me getting in the way. When I attempt to impose my will upon it, the work becomes diminished and art takes its better ideas elsewhere."
He continues, "art of true value requires, like a jealous and possessive god, nothing less than our complete obedience. It insists that we retract our ego, our sense of self, the cosmetics of identity and let it do its thing. We are in service to art, not the other way around."
I thought these were beautiful words...
-- Astrid Appels