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Three magic letters: CHI

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.

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. In the horse world “International Equestrian Competition” is a title of nobility, something rare that doesn’t come easy. Organisers of a big show want this title, riders want to win at a show of this rank. In Doha they will have the opportunity to do so. During the first week of March, from Monday 2 to Saturday 7 March the world’s elite is flying in for CHI Al Shaqab 2015.
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 – Federation Equestre International, 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. 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. Doha can take it relaxed. The event sits very high up and the organisers, Al Shaqab and its dynamic staff that work all year around not only for CHI Al Shaqab but for other equally important equine events are playing the big game for the third time in a row, always with the support of ExxonMobil, the event’s proud sponsor.
Let’s get deeper into abbreviations: CHI Al Shaqab 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. The international horse show 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.
The only thing missing might be an “O”. This letter – abbreviation for “officielle” or official – is available only for one show per country and you have to apply for it two years in advance. 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 100years old – and it runs Nations Cups in all Olympic disciplines (jumping, dressage and eventing) plus in four-in-hand-driving and vaulting. 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.
But who needs an “O” at Al Shaqab. Even without this letter 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. Doha is the only location for vaulting in all of Asia, offering 3*competition. Para dressage will premiere in Doha. In all of Asia there will be only these three competitions for dressage riders with impairments at Al Shaqab. The world’s endurance calendar for 2015 holds 258 rides in total. Of the 47 held in Asia seven are in Doha alone, with three of them going over 120 km. Only at world championships riders are in the saddle for longer: 160 km.
Equestrian sport at 5*level is a very exclusive circle. Even in Europe as the centre 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.

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