The Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen 2024 is in the books and the winner is André Thieme and his longtime partner, DSP Chakaria.

The packed stadium of 40,000 people thundered its approval—a German rider took the prize.

Was it unexpected? Not when considering the talent and ability of both horse and rider, but perhaps when considering that Thieme, coming out of the Nations Cup earlier in the week, picked up four faults in both rounds and failed to qualify for Sunday’s competition.

But no one gets anywhere in show jumping without a bit of luck, and Thieme got it: two riders withdrew from the Rolex Grand Prix, making space for the eventual winner to claim his piece of the €1.5 million pot.

The Grand Prix of Aachen is famously formidable. There is no field bigger in our sport and few jumps higher.

Not only is the field big, but the competition takes place over two rounds. The first sees 40 riders, the second—barely shorter in length—takes the top-18 riders from the first. If there are double-clears from both rounds, you add a third: a jump-off. This is a test of endurance above all else.

The startlist is a who’s who. Wait a month and you’ll see most of these same combinations competing for their nations in the Olympic Games.

Despite all this, at first, it seemed easy. Two of the initial four riders on course in the Grand Prix—José Maria Larocca of Argentina with Abril Iconthon, and last year’s winner, Marcus Ehning of Germany with Coolio 42—put down calm and collected clears. Then came a drought.

It took 14 tries before the next clear from Italian rider Lorenzo de Luca with Denver de Talma. By the end, we saw a total of nine, first-round clears, adding Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) with Katanga vh Dingeshof, Martin Fuchs (SUI) with Leone Jei, McLain Ward (USA) with Ilex. There were also three German riders: Kendra Claricia Brinkop with Tabasco de Toxandria Z, Richard Vogel with United Touch S, and of course, André Thieme with the aforementioned DSP Chakaria.

André Thieme & DSP Chakaria ©Rolex/Lindsay Brock

The big story of this Grand Prix is something this owner and show jumping fan refers to as #lastfenceheartbreak, the sad situation in which a horse and rider execute a perfect, clear round up and until the very last fence.

The only thing worse than #lastfenceheartbreak is #firstfenceutterdevastation, which occurs when a first fence is carelessly knocked down while every other obstacle following is navigated faultlessly. The list of first-round, last-fence heartbreaks at Aachen included Olympian and championship riders such as Laura Kraut (USA), Steve Guerdat (SUI), Cian O’Connor (IRL), Denis Lynch (IRL), and Kevin Staut (FRA)!

What made the last fence so treacherous? It was nothing but the familiar, green, Rolex oxer! Was some sort of curse at work?

Heading into the second round, it seemed we had escaped it. There were faults, yes, but none at the last fence (a Rolex vertical) until…Marcus Ehning and Coolio 42! This was a last fence the crowd could not handle. I saw sobbing, I saw hair-pulling, I saw one man smashing his face against a wall! This was Marcus Ehning, crowd favorite and last year’s winner!

But speaking of crowd favorites, none shone brighter than young star Richard Vogel, who was poised to claim his FIFTH and biggest win of the week with his freak mount, United Touch S.

During the second round, as Vogel approached the last fence, United Touch gave it a hard rub. Vogel felt it, the pole stayed in place, he waved his hand in the air, signaling to the crowd his relief at his good luck. We then headed into the jump-off with four contenders: Ward, Thieme, Fuchs, and Vogel.

Ward and Ilex started by adding a third, impressive, clear round, with a jump-off time of 41.02 seconds. Next, was Fuchs, but a too-tight rollback landed a pole on the ground for a four-fault score. Then, Thieme, who blitzed the round convincingly with a time of 39.77 while, on the large screen in the stadium, a thwarted Ward was shown with his head in his hands. But Thieme hardly had it won—last to go was the presumptive favorite, the partnership of Vogel and United Touch S.

The crowd was alight.

Vogel and the stallion were fast, they were accurate, they were ahead of the time. The last fence approached, they were over; Vogel’s hand shot up into the air in triumph, the crowd began a terrific cheer, and—the top rail of the last fence hit the ground.

Vogel’s arm collapsed limply, he turned in his saddle to see what the f…but #lastfenceheartbreak had him firmly in its grip! He was regulated to third, and Thieme had the win! Ward took second and Fuchs fourth.

If there are consolation prizes, let them be these: Ward not only proved his fairly new mount Ilex is Olympics-ready with their tremendous performance, but also scored himself the Prize of the Federal Minister of the Interior and Community, which is awarded to the rider who racked up the most points during the entirety of the week of competition at Aachen.

Ward did not take any victories, but had top-placings in five classes, including two 2nds and one 3rd. Vogel could not be left out after his spectacular week, either, winning the Prize of the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, otherwise known as the “Style Award.”

But of course, the talk of the town, the country, the globe, was of André Thieme and his faithful mount DSP Chakaria. Thieme is best known to North Americans as the most prolific winner of the HITS Million—he has won the pot four times! Apparently, big prize money and tough competition is little intimidation and all motivation for the 49-year-old rider. He also won an Individual gold medal at the European Championships in 2021; again, aboard Chakaria.

And so, the week at Aachen ended. The crowd was wildly pleased, having crowned their German prince: an unexpected one, an almost-didn’t-show-one, but, in the end, the most deserving.

Congratulations to André Thieme and DSP Chakaria and their team!