The World Equestrian Games, FEI's flagship equestrian event, is gearing up for its biggest edition since its inception in 1990, as thousands of riders will descend on Normandy, France, for two weeks of competition.
Organised once every four years, the World Equestrian Games are recognised as equestrian's equivalent of football's World Cup, and, with the exception of the Summer Olympics, there is no greater honour for riders who spend years training in one of eight total disciplines.
Two more demonstration disciplines will feature in the 2014 Games, as FEI will organise separate tournaments for polo and horse-ball. Here's the full schedule for this year's Games, courtesy of Normandy2014.com:
|2014 World Equestrian Games Schedule|
|August 23||August 25||August 26||August 27||August 28||August 29||August 30|
|August 31||September 2||September 3||September 4||September 5||September 6||September 7|
Competition will be fierce in every single discipline, but fans will likely be looking forward the most to the battle for gold in dressage. Great Britain's Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro have exploded onto the scene in the past two years, and the Olympic gold medal winner will partake in her very first World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
Her preparations were rocky at best, however, only managing a sixth-place finish in the Aachen Grand Prix last month. Germany's Matthias Alexander Rath will ride 2010 winner Totilas at the Games, and he comfortably took the win in Aachen, Germany.
Dujardin told Sky Sports she felt honoured to finally ride in the World Equestrian Games, making no comments whatsoever about her ambitions:
To be taking part in my first World Equestrian Games is really exciting. I am really looking forward to it. Representing my country is always a great honour, and I hope we can give our fans and supporters the results to make them proud.
The jumping category has a similarly fierce battle at the top: Germany have a long history as equestrian's dominant nation, but Belgium and the United States are right on their tails. The Belgians took the win in July's Nations Cup, and Philippe Le Jeune will be defending his 2010 gold medal.
Incredibly, the two top-ranked riders coming into the event are British: Scott Brash and Ben Maher. Brash has been nearly unbeatable in recent months, and his performance at the London Grand Prix was flat-out dominant.
Fellow rider Emily Llewellyn was beyond impressed:
Germany's Ludger Beerbaum could crash the British party in the individual rankings, and the German team will have their eyes fixed on the Belgians in the team event.
The United States have dominated reining since its inception, and Tom McCutcheon will return to defend his 2010 title (albeit on a new horse).
While Europe has been making strides in closing the gap, with notable advocates such as Corinna Schumacher (wife of Michael Schumacher), the reining competition will likely again have a predictable outcome.
On the other end of the spectrum is the endurance competition, which will see dozens of potential winners enter the competition. Regulations are very tight and can turn the race on its head in the blink of an eye, as explained in this video:
This year's race will take place in the beautiful Bay of Mont St. Michel, a UNESCO heritage site that is famed for its church built right at the top of the rock. The idyllic location should be the star of the event and will surely draw record crowds on Thursday, August 28.