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My stay in Germany:

dressage horses in Germany In the fall of 2007 I was invited to Elmshorn, Germany by the Holsetiner Verband to be an auction rider and help train their young horses. With great enthusiasm I accepted the wonderful educational opportunity, left my fiancé, my horses, and my business behind, and ventured to Germany. This is my story.
I arrived at the Holsteiner Verband on a sunny day; September 29, 2007. I was in awe when I saw the Verband’s nearly 200 year old brick stable which serves as the base for the Northern German breed.

Nearly 200 horses reside in the historical buildings of the main and stallion stables. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw my room. It was a lovely brand new, one bedroom apartment with bay windows that overlooked the stallion barn and race track behind the Verband. I was above one wing of the stable where 16 of the Verband’s stallions that were in training lived. It happened to be the day the Holsteiner foal auction was held at the Verband. Thirty foals along side their mothers were presented for inspection in the morning and auctioned off in the afternoon. This event, I later realized, set the tone for my entire stay in Germany.

Foal after foal was presented by their breeder that was almost always, a farmer. Hundreds of years, generation after generation of hard working farmers that get together with their neighboring farmers every Sunday not only to update one another on local happenings, but to discuss what bloodlines work well together, which mares were due, which mares were lost, and on auction day they come together to do what they must do whether they want to or not-sell. These foals sold from 3,000 E to 19,000 E. They considered it a good sale, but the incident that solidified my opinion of Germans as true horsemen was this; at one point a foal kept trying to leave the arena petrified of the hundreds of people and wanted to return to the other horses-a woman was standing at the entrance with a lunge whip and kept whipping the foal for fear he would try to leave. He was not striking, not rearing, just standing whining three feet from her, lost from his mother. The woman’s facial expression became aggressive as she continued-the foal was frozen-and the crowd went wild booing and yelling. She was escorted out of the arena. Several breeders then came over and guided the foal back to his mother and closed the door to subside the foal’s temptation. There are unfortunately bad horse people everywhere that do terrible things to horses out of anger or fear, but that day and for the rest of my stay at the Verband I witnessed a tremendous knowledge and love for horses. That is what made me want to stay.

My first day of work was a bit intimidating. I was surrounded by Germans of course speaking German (which is not necessarily a delicate language). Even when Germans say a simple phrase like “use this bridle” they speak with such emotion and animation that it is hard to decipher if they are upset or not. I thought I had a small grasp of the German language since I took two years in college, but the longer I lived there the more I realized I did not know anything! So, my first day I watched intensely what everyone was doing trying to figure out in my nearly speechless world what their barn edict was. Sometimes I was right in how I did things and sometimes I was wrong. I kept telling myself what my mother always told me growing up, “You must have thick skin to survive in this business.”
The first week Wolfgang Schade, the head Dressage trainer at the Verband, tested my abilities by putting me on a wide variety of horses. From young to older schooled Grand Prix horses of his, hot and lazy, small to 18.2 hands (I am 5.4!) to a large mare that I had ridden for 15 minutes and he said, “ok, take a walk break and I have some clients that I want to see this horse, I will go get them” AHH! In walks Germany’s 1988 Silver Medalist in the Seoul Olympics, European Champion in 87’ and 89’ Margit Otto-Crepin, the rider of Corlandus! It was like meeting a rock star. In walks Mick Jaggur and I am demonstrating a guitar to him that I have never played before! Well, needless to say I must have done alright because my riding career is not over, although for a split second I thought it might be if I didn’t ride flawlessly.
As the week went on and I was assigned certain horses and tried to adjust myself to their work schedule. We started riding at 7:00 AM and no matter what you were doing everything was put away and locked up at noon. Then we had a two hour lunch break and worked until 5:00 or so. However, there were many nights the week before and after the auction that riders were showing horses to clients until 11:00 PM. Normally, Wednesdays and Saturdays were half days, so that we only worked 5 days a week. (However, the first 5 weeks I was there I did not have a single day off because of clients coming to look at horses). My assigned horses were Wolfgang’s horses and auction horses. The first two weeks I did not have a groom, but it was manageable because I only had 9 horses to ride in the beginning. On the third week I was assigned a groom and three more horses. It was glorious to have help! I will never forget Fredericka, she was 18, still in school, and better than most grooms I have seen in the United States. She made life with the young horses, particularly the stallions, much easier.

As you can imagine most of the auction horses are jumpers, since the Holsteiners are the best jumpers in the world. So, my job was to train these 3 and 4 year olds in basic Dressage. I was very happy that they were so concerned that these jumpers have a good basic foundation and not jump too often. My horses were mostly mares, which I loved, and my girls were wonderful. To my surprise I never once had a young horse try to get rid of me out of stubbornness or calculation. They were fresh, but one of my mares did not even need to be lunged before I rode her. She was three! These breeders have gone to such great lengths to develop over generations the bloodlines that pass on the temperaments we desire. As well as the fact that German bred and raised horses are so used to their lifestyle and for the most part they have, like the people do, an excellent work ethic. Of course these horses are selected from a very large pool of horses. Only the best and most “sound” in every possible way were accepted. Regardless, the auction horses were never turned out, all the horses were fed a grain/pellet feed three times a day (approximately 10-14 lbs) and they kept themselves together very well. Fit and happy young horses ridden at a work level appropriate to their age; as it should be.

The auction and stallion approvals arrived quickly. I was so excited to see the top 100 young stallions up for approval from Schlessig-Holstein and for the auction. The stallions are such athletes that are presented at the young age of 2 ½ and display tremendous power and scope in the free-jumping and in-hand phases. The approvals take place as we are preparing and presenting our auction horses, and the last event of the week is the actual auction where the stallions and auction horses are sold.
I live to show, and I was very proud of my young horses and how well they were doing. But, showing young horses doesn’t always go how you plan and we had a tight schedule to follow and a specific system of presenting the horses that at times was dangerous because we had 150 young horses, stallions, mares, geldings, in one area at the same time. We had several presentations of the young horses at the Verband leading up to the auction which was held in Neumunster. Once we arrived at Neumunster we had one evening to get the horses settled and their first presentation was the very next day. Now the most difficult piece of this is that some people had been trying out these horses many weeks before the auction, which was manageable and easier on the horses. But now the horses were being tried by anyone and everyone that wanted to ride the days leading up to the auction. The rule was no more than 5 rides per day, for the jumpers no more than 5 jumps per rider, which sometimes they allowed more or less depending on the circumstances. Some riders were quit frankly dangerous and told politely to stop. And some riders did not expect to ride and had, for instance, stiletto heels on. So now we have to warm our horses up for our presentations after many different riders have “tested” our horses that we have worked diligently to train, with 8-10 horses in a large Dressage arena, with two jumps set up and half of them jumping, at the same time! To say that the horses were on the edge is an understatement, but I could not blame them. Needless to say I am alive today and those horses are ready to compete at the most exciting facilities in the world as three year olds! My first presentation in the main arena, in front of thousands of people with my favorite dressage horse, did not go very well. My horse was petrified. It was dark with the horses under a spotlight and people clapping and cheering. I was very disappointed. But, Mr. Boley (my generous, understanding boss) reminded me that these were young horses and it was normal behavior for them. I just wanted so badly for my horse to be a star. The next morning I was able to school him in the main arena and he was much better during the auction. I am happy to say he now lives in California. My other horses were jumpers and I expected a jumper rider to present them during the auction. But three of the four owners requested I present them, so there I was in a jumping saddle! My mother said she knew who I was the minute I came in, “it was obvious, you were sitting back most of the time.” Well it is hard to teach a dressage rider that hasn’t jumped in a few years to lean forward! All of my horses sold for good prices. Some of the horses were close to half a million US and some were exceptional deals. I will say the auction was the time of my life. Belonging to an organization of that size that presents itself in such a unified, professional way is heart warming.

The days following the auction the horses were kept in work and one by one transported to their new homes. The Verband’s stallions that were at the government sanctioned stallion testing returned and we were assigned new horses. I still have my favorites that I wish I could have brought home, but it made me appreciate the nice horses that I do have even more.

On the cover of my journal that I kept during my stay it says, “Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.” I read that poem everyday. My first journal entry was on September 30, 2007, I wrote of feeling exhilarated, reminding myself that my immense sacrifice of leaving my family, my business, my horses, would pay off. I wrote to myself, “forget you are across the ocean, learn, and focus on yourself, your growth as a rider, as a person; never forget why you came.” Luckily it was worth it.

published in 'Dressage Today' magazine in October 2008

 

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