Ermelo, Part Two

Saturday August 27 – Day 1 in Germany!

Today was our first full day here in Germany! I drove my fancy rental car the short 10 minutes to the barn and started getting Hex ready for Sabine to ride.

Hex is such a good stallion. I was so jet-lagged this morning that I didn’t realize until halfway through his grooming that I had put him in crossties right next to a mare! He was such a good boy he barely looked at her… or maybe he was just hoping I wouldn’t notice, and leave them alone together! 

Sabine gave Hex an easy ride today, starting with some stretching in the indoor, followed by a hack around their track and in the woods, and finishing with a little more stretching work in the outdoor arena. I think I picked up at least a dozen poop piles while she rode; every arena was busy this morning! I gave him a quick shower, toweled him off and gave him a nice warm mash for lunch. (Isn’t he spoiled?!) 

Sabine left at midday to do some horseshopping. So as soon as Hex was happy, dry, and eating a nice warm mash in his stall, I headed off to one of the nearby many tack stores, this time to Equiva. I thought at first that my GPS had taken me to the wrong place, as the store was in a strip mall wedged between a grocery store and a furniture store. Nope, that’s just Germany! 

Shopping in Europe is one of my favorite things. They carry all of the best brands for so much less than what you would pay in the U.S.! Today I got a cute red zip up jacket, two pairs of Roeckl gloves, a leash and two collars for Astro, a bottle of special edition Jessica von Bredow-Werdal coat spray, some braiding supplies, a grain scoop, a Fleck whip, a set of black Eskadron wraps, and for Hex a big tub of banana cookies and a tail brush, all for about 100 euros! 

I spent the afternoon at the barn pampering Hex. We started with a handwalk in the smaller (20×40) indoor arena as there was a very cute miniature mare walking around the property, who Hex found extremely interesting! We then walked for a while around the barns, and eventually made our way to the galloping track, in the middle of which we grazed some of the tall, yet sadly kind of brown grass. Though Germany is still far more green and lush than California, they too have had a very dry summer. 

Sabine came back in the early evening to take Hex for another handwalk and graze while I organized his dinner and breakfast, and finished tidying our areas for the night. He got a second mash on top of his dinner, and we said goodnight!

Sunday August 28

I woke up feeling SO sick this morning! But luckily a few hours at the barn always makes me feel better, and it worked again today.

Since it was a Sunday, we had an easy day. I spent the morning pampering Hex and organizing before tacking up for Sabine to ride at 11:00. One of my favorite things about being here is getting to watch Sabine and lots of other people ride! Usually when I’m grooming at home, I’m too busy to sit and really watch some riding with my full attention. It’s been so amazing to see how much Hex has changed in the year that Sabine has had him. He’s really grown in his gaits and his confidence, and really is looking like a serious dressage horse! I can’t wait to see how they match to the competition in Ermelo. 

After Sabine’s ride I gave Hex a bath, then turned him out in one of Gut Auric’s grassy paddocks. He really loved being outside! He’s very well-behaved outside and never runs, but he loves to show off his big impressive trot and shake his big neck and do all sorts of twirls in the air. He is so athletic! He also found a fabulous sandy spot where he rolled and rolled and rolled. So, after a couple of hours of this, he got another bath. 

We had an open afternoon so I ran into the town of Krefeld to find the only restaurant open on a Sunday, and ate lunch in the apartment that I am staying in. It feels so luxurious to leave the barn in the middle of the day–it’s not something I’ve ever done!

I went back to the barn in the early afternoon to take Hex for a walk around the property, do some of his stretched and therapies, and feed him his dinner. Then, I went back to the apartment and was in bed by 8:00! 

Monday August 29

I woke up feeling so much better this morning. Apparently all I needed was a good eleven hours’ sleep! It was a bit chilly this morning so Hex was fresh and ready to go for Sabine’s ride this morning. He seems to have recovered from our three days of travel super well (and probably better than Sabine and I have). 

We left before noon to do some horse shopping. Though my German is barely at the two-year-old level, it’s so incredibly fascinating to listen to the really thoughtful, theoretical conversations had by Sabine and some of these top German dressage trainers. Dressage is such an incredibly old sport in this part of the world, that visiting all of these generations-old barns and talking with people makes American dressage seem like it’s still in infancy (which is kind of is). Here are some of the notes that I tried to take on my phone from the backseat of our car, translating in my head as fast as I could:

Not just riding action/reaction always but analyzing the horse, it’s mind, body and spirit/soul/emotions, controlling not just what you see (the head and neck) but the feet, legs, shoulders, withers. Considering a horse’s formative 1, 2, 3 years and what that does to them emotionally, having no human contact. Understanding the why, why is the right rein stronger, where does that begin? Poll, shoulder, back, hind leg, etc. Analyzing foals standing in the field (standing LF and LH out, RF and RH under the body, the left hoof will want to grow out and the right hoof small and under the foot, the weight is on the right shoulder always so the right side is heavier/tighter/blocked.) Where do you begin, supple the right side or close the left? And how? And when? And why?

One of my favorite things about traveling is seeing all of the little things that are the same, yet different to how we do things in America. Gas stations is one huge example. For one, you pump gas into your car first, then go into the store to pay at the register! There is almost no paying at the pump. To me, this was crazy! From what I could tell, there is nothing stopping you from just pumping €90 of fuel and driving off except your conscience, the honor system, and maybe some security cameras. The inside of the gas stations are very different, too, with delicious fresh sandwiches, and coffee stations where you can get lattes or cappuccinos or anything you’d like. I could get used to this! 

After horse shopping I ran back to the barn to feed and walk Hex, then ran back out to Sabine’s old trainer Steffi’s barn to watch her teach some very talented pony riders. I’ll have to get their names. They will be competing at the Bundeschampionate and the German Championships in the coming weeks. There is definitely a common theme/thread in the well taught German riders. Of course, like anywhere, you see some not so great riding. But in general I have found (and this is not a new phenomenon I am discovering) that the German riders have a certain softness, yet high standards to their riding. There is no pulling on the horse or meaningless, unproductive kicking or whacking. Every thing the rider does is done with a purpose. There is also a clear ask, action, and reward always.  Especially the young riders all have very soft, giving yet playful hands, deep and quiet seats, but they are all looking up with determination in their eyes. I hope I can ride as well as some of these 14 year olds some day! 

I was back at the barn by 8:00 to take Hex out one more time, then it was back to the apartment for me to eat a late dinner and try and decipher some of my notes from the day.

In the days leading up to the Championships, we fell into a routine that more or less stayed the same. I arrived to Gut Auric at about 8:00 each morning to take Hex for a little walk and lasering session before his ride. I would then get him ready for Sabine, and watch and take videos during her ride. After each ride he got a shower and a nice warm mash, while I cleaned his tack and tidied our area. Other than Hex’s turnout and evening handwalking, my afternoons were usually pretty free. Some days I would head to the local Bäckerei Höhnen for a cappuccino and sandwich, or run to the tack store to pick something up for Hex (or myself!) 

On Tuesday the 30th, Sabine and I went to one of the biggest and my favorite tack store, Voss, less than half an hour north of our stable. Shopping in Germany is so much fun! I love finding new things that we don’t have in the States, and it is so interesting to see how the trends and what’s popular differs. In Germany, most people like to wear riding tights, while in the U.S. most dressage riders prefer breeches. Also in Germany, it’s common for horses to have stylish halters in different nylon fabrics with sparkles or soft padding, while most American horses don plain leather halters, with the occasional nameplate added. 

Especially with the exchange rate in our favor, the prices of everything was so much lower than back home. At Voss, I bought three sets of Eskadron polo wraps for the price of one set in the U.S., and they weren’t even on sale! I was very glad that I packed lightly on my way here, because my suitcase would be bursting at the seams for the journey home!

After doing some serious damage to my credit card, I spent more afternoons visiting local stables and observing their riding. On Thursday, I got the chance to head to Rheinberg, at the stable home to none other than Isabell Werth! Unfortunately, she was away for the day but I got to tour her beautiful stables and observe some of her riders for a couple of hours. The whole barn and arenas were busy yet very peaceful, and everyone was very friendly. I was surprised to see lots of young riders running around, and I wondered if there was maybe a camp going on that week?

Here are the notes I took while at Isabell’s:

  • Most riders mount from the ground, or there is a cool hidden step in the wall of the arena
  • Folded saddle pad in half under a surcingle for the horse’s comfort
  • Riding very forward-thinking
  • Most horses wear polos with under wraps on front legs, and boots on hind legs
  • Not always the most fancy horses walking into the arena but they become very beautiful with the work, the way they are taught to use their bodies makes them really grow and become more impressive
  • Stalls are all very airy and bright and clean, as well as large, maybe 12×14 feet
  • Overall it seems like a really nice atmosphere, lots of people said “Hallo” to me and it looks everyone contributes to the work, the riders help put away horses, the stable hands are happy and friendly, the horses are all quiet and happy and playing in their paddocks

The next day I visited the stables of Heiner Schiergen, whom I had never head of but is a very successful and popular trainer at the more national level in Germany. I was worried when I arrived that everyone had gone home for the day. The stables were quiet and the lights were off, and the aisles swept. I finally found one man cleaning stalls. “Heiner?” I asked him. He pointed back towards a path in the trees, which I took. The path was short but the trees were thick, until I came to a clearing with a very busy dressage arena in the middle. There were seven riders all circling around who I assume was Heiner, who was giving instruction to whoever was closest or maybe seemed most needy at that time. He saw me, pointed to a bench by E, and continued teaching. I got out my Notes app and started writing as Heiner told me the ages and pedigrees of each horse. This is what I wrote:

  • One youngish girl on a 7yo stallion, who was a bit of a S.O.A.B. but she rode very well
  • Half steps from the ground Heiner taps very lightly with a short in-hand whip, sort of on the tail just above the hocks, like behind the stifles
  • All horses very forward from behind but also waiting in the hand, not running through the rider
  • 9yo Johnson ridden by an older man, horse was another S.O.A.B., especially when he was backed, apparently, but very talented, the older man warmed up in posting half steps and some canter before Heiner got on and finished the ride

It seemed like their system was for the seven riders to all ride in front of Heiner, getting help when necessary, then he would ride his own horse while they put their horses away and got the next ones ready. I’m not sure if all of the riders were the same, but some new riders came to the arena in the second wave as well. 

  • In between lessons Heiner rode a 9yo Sir Donnerhall x Florescount (I think?) that I liked a lot, he had just done his first “real” Grand Prix the previous weekend 
  • Lines of changes on diagonal always to the counter canter, I’m assuming to make the horse wait and not run through the corner or anticipate the final change 
  • Passage almost always in two point or posting 
  • One young rider was absolutely flying around on her fancy little FEI pony, who was trained to the PSG, she was showing off with piaffe and flying changes and extended trots, an absolutely brave and ballsy little rider
  • In the half steps from the ground holding whip parallel to horse and use handle to tap knees and use flick end to tap behind (like walking alongside the horse holding whip in outside hand)
  • All horses hack before and after rides, to and from the barn
  • Younger girl riding an older schoolmaster, Heiner got on briefly after she warmed up and did some tuning up of half steps/changes for her
  • Riders legs never squeezing or holding, always breathing with the horse
  • Never big reactions from the rider but very quiet riding with good reactive response from horse, very effective riding, all horses well between the rider’s seat, leg, and hand

Heiner and his riders were all very friendly and so generous to let me spend my afternoon sitting at their arena. During the second wave of riders Heiner gave me a bit more of a background on each horse and rider, and I wish I could have sat there all day! But after a few hours, I had to head back to Gut Auric to put Hex away for the evening. 

For dinner, my host Tanja invited me to the Biergarten in the forest of Krefeld. On the way, we stopped at the beautiful stable where she keeps her horse. I absolutely love visiting all of these different stables, and this one especially had some really interesting designs! This barn featured: (you may have to check the photos to see what I mean by some of these descriptions)

  • Stables with high ceilings and sun roofs, so lots of air and sun for the horses
  • Loft for storing blankets, each horse has their own long rack hanging from the ceiling
  • Large cupboards for each boarder
  • Turnout boots are kept on pegs, one or two for each horse, so they can air out while not in use
  • Ponies or horses who have to get special food or medications have stacks of containers sitting right on their stall wall, for the ease of use of the stable hands
  • Hay nets are all weight to the proper amount of hay, and prepared in advance for each feeding
  • Corrals with multiple horses has a big roofed house around the hay, which lifts and lowers around the hay according to a timer, so they don’t overeat
  • Each stall has a small “in-and-out” run right onto the pavement of the parking lot, so they can go outside when they want, but it’s kept clean and doesn’t flood due to the pavement. This is in addition to the large grass paddocks that they share during the day
  • A cute touch, they have a statue of a butler right next to the arena, who can hold your jacket while you ride 

After I purchased some honey made from the stable’s own bees, Tanja and I were off to the Biergarten!

When we arrived, I was not too surprises to see that there were dozens of bikes in the parking lot- far more bikes than cars! The whole place was beautiful, hidden in the trees and sitting on the edge of a river with a big lawn where people were reading or having a picnic. Closer to the building there were picnic tables where we sat and ate. Our waiter didn’t speak English, and I couldn’t read the menu, so I asked Tanja to order me the most German thing on the menu, which ended up being Jägerschnitzel (pork with a mushroom sauce) and Berliner Weisse mit Schuss (German beer with a shot of Waldmeister, a sweet, woodruff-flavored syrup). It was delicious!

We had a bit of a panic in the couple of days before our departure to Ermelo. Especially because we are traveling with a stallion, there is a lot of paperwork necessary to prove that the stallion can be accounted for at all times while he is in Europe, mostly to prove that he does not breed while here. I knew I had to have his stallion tracing papers signed by a vet, but what we did not realize was that we also needed a health certificate signed by a special German government vet, who are must harder to find and get scheduled. Plus, the vet who had already signed the stallion tracing papers signed in the wrong box. After lots of phone calls to friends of friends, we were able to get this special German government vet to sign our papers the morning of our departure– phew!

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