I didn’t dream of anything on Tuesday night. I slept like a rock, and was lucky enough to have a late call time Wednesday morning as we didn’t have any horses scheduled until the afternoon. We enjoyed a long breakfast (more brötchen and mett and quark for me! oh my god quark, I haven’t talked about quark yet) and Karsten picked us up to go visit his friend’s warmblood breeding farm.
The first thing Karsten wanted to know was how my rankings had settled out overnight. Throughout Tuesday, we discussed how the horses ranked in comparison to one another. Karsten and Gunda checked in frequently, and we talked about why the horses ranked as they did. (And in case you’re wondering, the Tuesday rankings were Horse One/Five tied, Horse Ten, Horse Four, Horse Three/Six tied, Horse Eleven, Horse Nine, Horse Two [I didn’t sit on Horses Seven and Eight].) Nothing had changed since the end of Tuesday night — Horses One and Five were both solidly tied for first.
One of the really incredible things about Germany (and Europe in general, I’ve heard) is the quality of horses that would come out of really modest facilities. Modest is…. slightly a euphemism here. If you transplanted some of the facilities I visited to the US, I would be hesitant about looking at a horse there. Some of the stabling was dark and cold (turns out windows were not a priority in old stone barns) and some of the pasture fencing was a single strand of hot wire. Yet every one of those facilities prioritized hours and hours of turnout for their horses in well-managed, lush green pastures and high-quality arena footing. I imagine that their attention to feed was equally high. It was a bit of a horsey culture shock for me.
This breeding farm, however, was not one of the modest farms. It was fucking magnificent.
A long-held family property that was formerly a hunting lodge, only a few of the pastures were actively being used by the breeding horses. The caretaker showed us around before she dashed off to a lesson (we would see her later that week at a local 2* event!) and we got to ogle the all the horses from foals to three-year-olds. The four year olds had been sent off to trainers to start their Real Lives.
I didn’t realize this until I got home, but the breeding operation itself is also is pretty incredible. I was accosting some world-class foals in that field, and being ignored by some Olympic-horse-producing broodmares. Karsten’s own mare, Lawtown Chloe, will join the broodmares next year after he decides who to breed her to.
We had another one of those fabulous-locally-owned-hotel lunches and headed back up North again to meet another pony! Horse Twelve was a very attractive little Connemara mare, and her owner brought us coffee and cake which was delightful. There is absolutely nothing in this world that will highlight your terrible riding habits like riding 15 different horses (with 14 different trainers). The number of times I heard “inside leg to outside rein” and “take more contact on the outside rein” or “more canter!”…. OKAY I GET IT. I RIDE WITH NO CONNECTION AND AM HABITUALLY UNDERPOWERED, can we please just take a minute to appreciate how I accomplish that paradox?!
Ahem. Anyway. Horse Thirteen was another total :hearteyes: moment. His trainer had just gotten back from CHIO Aachen with her big grey gelding, and there was still a good-luck flag hung up in his stall. The handsome grey gelding kept poking us while we watched Horse Thirteen, “Bug”, get tacked up. I’m not sure he appreciated being “on vacation” if it meant less scritches and treats.
With some renewed zeal for improving my riding, I tried to apply the lessons of the past
two weeks 36 hours to Bug. Unfortunately for me, Bug was a different type of ride. When I shortened my reins to take a bit more feel, he was happy to stay super light in the connection and curl his nose in a little, and when I put my leg on for just a little more power he POWERED UP underneath me. His trainer did a fantastic job of coaching me on the flat and over fences. Despite this, he settled beneath my seat quickly and easily every time I suggested it. After jumping a few questions, I fessed up directly to the trainer: Bug was a super cool horse, but he would scare the absolute crap out of me if I was left to my own devices with him. With his trainer? No problem. But right now? Probably not such a good match.
Bug’s trainer understood my reasons (and Karsten complimented me for my forthrightness later), and I think that level of honesty is something that worked really well for me on this adventure. I didn’t want to lead anyone on, and I wanted to make sure I found a good match for myself. So when I felt myself a little confused and right on the edge of getting scared? I said that. When I couldn’t understand how to enact the instructions that a trainer was giving me? I said that too. And when I really enjoyed riding a horse? Probably didn’t need to say it, since I was usually grinning like an idiot. But also, a couple of horses (for example, Horse Three) were a lot of fun to ride but just didn’t stand up in comparison to some of the other horses — and I was comfortable saying that too.
On Thursday we had another loooong drive — almost all the way to Warendorf. This was also that day that had the most schedule shuffling. First, we were going to see three horses near Warendorf. Then one sold. Never fear — a contact in Warendorf found three more horses we should look at. I quickly knocked one off the list as too young: after seeing all those fantastic 5-, 6-, and 8-year olds, there was no need to visit a 4-year-old. After some discussion, we narrowed it down to just two horses: one 11-year-old 3* mare and a 5-year-old 1.20m mare.
Yet another benefit of working with a broker. Once again, Gunda contacted sellers and let them know my decisions, and nobody’s feelings were hurt. More over, Gunda was the reason we had horses added and removed, from the schedule. She made sure we packed our bags for an overnight visit if we needed, called people on the road to make sure there was nothing we were missing out on, and checked in to make sure I was happy with my journey.
I absolutely did not think I would get to try a 3* horse on this trip, and Gunda was up front about the fact that the mare was out of our budget. But she thought that Horse Fourteen, “Qitta”, would make a great comparison for us. And if I loved her, then I a) knew what I need to look for in my horse or b) knew I needed to find more money. Qitta was one of the most interesting horses I rode. She gave off a lazy, lesson-horse vibe to start with, but once I got her going (once again — with the expert help of her trainer), she perked right up and positively pulled me to the fences. This was also one of the most thorough and best lessons I got from a trainer all week.
Qitta’s trainer instructed me to give Qitta a lot of input — ask for a little outside bend, a little outside flexion, then a strong inside bend through the corners, push her into my outside rein, catch her bulging shoulder by bringing both her shoulders a little to the inside — and told me that I needed to give Qitta as much attention as I expected her to pay to me. After I gave an aid, the trainer told me to check back in with my body to make sure my weight was evenly distributed across the stirrups and on both sides of the horse.
As we came around the short side to a four-stride line, Qitta tricked me by bulging through her outside shoulder and we came to the line fairly crooked. She made up for it, of course, she’s a seasoned mare. But the trainer instructed me to make sure I check in with and corral her shoulder in the first corner of the short side so that I knew I had it underneath me for the turn to the vertical. A little flexion to the outside and a bit of my outside thigh moved Qitta’s shoulders to the inside just slightly, maybe half a hoofprint. And then when I put my outside aids on to turn to the line her shoulders just moved right over. It was super neat — a much more sophisticated version of the hauling-on-the-outside-rein I used to use through the corners.
After we left Qitta and her super trainer, we headed out to yet another fairytale property where we found total dreamboat grey mare, Horse Fifteen, “Stella”. Stella was another one I liked enough to head out to the little cross country field with, and though I couldn’t entirely steer out there (the field was much more like a cross country woods) or figure out exactly where to go, Stella was super. Zefe, her trainer, told me to head out around the outside of the school horse pasture and take Stella through the water. I cantered off through the cross country woods and around the corner and promptly got lost. Stella was very kind about it, though, and helped me find the water and headed right in — and then right out, up across the property line, aaaaaand right into the neighbor’s freshly tilled field. Oops.
I was grateful that Stella and Qitta made things easy for me. Stella easily made the top four. Qitta, though clearly very clever and experienced, wasn’t quite my ride so did not.
By Thursday night I was, ungratefully, just about ready to be done riding horses. I was tired. And I had met so many lovely horses already. Also, my ass hurt. Yes, the part that hurt most on my body was high on my glutes. I would not have predicted that. We had two more new horses to see on Friday morning, and then planned to revisit my top three in the afternoon. MIL convinced me to ride Horse Four on cross country, Horse Five was my pick for cross country, and Horse One we would flat and jump in the arena again.
Thursday night I dreamed that L was in need of a second horse, so we picked up Horse Six for her and brought him home with us. The handoff happened in a bar, and my husband weaved Horse Six between the crowded tables and chairs of the dark bar and out into the light where I filmed the momentous occasion for the ‘gram.