keep pinching yourself

We were slated to see two new horses on Friday morning — maybe three, you know we would be there already so why not see the other one if she was free — and then do second auditions with my top three horses from earlier in the week. We had let Horse One, Horse Five, and Horse Four’s people know that we wanted to see them again. But before we did that, two new horses.

We started the morning at the barn of an Irishman. Part of my brain was like “that’s weird, why would an Irish man move to Germany to train horses???” That was silly, because it’s basically the same as moving across the US. Culturally, Ireland and Germany are probably not so much further apart than the extremes of America. This was another of those “modest” barns, with horses found in every imaginable corner and a couple of sheep grazing on a hill next to the cross country field, yet every stall was meticulously clean and the horses were being fed massive piles of hay.

chicken ataaaaaaack!

Horse Sixteen, “Mr. Cutie” was another one of the horses that I watched going around and thought “…. I probably don’t need to ride this.” He looked a bit silly (balked for a long time at a pool noodle on the ground) and hot, and I thought “nah”. But after Steffen goofily showed off a bit, jumping through a one-stride with no hands over the out-oxer, I figured I’d get on.

And man. He was fun. As soon as I got up* Steffen distracted my ground crew with the “Two Scottish Men in an Elevator” video, which I’m not entirely sure was just a coincidence. I walked Cutie back and forth over the pool noodle and while he was not the biggest fan of it, he went over it. And as for hot and spooky? Not really. Once again, just a really lovely, forward, responsive horse.

* I got a LOT of legs up on this trip. I’m so bad at legs up. My OG trainer, B, was so good at throwing me up that I usually ended up half on the other side of the horse. So I learned to collapse my hip a bit to take some of that force and end up on top of the horse, instead of on the right side of the horse. This did not work for Kate, when she gave me a leg up once and didn’t get me all the way up there. Throughout the Day Of Eleven Horses, I figured out how to coordinate with the thrower and also to keep my hip rigid so I actually ended up on top of the horse instead of halfway up. Steffen said “excellent, someone who knows how to get a leg up!!” when he threw me up onto Cutie. I suspect it was just the size difference working in my favor.

MIL was like “Do you want to jump?” and I was like “YES I WANT TO JUMP.” This horse was so straightforward to the fences. It’s a bit weird, describing every horse I rode as straightforward. Obviously, they were all straightforward in different ways, but truly — they were all easy to ride. I pointed Mr. Cutie at a fence and he was like “okay, sure.” Not in a rushing, LETS GO THERE kind of way. Just in a medium-ly-enthusiastic-but-confident-and-still-mellow way. Make sense? Steffen called out different fences for me to jump and I steered the horse around the arena and it was just…. so easy.

We headed out to the little cross country field next, where I promptly tried to fall off the horse. We jumped little things here and there over the field and then Steffen said “we’ll go jump the coop-bounce-down bank next.” I said “Oh, I’m really bad at down banks.” So Steffen said “Okay, just jump the down bank on its own then.”

I had just ridden a little series of three-step-down banks on this horse moments earlier. They went great. But what did I do here? I pulled and took my leg off and Mr. Cutie was like “okay sure, if you want me to lurch down this bank and run into a tree, I could do that.”

Steffen was like “Yeah so do that again, but keep your leg on and grab some mane. And ride out toward the other field, not toward that tree.” So I did. And it was great. And then we did the bounce down bank and that was great too. MIL was not so impressed. She said she won’t be coming to any horse shows with me since she has already had five heart attacks and isn’t sure she can stand any more.

After Mr. Cutie, we briefly looked at another mare at Steffen’s barn (Horse Seventeen) but elected not to ride her. Maybe I missed something awesome, but Mr. Cutie shot into fourth place thanks to being so dreamy, and this mare looked less fun than he was. So on we went.

Horse Nineteen was described as “a ladies’ horse”. Which I learned means a horse who is beautiful (she was beautiful), has good gaits (she had beautiful gaits), and is easy to ride (she was totally easy to ride). But even with all of that — she just wasn’t “it” for me. She just wasn’t quite as fun as Horses One, Five, Four, Sixteen, and Fifteen. A wonderful horse, but not “my horse”, as Karsten put it.

So we moved on to second auditions. They were amazing. EVERYTHING WAS AMAZING OKAY. We started with Horse Four (Novelle) at the fancier Luhm├╝hlen gel├źndeplatz (yes they have two). She carted me around like the professional she is, and showed me some of her sass as we galloped back toward the trailers. (I was like “maybe we go a bit slower?” and Novelle said “nah” and I said “please?” and she said “ugh… fine… looooserrrrr”.) Though she was out of shape she had NO problem turning on the NOS for me or her owner. After I got off, her owner jumped back on to school her over some bigger stuff and the mare absolutely ate it up. The two of them were having a blast out there, and I was half convinced her owner would recant her desire to sell.

Siggy (Horse Five) also met us at the gel├źndeplatz (I’m not using this word constantly to be a prat, it’s just one of my favourite words now) and was the total heartthrob I remembered. He was game to meet me wherever I wanted him to go, and I jumped the biggest cross country fences I’ve ever jumped on him. I also tried to fall off him, to which he responded “huh, okay?” and helped pop me back into the saddle. I felt like I could enter him at Training level tomorrow and as long as I could hold on, he’d get us through the finish flags.

We met Speedy (Horse One) back at the schooling arena at Luhm├╝hlen, where my MIL hopped on for a quick dressage school. Since dressage was his weakest phase, we wanted to see if she could “get” him enough to make a plan for us to strengthen his flat work. No surprise, the second her butt hit the saddle Speedy was like “oh yeah, I actually can dressage” and went right on the bit. That bitch. MIL coached me through a flat ride and I rode the snot out of that hony — in the best possible way. Even his trainer was like “Can I take some video? And please smile.” It was not hard to smile. I also got to meet his trainer’s kids, who were Speedy’s main jockeys, and I complimented them on the wonderful job they did with him.

Unfortunately, second auditions did not help me make a decision. At all. What they did prove is that I would be utterly delighted to bring any one of these horses home. I desperately wished that I didn’t have to make the choice. My family and ground crew were amazing. They gave me some space while I took a shower and called my husband to complain about the awful choice that was facing me. He wasn’t helpful at all either. But at least he was sympathetic.

I had my favourite. But they were close. SO close. There was a moment on Wednesday when I was walking around the breeding farm, thinking about how my life would be with a schooled, experienced, seasoned horse like Siggy. And I thought “Fuck. I’m going to go home with this incredible horse, and I’m going to think about that hony for the rest of my life.” It brought me to tears (the first of a few that week, and many since then). There wasn’t a wrong choice here. But there also wasn’t an easy one.

Saturday we attended the Mechtersen 2*, a local event run by another family friend who had been part of the Projekt Hony adventure (though not present in the car, as he was busy putting together a 2*!). After yet another late and delicious German breakfast, we headed out to watch, socialize, spectate, and deliberate.

the incomparable Kai Ruder shows us how it’s done at the steeplechase fence

Mechtersen was super cool. The judges’ booths were those fabulous, tiny European trailers — so when it was time to pack up dressage and get cross country started, they just hooked them up and drove away. The course was twisty and turn-y, as you’d expect of a 2*-S on limited land, but still had some good gallops and made great use of the space. There were also some questions I’ve never seen on course walks in America — like the epic three-one-stride down bank steps, or a good-sized table coming out of the woods with a landing about 3′ lower than the takeoff (not a downhill, just…. lower). We got to see several new friends there, too! Go to Germany for a week, make friends you need to support at a horse show. You know.

And I got to spend the day thinking about which of those amazing horses I wanted to take home. Truly, I would have been much happier if someone had just said to me, “this is your horse now.” There were times in the saddle with each of them that I thought “this is totally my ride.” The good things about one were equally weighed down by their weaknesses; experience and show record balanced by their price.

that’s an airy chevron up top, three down banks, and about five strides to a steeplechase fence

At the end of a long Saturday, I cried while I hugged my new friends goodbye as we got ready to head to the airport. I’ve never been good at goodbyes, and after an amazing week it felt very much like I was leaving my family behind. I will definitely be back, though. German eventing culture around Hamburg is way fun, and it would be a terrible waste of friends and family not to visit them for more horsey adventures in the future.

Speedy, however, will not. Because he’s on a plane to Los Angeles.