this one time, in germany

Speedy has landed in LA and is languishing in the airport quarantine with a healthy temperature of 100.2*F. The staff there even sent us this super flattering picture of him.

The quarantine staff put that little Speedy Gonzales sticker on there (they put each horse’s name on the photo for the owner), which I think is super cute. I dunno it just tickles me. Some time today (Friday), the hauler will pick him up and deliver him to my MIL’s. It remains to be seen if he’ll get delivered with all the fancy new clothes his former owner sent him with (apparently a fair bit of horse clothing has been held back in the LA quarantine since COVID started). I’m not sure exactly what time he will arrive at hers, but by Saturday morning he will be TOTALLY IN MY CLUTCHES EEEEEE.

At this point, whenever I talk about Germany I feel like Michelle Flaherty (ugh I wish I were as cool as Alyson Hannigan), and much like Michelle Flaherty, I can’t stop. One day I’ll stop but today is not that day. I have some miscellaneous/big picture/wrap up/things-I-learned type thoughts that might be useful to people who are considering ever horse shopping abroad. I did some googling when we set out on this adventure last January and I really could not find that much useful information out there (I’m not really a COTH forum denizen, I just…. cannot handle the forum format anymore). So, in case you’re curious, or think it might be useful, a collection of thoughts.

American Pie This One Time At Band Camp GIF by IFC - Find & Share on GIPHY

You need a good agent. When we first decided to look for my horse in Germany, MIL’s feelings were (very coarsely summarized) “I’m German, I’ve bought horses from Germany before, we don’t need an agent.” She was wrong. She had a plan for how we would find horses (call trainers in German, ask about horses), but that would NOT have found us 19 horses. In addition to finding horses, Gunda and Karsten negotiated prices (Speedy’s price came down significantly from his original listing, and I didn’t do that), drove us all over the countryside, made (and cancelled) the horse-viewing appointments, kept us on time, made the PPE appointment, got Speedy onto the plane, organized the second auditions, and generally made the whole trip what it was. I have no doubt that someone very well-connected in the German horse industry could do these things. But my MIL grew up there and has horse-owning relatives who live there, and they couldn’t do it. So you’d need to be better connected than we were. Gunda and Karsten also opened up opportunities we wouldn’t have otherwise had. For a minute, our plan included trying a horse at Julia Krajewski’s barn, and Gunda lamented that Julia wouldn’t be there because she was in Avenches. There is a none percent chance I would have been able to organize my way into Julia Krajewski’s barn to try a horse without their help.

At no point did I feel like I was being taken advantage of by Gunda or Karsten. And as I’ve already mentioned, both of them were quick to admit that people absolutely get taken for a ride in the horse industry in Germany — whether you’re a novice German or an American. I spoke to an American trainer who sometimes acts as agent for her clients shopping in Germany. And no shade to her, but based on our discussion there’s a slim chance she could have lined up 19 horses for me to see over there. But let’s say I had used her as an agent; I would have paid her 10%. Gunda’s commission was covered by the seller, and would have been for any of the horses I looked at. So I saved 10% by not needing to pay an American agent. There’s also a scenario where you go to shop with your trainer (some % goes to them), you pay an American agent to put you in touch with the right people (another % goes to them), and then you’re working with a German agent over there (a seller’s % goes to them). The American agent kinda seems like tits on a bull at that point.

I’ve never shopped with an agent in America before. Maybe they would have done as much as Gunda and Karsten did. I just don’t know. (And if you need their contact information, I’d be happy to pass it along.)

the secret to meeting 11 horses in one day

Looking at 19 horses in four days is a great way to try horses. There really was something amazing about this speed-dating version of horse trying. I loved it. It’s like Dan Savage’s take on online dating. You find someone you like: great, meet them as fast as you can. Don’t talk online for a long time, don’t imagine your life with this person horse. Meet them, see if there’s chemistry, then move forward or let them go. I’ve definitely spent time imagining my life with a specific horse, only to meet them and realize they aren’t actually what I thought. The style and speed of horse-trying I had in Germany isn’t available to me here in the PNW, and I suspect really wouldn’t be available in many other places in the US. Maybe on the east coast — but then, would I have been able to try 19 within a 3 hour drive of one city?

Also, not having many pictures or video of most of those horses ahead of time was really helpful — I truly enjoyed riding horses I might have passed on otherwise, and it helped me learn more about what I actually like in a horse (and how little I could actually glean from video).

Talk about VAT. Some horse prices include a 19% VAT, which the seller doesn’t have to pay if the horse leaves the EU (within 90 days of sale). Some of the horses I met had prices including VAT, some didn’t. Just make sure you know what the price is with and without.

While we’re talking about agents… You’ve got to be honest with yourself, and your agent. This is true no matter where you’re shopping, but Gunda said that it happens all the time that a client says they want to try big fancy horses and are willing to spend the money to support it, but then they get there and they sit on the first horse and everyone thinks “oh shit, this person can’t really ride.” If I’d struggled to ride horses 1-5 on Tuesday, Gunda and Karsten would have been hard-pressed to find me different horses I could ride and try on such short notice. I also had a very clear idea of what I wanted, but enough flexibility to make it easy to find horses to try.

loved these little plaques that winners get at events in Germany! more fun than a ribbon and way more fun than a plate!

A couple more little etiquette things. I have no idea if this is standard, but we treated Gunda and Karsten at all our meals, and paid for gas/diesel for the vehicle we were driving. We brought them a couple of thank-you gifts from home. Had we stayed overnight in Warendorf/Kassel, we would have paid for hotel as well. Maybe nothing revolutionary, but little extra things you might need to budget for.

There’s something about Mary German horses. If you’d asked me in 2020 what my next horse would be I would have suggested something off the track or at least something American-bred. And holy shit do I still love ottbs and especially Carleigh Fedorka with a fiery passion. But there is something about the German horse training system that I just…. haven’t ever seen here. Now, important caveat: I haven’t tried many horses with quite the same price tag here in the US.

But.

Almost every horse I rode in Germany was incredibly straightforward. I’ve ridden some “expensive” and “fancy” horses before, some “the nicest horse in the barn” and a few “this horse is green but can go all the way” types. I haven’t sat on many that were trained by pros, but a few. I have never ridden as many horses who so consistently went forward and came back from my aids as I did on that trip. By and large I rode steady, metronome canters, on horses who were happy to let me in to influence the way they were going rather than ignoring me or blocking me out. One example that stuck out to me: most of those horses could lengthen their stride to a fence without speeding up. I did a rough count with Kate, and 11 of the 14 horses I jumped could lengthen and add power without a rush of speed or running off on the landing side. I think maybe three of the horses I’ve ridden in the last ten years could do that, and I see plenty of people struggling with that exact same concept.

I’m not qualified to comment on what it is that made those horses so rideable. I’ve certainly talked the idea over with MIL and my friends, and I’ll probably keep talking about it. But there is something different going on there, and it is working for them. Tamie Smith made a comment on differences in European and American training systems as well, suggesting it might come down to basics and fundamentals. (Will Coleman also made an interesting comment along those lines, though much less direct.) I also think that if American breeders want to be taken more seriously, this might be a piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot to chew on there.

I didn’t bring a saddle. I rode in some rough saddles, but I think that was the right choice. There’s absolutely no guarantee my saddle would have fit the horses reasonably at all, and I wouldn’t have wanted to waste the time to fuck around and find out. I figured that in someone else’s saddle, I might ride like a potato. But New Horse was gonna have to tolerate some potato riding from me no matter what — that could be useful data collection. Worst case scenario, my saddle might really piss off the horse, and give me an inaccurate impression of the horse. I’d rather risk potato-riding than a poor impression of a horse.

I was assaulted for a piece of banana by this one – “Querulant”

I did bring my boots and helmet, and I should have brought my vest. I had no idea I would get to try horses on cross country, so I didn’t pack my vest. I actually toyed with the idea of bringing it just in case I felt uncomfortable jumping any of the horses, and then decided that if I didn’t feel comfortable jumping the horse I probably shouldn’t jump the horse. So now you know: if you’re going abroad to try cross country horses, bring your vest so you can try them on cross country. (I was lucky that Novell’s owner loaned me her vest to ride in.) I refused to check them because I was worried they wouldn’t make it, or my helmet would get damaged under the plane. I did end up gate checking my boots only (I was allowed to carry my helmet on) for one short leg in each direction because I knew it would be really hard for them to get lost. Also, traveling with boots and helmet in a shoulder bag suuuucks and if I could do it over I’d find a wheely bag to put them in.

I also brought enough breeches and shirts to have a clean set every day. Okay so if you’re not a little filthbeast like me, maybe you don’t re-wear your breeches. I do. Except when I ride 11 horses in one day. Then I change my breeches. What I really needed more of was zippable layers, so that it was easier for me to add/subtract clothes as I warmed up. Oh, and I brought my spurs and was told to use them for 11 of the horses I rode. I checked those.

not Germany – the horse I’ve been riding recently sometimes looks at me over his shoulder for a treat and it always cracks me up

I had my vet on deck to watch video and get rads or vet records as soon as I could get them to her. I guess if you shop at the bigger sale barns, a lot of the horses have basic rads on file. I only looked at horses sold out of private barns, not big sale barns, so nobody had them on file. But Gunda was happy to take video of the PPE and send those to my vet here at home, and the vet clinic sent her high quality rads the same day they took them. Having my home vet on call to look at the video of horses I rode to see if she could see anything concerning there was also really helpful — I ultimately didn’t need it, but if she’d told me to pass on anyone, I would have.

I also had an amazing team of friends back here at home helping me make decisions! They watched video, listened to me gush, and gave me their honest opinions and that was very, very valuable to have.

It really was the trip of a lifetime, and I’m so grateful and lucky that I got to have the experience. I’m also literally already making a plan for the next one!!

9 thoughts on “this one time, in germany”

  1. thank you sharing this. I was wondering how this would all go down. I really enjoyed reading about it. Did you get a chance to visit any German tack shops???

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  2. Thanks for sharing this whole thing. It’s definitely been amazing reading your shopping experience. Not gonna lie, having a hard time stopping myself from dreaming about doing similar. Im pretty sure that would never be in my budget.

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    1. I’ve thought a lot about how I could do this again in the future and how I’d need to save for it. It’s definitely a huge commitment but as a long term savings goal it is more attainable than I used to think. People habitually save way more than this for bigger items (house, car, renovations, vacation). I’m willing to skimp on those things to have this other thing I really want. But everyone’s calculus will be different.

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      1. I’m definitely considering it, especially because I’ve kinda assuaged my immediate need for buying a horse by finding a pretty good lease. But it’s a lot to save and a lot to convince the non-horsey husband that it’s worth it. šŸ˜‚

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