Friday, December 29, 2006

Winter has arrived! We woke up to 19 degrees, frozen water pipes and ice in the water buckets. I think the horses were the only ones that didn't mind. Needless to say, they were all very fresh.The riding arena was full of squealing horses that day. These Germans are a hearty group, the windows in the barn are still open and on the way into town I saw women pushing their baby carriages and elderly women walking to church inspite of the below 20 degree temperature. The blacksmith was out to shoe my horses for the second time since I have been here and I have to say that the shoeing style is much different than what we have at home. The balance of the foot is good, but the toe is shorter than we usually do it. The biggest difference is that the shoe is set extremely full and very far back to give maximum support. I have come to the conclusion that they can get away with that style of shoeing because these horses are not getting turned out and almost all wear bell boots. I am sure when we get back to FL and Donneur and Dolly get turned out in that FL sand, we will be calling the blacksmith pretty quickly to replace the shoes they pull off. The good part about standing them up with a short toe is that they don't slip and slide so much on the bricks (which are everywhere they walk except the indoor arena). I am sure you all have heard by now that FL is experiencing an Equine Herpes breakout and it has caused a ripple effect through the horse community. Originally, Dolly was going to quarantine for 21 days at Highlife Farm in Orlando, and we just got a call the day before yesterday that they couldn't take her because they had horses from Wellington quarantined in their isolation barn. Plan B was to take her to Ocala, 80 miles from our farm, which would make a great hardship to try to ride her and keep her fit for the shows . We are now frantically working on Plan C, that is to make our farm in Apopka a state approved CEM quarantine facility. Thank you Dr. Jones, Mary Anne Milleman and Caroline Ashton for jumping through the hoops for the next 10 days to get the farm approved! It will certainly make life easier to have Dolly on the farm, even if she has to be kept separate from everyone else. Both horses are going through their lessons very smoothly now and we are able to polish and fine tune the movements from the PSG and INT 1 tests now because the quality of the gaits is well established and maintained during all of the exercises. A long way from where we started three months ago. It was definitely worth it to stay the extra few weeks to give the horses the chance to solidify their new routine. I am really looking forward to test ride (literally) my new horses at the shows this winter. I think the judges will really have to sit up and take notice of both horses because they will definitely be in the hunt for the top placings. This trip has been a great bonding experience for the three of us, we have been together every day from take off in New York to touch down in Miami and have faced many new challenges and a lot of hard work over the last 90 days. That bond will serve us well as we face the new challenge of the Selection Trials this winter. Regardless of which horse wins the blue ribbon, we all three will be winners because we are part of the Equisential Team, whose mission statement is the pursuit of excellence!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to everyone at home! I have spent a good part of this afternoon catching up with my family and wishing them a Merry Christmas. I have now experienced my first Christmas in Germany. It was really quite refreshing because the season is very understated compared to the States. They open their gifts on the evening of the 24th and have a quiet family gathering. I shared the evening with the family that owns the home where I am living, the Knaups. It was an interesting evening in many respects because there were several generations in the house, so the conversation spanned the time period before the 2nd world war to cell phones and modern technology. When talking about the war, today's generation said that the Germans as a community knew that something wasn't quite right with what Hitler was proposing to make Germany a world power, but he provided them with food and a decent lifestyle, even if it was under strict control of the government, so they just looked the other way during the time of the Holocaust. After the war, they said there was nothing left of Germany, not "any stone on stone" and the added dilemma of there being no men left. Millions of men had died fighting, consequently, it was the women who did a lot of the work to rebuild Germany. It was also sobering to hear that Hitler sacrificed men in his own army at one battle when they were surrounded by the Russians and he refused to let them retreat. 200,000 German men died as a result. Hitler viewed fighting in a war as a way to make the strongest men rise to the top and if they got killed, it was because they were weak and needed to be eliminated anyway. War to us in America is something that happens somewhere else, not on our home turf. It was very interesting to speak to people that had actually lived it. On the lighter side, at one point the conversation turned to Germany's obsession with separating the garbage and even they had to laugh at themselves when it came to the example of how to throw away a teabag. The paper tag went with the paper, the tea bag went into the organic container, the staple on the paper to the tin can container and the string to the household waste container. The population as a whole is much more well versed on world politics than the average American. I think that must be because in America we feel so removed from the rest of the world, it isn't that important. But when you live in the European community, you are very close to all the problems that we only read about. I can tell you that George Bush is VERY unpopular here in Germany. The time is going quickly now and I will be leaving for FL on Jan. 9. I have to go to Amsterdam for the day on Jan. 3 to take a safety course to get certified in precautions on a 747 and an MD-11 so that I can travel as part of the crew on the cargo plane that will take us to Miami. That will be something unusual to add to my resume'! We are looking forward to some FL sunshine, it has been hovering in the 30's here and very gray, no snow to speak of. The horses will be glad to get home so they can enjoy some turnout time. They are super fit, even after 7 days straight of work, today they were like kites on the end of the lead shank when I took them out to graze!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Every day presents a new challenge here in Germany! Yesterday, it was my car. I am now driving a Renault Clio because Hertz called and said that I had to come get a car with snow tires. It was rather alarming when a message popped up on the instrument panel that I couldn't read because it was in German. Now the question, keep on driving or not? I parked the car and checked all the tires for a flat, there was nothing leaking out from underneath the car and there were no strange noises, no smoke coming from under the hood, so I opted to continue, how serious could it be? But how would I find out what the message meant? I decided to devote my lunch hour to looking at the owner's manual to try to sort things out. A lot of help that was, because it is in German also. Thank goodness for illustrations, under the section of On Board computer, there was a message similar to the one on my car. Come to find out, all that drama was a result of trying to use the windshield washer. The button on the windshield wiper control that usually washes the windshield on an American Car, activates the on Board computer. I still don't know what the message meant, but when I pushed the button and held it down, the message disappeared. Crisis averted! It's wonderful how the little things in life can make your day! The only car story that tops that one is when I was in Germany the first time in '94. I had flown to Donaueschingen to meet my horse to ride in a show there, so I was driving a rental car and trying to find my way to the showgrounds. I turned down a very narrow road, like so many others here in Germany, only to find out to my horror, I was on a bike path! So I quickly put the car in reverse to get out of there before anyone wondered what the stupid American was doing on a bike path with a car. Only problem was , no matter how hard I tried, the car would not go into reverse. Now what am I going to do? I'm not sure whether it was embarrassment or adrenaline, but I jumped out of that car and pushed it backwards off the path, which must have looked even more astonishing to any onlookers. It was only later that I realized that you had to push the gearshift down to get it into reverse! For those of you looking for some additional bedtime reading, Candy Lawrence from Chagrin Falls, OH has interviewed me to do a story about our Olympic Quest. The first installment is due out shortly in the December issue on with the second installment due in their January issue. Thank you Candy for helping me get the word out! We are on the countdown now, our flight home is on Jan. 9th. Since I will be flying home on Martinair on a cargo plane, I have to make a trip to Amsterdam to take a safety course so that I can be certified to travel as a member of the crew for the trip home. That should be interesting! Meanwhile, I am making the most of my last 3 weeks here, soaking up all the information I can in my lessons and keeping up my strength by eating lots of Weihnachts Stollen (Christmas fruitcake). Plans are in the works to have a homecoming of sorts in February for friends and supporters in FL to show slides and talk about the trip. Of course we will have something similar for our OH supporters when we go back in the Spring!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sunrise in Etteln, Germany. The days here are pretty short right now, sunrise is at 8:15 a.m. and sunset is at 4:15p.m. Christmas in Germany is much less commercial than it is at home. There are lots of celebrations, but all center around family and community. Most people in Germany are born and raised in the same village and very few leave. So when there is a gathering in the community, everyone knows everyone else. We had a Christmas program at Fleyenhof which was put on by the children from the local riding club (about 300 members). There was a quadrille of 12 children on horses and ponies ( which were all on the bit or if the children were too young to do that, they rode in sidereins). The picture of the pony at the top of the page was the angel who introduced each of the performances in the show. For the kids that were too young to ride, they had a quadrille of little girls on their stick horses. For the teenaged boys, they had a jumping contest, on foot, not horseback. It was quite entertaining. The boy that won jumped a fence that was set at the top of the jump standard. Impressive! And needless to say, the fellows were at the age that they loved being the center of attention. And for the grand finale, St. Nicklaus was scheduled to make a visit. They turned off all the lights in the indoor arena and all the children lined up on benches holding lit candles. It was all very formal and even a bit intimidating for the little ones. Santa arrived on foot, dressed in something that looked more like the Pope than our cheerful chubby Santa. By his side was another man dressed in a macabre black mask that is meant to punish the bad children. Now you know the secret of why Germans are so prone to following the rules. They start them out very young. The children were called up 3 at a time to be judged by Santa. He read out of a book comments on each child and their behavior (good and those needing improvement). I wonder if the parents were able to submit requests to St. Nicklaus for behavior modification prior to last night's ceremony? Fortunately, all the children received a gift at this ceremony which lasted at least 45 minutes. Christmas gifts are opened here on the evening of the 24th. Advent calendars with a piece of chocolate for each day of the month are very popular gifts for the children, as are chocolate santas the size of our Easter bunnies. Chocolate is HUGE in Germany, yet you very rarely see overweight people. I have yet to see an overweight child. The other thing that is so refreshing about Germany is that there is a wonderful sense of civility. Everyone is extremely courteous to each other, always saying please and thank you and addressing each other formally, unless invited to be on a first name basis. Everyone says hello to each other whether you know each other or not. Being punctual for an appointment is a must and German people are not rule breakers by nature. Although the interesting thing is that they can be very pushy when it comes to standing in line for something. They are not prone to chit chat or idle conversation and although you will see them smile for a reason, they view people that smile excessively as simple minded! Overall, they are very hard working, practical people that are still very steeped in tradition. It makes you realize how young and free wheeling our country is.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Well, now I have witnessed stall cleaning the German way. As I mentioned earlier, the stalls are not cleaned on a daily basis when the horses are bedded on straw. Instead, they use the deep litter method, just adding more each day. After about 6 weeks, when all the horses look 18 hands in their stalls because there is so much bedding, it is time to strip the stalls. The horses are moved out of their stalls (turned out, put in another barn or just tied somewhere for a few hours) and the work begins. All the feed bins have to be unscrewed from the wall, and a bottom board that is on each stall divider is removed, then the walls can swing back flush against one side so the tractor can come in and start scraping out the straw. It still takes a couple of people with pitchforks to take the bedding away from the walls so the tractor can take it out. What a tremendous undertaking. All the bereiters and working students do this and it takes until about lunch time to get it put back together, then they still have to ride all their horses in the afternoon and into the evening. Needless to say, they dread having to do the stalls. The other photo is of a truly international dinner party. The US, Japan, Sweden, Germany and Holland were all represented the other evening at a restaurant in Paderborn. It was a real treat to listen to Hubertus talk about his experiences riding at Olympics and World Championships. We also had a lively discussion about the different methods of training horses by some of the top riders in the world. The nice thing about the system that Hubertus uses is that it can be used on any type of horse, energetic or lazy, super athletic or just an average mover and by riders of all levels, amateur or professional with good results. The basis of his system follows the classical training scale with the emphasis on the idea that the horse must be very loose, supple and easy on the contact, thereby allowing them to move with the most swing and cadence in all the movements. For those of you having trouble with your flying changes, remember that the horse has to be straight before the change and soft on the new inside rein. If that is the case, you can give the horse a very soft leg aid while you support him on the new outside rein. If he doesn't change correctly, it isn't really a question of needing to use a stronger leg aid, rather, he probably wasn't loose on the new inside rein. Take time to make him loose on the new inside rein before the next attempt and keep the leg aid soft. He is also very big on riding with the horse positioned or flexed at the jaw to the inside while keeping the horse's body absolutely straight. We ride a lot of shoulder fore, especially in the canter. The horses MUST go into and bend in EVERY corner. If you can do that, the half passes are so much easier. If the horse is loose on the inside rein, he can continue to swing at the trot during the lateral work also. Above all, the haunches must never lead in half pass, otherwise he loses his balance and is unable to keep swinging. It sounds very simple because in theory it is ,but it takes a lot of practice to do it reliably, day after day. I am quite sure Hubertus has never gotten the comment from the judge that there isn't enough bending in the half pass. All of the horses in his stable do exceptional half passes, again proving that his system can be used on all horses. The same goes for pirouettes in canter. If you can keep the horse's body straight on the line (diagonal) while you collect him and bend him, you can relax during the pirouette because the hard work is done before you ever start turning. The same with the piaffe. If the horse is loose in the hand and obedient to the leg before you ask, you can relax during the piaffe and it is much less stressful for the horse and he can stay even and swinging (in his back) during the piaffe and passage. Preparation before each movement is key and maintaining a high standard of how light the horse is on the reins between the movements determines your degree of success.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mary Anne left for the States this morning, where she is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Fidelity. For those of you wondering about his breeding, his sire is Falsterbo by Fidermark by Florestan. His dam's sire is Reggazoni, by Rubinstein. Meanwhile, back at Fleyenhof, Hubertus returned this afternoon from Arizona, where he was doing a clinic. I had a great lesson with Donneur and Hubertus was quite pleased with the progress we made in his absence. We are starting to ride the movements from the Int. 1 test on both horses, in preparation for the Pan Am selections. Hubertus is going to ride Dolly the next couple of days to get the canter work pushed through and the tempi changes straighter. On a sad note, Fuerst Fabio is now back in the USA. Originally, Cesar Parra, the owner had agreed to give Hubertus until the end of the year to find a sponsor to buy the horse for him to ride. But, apparently, Cesar has found someone that wants to buy the horse and let him continue to ride it, so he took the horse home. We can only imagine what Fuerst Fabio might have become under the tutelage of Hubertus. Even when you are one of the best riders in the world, it is hard to find the means for a great horse. But as one of the ladies in the stable so aptly put it, "Hubertus doesn't even need a great horse, he just needs a good one because under his riding, they all become great!" And on a lighter note, for those of you that are wondering why the wash machines take 1 and 1/2 hours to complete their cycle, it is because the washer heats its own water and the spin cycle is more intense. Therefore, the washers use only about 11 gallons per load, don't waste energy heating more water than necessary and save energy when the clothes go in the dryer because the spin cycle does a better job of wringing the water out. It is all about conservation over here! So when you set the washer to do a koche-wasch (literally, cook wash), who needs bleach when your clothes are washed in boiling water?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Christmas season has started in Germany! Our Swedish friend, Annele, cooked lunch for all of us on Friday at the stable. On the menu were authentic Swedish meatballs. She made 70 meatballs and suffice to say, they were awesome because there were no leftovers! In the city of Paderborn, one of the main shopping areas has been transformed into a Christmas market with every kind of food and drink available as well as some carnival rides for the children. It was packed on Saturday afternoon. Things at the barn have been a little more relaxed with Hubertus gone to Arizona to give a clinic. He asked me if they have dressage horses in AZ and I assured him they do and that they would not have horns on the saddles. He was hoping to meet an authentic American Cowboy since he was going to be in the West. I will be spending my first Christmas in Germany, since I have extended my stay until Jan. 10. The horses are making such good progress, I feel that we need to stay a little longer to solidify their training so that it becomes their normal way of going when we come home. We will be starting the Selection Trials for the Pan American Games in February on the FL circuit. The Trials will go on through May and the top 12 will go to Gladstone to compete head to head in June and the Team will be chosen at that competition. The Pan Am Games are in Brazil in July, 2007. We will be competing at Prix St. George and Intermediare 1 for the Trials and will also have to do a musical freestyle. So I guess we better get a move on! One more interesting fact about the difference between our culture and Germany's is that they value their free time so much more than we do. In fact, if you stay at work past quitting time, instead of being thought of as a "go getter", you are viewed as being inefficient because you are not able to get your work done during normal hours. They also get 6 weeks of vacation each year!