Eight week in Germany (Team Tate Groom Marina Lemay)

I’m sat about 38,000 feet above the Atlantic as I write this, chasing timezones back to Chicago, IL for the National Developing Horse Championships and, thus, ending my 2-month stint in Europe. airplane_1_webThe moment is definitely bittersweet because, although I’m terribly excited to be heading back home to greet my goofy dog and awesome friends, I’m also leaving behind an unforgettable experience and newfound friends. My final week in Verden was predictably crazy… On Monday, the Elite Auction dressage prospects arrived, followed by the jumpers on Wednesday. Somehow, there was still a sense of structured chaos in all seven stables, thanks to the usual rigorous schedules and meticulous organization on the Verband’s behalf.

Photo_horse_webEach day, the horses were either photographed for their official catalogue’s conformation picture (I can still picture full-grown, serious German men dancing around with purple umbrellas and squeaky toys to try and get the horses’ attention!), free-jumped, or ridden for subsequent videos. In short, it was a week of nonstop braiding and thorough grooming of some exceptional quality horses.

A few stuck out more than others, and I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on one in particular, a 5-year-old Vivaldi – Hohenstein called Let’s Dance who blew me away on many levels. Jumping_horse_webOn Wednesday, I even got a pleasant surprise visit from Richard Malmgren who happened to also be in Germany, and we had a great, lengthy chat over a delicious dinner! Even if these last few days have been incredibly exciting and busy, I’m definitely relishing the downtime I’m spending in all of these airports and flights (19hrs total travel time, yikes!) It’s in fact given me the opportunity to think, which is usually not a good sign! 😉 It’s made me reflect on my little voyage and what it all boiled down to for me. Not to get all philosophical, but it’s brought me to question why we do what we do and what drives us. Happiness is, in my opinion, the center of it all, and can basically even be summed as the proverbial “meaning of life”. This may seem painfully obvious, but finding, creating or living happiness is what we should all seek, I think. horse_1_webHowever, the definition of happiness is different with each individual, as it should be, because we all have varied perceptions of what makes us happy, based on our tastes, experiences and personalities. I’ve recently come to appreciate and further understand the nuances between two closely tied notions, that of success and comfort. Both could easily be linked with happiness. But, I believe one precedes the other, in most cases. Comfort is fantastic, yet can sometimes lead to a rut, if exploited. For instance: comfort is a slouch versus a healthy posture; it’s sleeping in until noon instead of getting work done; it’s living in your parents’ basement until you’re 30 because outside responsibilities can seem overbearing; it’s feeling you don’t need to try for your spouse anymore because you’re “so comfortable”.

Sometime, we need to push ourselves well out of our comfort zone or make sacrifices in order to get the ball rolling and achieve our goals, regardless of how that success is translated (health, personal, spiritual, financial, professional, relationships, etc.) Pushing yourself outside of that comfort zone can be compared to working out (the age-old “no pain, no gain”), traveling to an intimidating location to eventually make memories that will last a lifetime, taking up a job that might not have all the perks you’d wish it to have in order to get some long-term benefits, risking a gamble on a project horse, and so on.

My bottom line is: embrace and relish comfort, but don’t abuse of it. Be mindful but challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith. The worst that can come of it is a learning experience. 😋

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Seventh week in Germany (Team Tate Groom Marina Lemay)

With next week seeing the arrival of the October Elite Auction horses, these last few days have been quite mellow. Perhaps to let us get some rest before the craziness unfolds once more! I’m loving the auctions, here, because they’re so riveting and I end up learning something new every day, but a little bit of down-time never hurt anyone! We’ve enjoyed many half days lately and I’m certainly going to miss these long lunch breaks when I head back to home! With all of this free time on my hands, I’ve decided to, once again, explore around a bit and try to discover some fun foreign tidbits. For starters, I’ve noticed that most of the arenas here have a watering system that isn’t like most of what I’ve seen in the US.

Indoor_water_webA scheme of metal beams runs across each arena’s ceiling space, with a motorized pipe being slowly inched down the long side. Small valves spray down a shower of water as it moves, leaving every inch of footing dampened. No annoying puddles or violent jet-gun sprinklers here! German ingenuity hasn’t ceased to amaze me during my time here. In fact, another resourceful design that I mentioned in my first blog post are the awesome German trailers. Or, floats, as they sometimes call them. Böckmann is the brand of choice for just about everyone and their mother and you’re likely to see them everywhere, often being towed by a Mercedes stationwagon or, alternately, a Ford Fiesta! If you’re not hauling a two-horse bumper-pull, most Germans seem to like large vans.

The compact 2-horse trucks are popular, with a nifty tack-room in the back (the horses load from the side) and the option to add a small trailer hitched to the back of it, but the big trainers tend towards huge rigs with luxurious living quarters and oodles of storage space (my inner OCD loves it.) Brands like Fiat, Man and Mercedes are what I’ve seen a lot of, and most can accommodate six to ten horses. Lorry_webI’ve even see some trucks have a mechanized system that loads your tack trunk for you in a massive hidden compartment. Clearly, they know how to travel in style. In fact, they also know how to horse show pretty darn well. From the few venues I’ve been to so far, I’ve noticed a clear pattern in how Europeans seem to operate during competition weekends. They’ll all arrive in droves on a Friday, park their rigs in a cramped parking lot, and have fun little barbeques in the evenings! On Sunday afternoons, everyone’s gone in a flash, leaving in a massive caravan of pure efficiency. Black_horse_webNeedless to say, there are a few things I wish we could implement into our American way of horse showing! As for the Verband, there’s only one thing I wish they’d consider changing, and that’s investing in a leafblower! 😉 Sweeping the entire grounds of the facility daily is quite the undertaking, even for a large staff!

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Sixth week in Germany (Team Tate Groom Marina Lemay)

I don’t even know where to start! These past few days have been a bit of a whirlwind. Last Sunday, we decided on a whim to go to the Elmlohe Reitertage, a huge competition for both dressage and show jumping.

Jumping_1_webThe venue is located about 1h15m north of us, so the transport situation ended up being a bit of a joke. Since we don’t have a car, we took the train to Bremerhaven (about an hour’s commute) and completed the journey with a taxi trip, which ended up costing a whopping €30 on top of the train fare. The show was incredibly fun, though, with lots of great food vendors, top riding, and beautiful grounds in the heart of the countryside. I’m told the afterparty at Elmlohe is legendary, but because we had to worry about how to get back home, we didn’t stay long enough to witness any of it. Finding a way to call a cab to pick us up was an ordeal in and of itself, but thanks to the lovely show management, we successfully got to the train station after some trepidation. Stadium_webObviously, since we don’t speak any German, Gonzalo and I kept running into a plethora of issues during our adventure, ranging from overzealous ticketmaids harassing us to boarding the wrong connection, and it ended up taking us about five hours to find our way back to Verden (don’t laugh!)
The rest of the week went by smoothly, with preparations being made to set up everything for the upcoming Internationales Dressur und Springfestival Verden 2016, a massive show that somehow seamlessly combines top level competition (young horse championships to Grand Prix, pony classes and a CSI**, to boot), fair-like entertainment to cater to all tastes (winged horses, fireworks, unlimited bratwurst, fashion boutiques and so on), delicious eateries galore, and an overall celebration of the horse as a top athlete. It’s quite the event.

mare_foal_webOver 100 foals and about 10 broodmares were to be presented and sold off on Friday and Saturday nights. Suffice to say, I lost my cool a time or two when hordes of baby horses flooded the barns. There was even a baby Shetland! (for charity, of course.) Since the Verband is so great, they actually let us spend a fair bit of time watching the classes and auctions, which was fascinating! The auction-topper was a De Niro – San Amour I colt who hit €90,000! I even got to groom for Juliane, one of the dressage riders, who showed a superstar 4-year-old mare called Susii, and ended up qualifying for the championship and holding her own in a tough crowd (umm.. literally!?)Rearing_web

I also need to iterate how this was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to (perhaps Dressage At Devon aside!) The party on Saturday night was indescribable, with acts including tandem Friesian carriages, Iberian performances, a dog show, barrel racing, an Icelandic pony parade, and a quadrille with some of the Verden Summer Auction 4-year-olds, to name a few.

Canter_webThe electric atmosphere, the sheer volume of spectators, and the coliseum-style stadium all added to the surreal appeal of the night. If you ever have plans on coming to Verden in the summer, I strongly recommend coordinating the dates so that you can enjoy this spectacle!

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Fifth week in Germany (Team Tate Groom Marina Lemay)

This past week has rolled by quietly, much like the last, and with the light workload at hand I’ve decided to explore around a bit more. I’ve come to find that there’s always a method, a protocol, a system or a routine to abide to, here, which is quite nice for an outsider! The average day will start by feeding the horses a sizable amount of an orchard-grass type hay (fed from a round bale on a large rolling cart; both economic and space-saving for a huge farm) to last them until the evening. At this point, we also top-dress their bedding with some extra straw, which is also on a flatbed cart for easy maneuvering through the stables.

Horse_sleepingAnother small cart with grain will then be rolled around each aisle and a portion will be doled out to each horse. Interestingly, just about every horse gets the same exact ration, unless they’re a pony or obese, in which case it’s roughly cut in half. It consists of about two quarts of whole oats and equal parts of a commercial feed called “Eggersmann”, which the Verband gets delivered in bulk loads of about ten tons at a time. In appearance, it’s not unlike Cavalor Perfomix; with rolled barley, cracked corn and extruded pellets.Horse_feed

The horses are then left to eat while the staff has a 30-minute breakfast in the break room. Afterwards, the horses are either longed, ridden, shown to prospective clients or put in the Euro Walker depending on their individual needs. By noon, lunch grain is dropped, and the staff goes on a two-hour break. (What! I know, right??) When we return, the rest of the horses are then ridden, the barn is tidied up, chores are taken care of, and hay is dispensed in front of each stall for that evening as well as for the following morning.

At 5PM, dinner rations are dropped and the day is done. There’s no Night-Check here, since I’m assuming it would probably be fairly time-consuming for such a massive facility.

Barn_Aisle_1The stalls are never picked out but, every few weeks, when it coincides with the schedule and the amount of horses on hand, all horses will be moved over to a separate barn for the day, and the stalls will be stripped and re-bedded. This process is actually pretty interesting! They open up the aisle ends and unscrew huge bolts from the stall walls, enabling the walls of each stall to be hinged back so that a corridor is formed for the tractor to remove all of the bedding in one fell swoop.Barn_Aisle_2

One thing I also thoroughly appreciate with the way the Verband runs is how “the bosses” (as they are aptly called) dispense daily schedule plans which are updated accordingly. As such, if a horse leaves or arrives, its name is promptly added to one of the rider/groom combo’s list of horses that need to be worked that day. The plan also includes client horses and horses that are getting the day off. It’s like a master sheet that enables anyone to be in the know of how the day will unfold, even when there’s a bustling staff of 20 and about 90 horses needing their daily work!

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