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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Fourth week in Germany (Team Tate Groom Marina Lemay)

In a classic “Princess and the Pea” fashion, I’m now biting my tongue and regretting what I said earlier about Germany being a place of perpetual cold. Although my first three weeks here lingered around a crisp 55-65F, this week saw some balmy 80s and 90s. This is nothing exciting compared to what I’m used to in South Carolina or Florida, but it’s still considered a massive heat wave here if you ask the locals. I’m ashamed to say that I can only agree with them, simply because Germans apparently don’t believe in air conditioning, so you never really get a break from the heat!

Even with the fluctuating weather, these past few days have been nothing short of wonderful. With the Summer Auction over with, the horses are gradually trickling out and off to their new homes, ranging from local owners, to Spain, Mexico and America.Hamburg_Church_1_web
Since there are less and less horses to work every day, it’s been making for some very quiet work hours. In true efficient German style, we work from 7am to noon, followed by a two-hour lunch break, and then come back to finish the day until 5pm.
On Wednesday, we had a grilling party for Romy’s birthday (one of the dressage riders) and a paintball excursion with the staff to celebrate, followed by another barbecue on Saturday for Daniel’s belated birthday. I found it interesting that you’re expected to plan and cater your own party when it’s your birthday, here, instead of friends and family organizing it like we traditionally would in America.
To finish the week today, I decided to spend the afternoon in Hamburg!

Hamburg_Canal_webWith the connections added on, I spent a total of 4 hours commuting via train, but it was oh so worth it. I can’t wait to come back; Hamburg is such a classy city full of delicious restaurants, fascinating history, incredible architecture, friendly locals and breathtaking scenery.
All in all, I can’t complain about my week of summer sunshine, perfectly grilled meats, excellent company, fun sightseeing and shorter work days!

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Third week in Germany (Team Tate Groom Marina Lemay)

This week culminated into what I can only describe as the pinnacle of my time in Germany, so far. The 2016 Summer Auction was an incredible, eye-opening, character-building, challenging, but extremely exciting adventure.Verden_arena_web

consuming presentations were scheduled to showcase the riding horses under saddle and/or free-jumping to the general public. Through a slight change in the staffing program early on, I also got swapped around different riders every day to cater to the demand, so I got the opportunity to “catch ride” grooming positions for two separate dressage riders and a jump rider (who conveniently didn’t speak any English, which was interesting!)Wraping_web

because it was so much more straightforward and simple in comparison to the dressage horses! On Saturday afternoon, almost 100 sporthorses and over 50 foals individually got auctioned off in a dramatic, electric arena crowded with hundreds of prospective bidders and horse enthusiasts.

Between the loose horses, frighteningly high rearing, runaway bolting, rogue foals, and frantic spooking, it was exceptionally thrilling to watch. Horses_webI’ve acquired a newfound deep respect for the ballsy auction riders who easily risk their well-being each time they barrel into that arena on these green youngsters, grinning from ear to ear while they do so. Hats off to you, ladies and gents!

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Second week in Germany (Team Tate Groom Marina Lemay)

First auction week: complete! 💪🏼 This week saw the arrival of the 2016 Summer Auction horses and, ensuing with it, a lot of organized chaos. On Monday, the five main barns went from mostly empty to brimming with almost a hundred promising young horses; mostly 4-year-olds, but ranging between 3 to 6 years old. Breeders and owners dropped them off in the afternoon, where they all individually got inspected by the vet, jogged for soundness, scanned to make sure their microchip matched their passport, and put away to their assigned stall. Needless to say, although it was pretty hectic, the staff at the Verband runs like a well-oiled machine and made quick work of the undertaking. By Tuesday, I also noticed we had apparently acquired an even larger team to cater to the new influx of horses, now hovering around 30+ people. Each of the 14 riders has their own designated groom to take care of 6-10 horses. As such, every person is crucial to the whole operation, and it would be impossible with less staff. During the week, the grooms, riders and auction organizers all got a feel for the new stock. Hanoverian_1On Saturday, the horses were shown in a public presentation and all needed to be dolled up, wrapped and braided, which was a bit of a struggle for me personally, since I haven’t braided in ages, let alone 7 horses! Thankfully, my super Aussie rider, Melanie, helped me tremendously in this department (read: she did most of them.)Although incredibly stressful, it was equally fun and exciting. I even got to meet some big-names, such as Juan Matute Jr and his crew, who were obviously incredibly friendly as I giggled like a fangirl. I’m told this is only the precursor to the REAL crazy that will unfold next Saturday! 😳

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First week in Germany (Team Tate Groom Marina Lemay)

Capping off my first week in Verden, I can’t help but feel like it’s been longer. I already feel at home in a foreign country, thanks to the insanely friendly staff at the Verband. The week started out a little lackluster on Sunday, with my first flight out being delayed due to “bad weather” in my first destination, Atlanta. Since I was going to miss my connection to Paris because of the delay, the accommodating Delta crew checked me into a local hotel for the night, in the ever so exotic Charlotte, NC.KLM_1

I spent that Monday almost entirely in various airports, until arriving in Amsterdam, where I nearly missed my final flight to Hannover due to frustrating tourists which flooded Schiphol (that being said, Schiphol is awesome.) I finally ended up in my new apartment’s tiny room Tuesday afternoon, but my jetlagged body was convinced it was still very much bedtime, so I obliged. The day after, Daniel had most of the staff come with us to Heide Park after the morning activities were wrapped up at the barn. Rollercoaster_1Heide Park is essentially a sort of Six Flags amusement park for Germans and, since it’s only about 30 minutes away from the stables, it’s pretty epic.

We rode every crazy ride, just because, and had a blast all afternoon. On Friday, I was generously invited to groom for Enrico, one of the Verband’s top riders at the Show Jumping competition located about 20 minutes away at Lohberg-Turnier. Two young mares and a stallion successfully showed in the 1m20, with the young stallion winning his class and qualifying for the Hanoverian Jumping Horse Championship.

The showgrounds are fantastic; so very European. Everyone pulls into this grassy field of a parking lot in their little horse vans towing an even smaller 2-horse bumper-pull and the arenas are just across a narrow dirt path through the dense and very buggy forest. A dressage show was going on at the same time as the jumper show, and its warm-up arena was comical, at best, because it was essentially a 30-meter mud circle around a couple of trees in the grass, and about 20 young horses chaotically careening around it, legs flailing everywhere. Needless to say, I can think of a few American dressage horses who wouldn’t have coped with those conditions. Regardless, it was an enjoyable day, although the weather could’ve been more compliant (50F and rainy is a far cry from the 100F and sunny of SC!) Saturday’s outing to the show for the 1m40 class wasn’t as fortunate, with a few bobbles such as driving rain, a pulled shoe, going off course, and a few rails. That being said, I still had tons of fun!Marina_horse_1
In my short time so far, I’ve also had the pleasure of learning a few note-worthy facts that are German-specific (or Europe-specific? You be the judge.)
1. Stallions outnumber geldings, for the most part.
2. Germans like their sweets. A lot.
3. It’s always cold (see relative Floridian terminology), even in July.
4. I think everyone and their mother should own a EuroWalker.
5. Everywhere is the autobahn. The parking lot is the autobahn.

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