The countryside surrounding Hagen is dotted with horse farms. We have been in countries where each hilltop is adorned with a church steeple: here, there are indoor riding arenas.
Our Lady of Perpetual Half Halts is apparently the area’s patron saint, and is much revered here.
Driving in Germany is not a spectator sport. On some stretches of the A roads (interstates) there are no speed limits. Which means stay in the right lane with half an eye constantly on the rear view mirror so that when you are overtaking a truck, which DOES have a speed limit, you are not stuck on its rear bumper while the “elite runners” fly by in the left lane. It’s a speedy ballet, and I’m pretty sure no one is texting and driving. I’m comfortable keeping it below 130 kph (80 mph), and when the Porsches and Maseratis whizz past 20-30 mph faster, it’s like watching Thoroughbreds breeze while riding a warmblood: they are just a different breed, and you can see at that speed the difference in the way they relate to the road.
As we cross into the Netherlands, the ground flattens, and we return to the world of speed limits. We stay for two nights in Apeldoorn, near to where the International Dressage Trainers Club is holding its annual meeting, at the KWPN headquarters in Ermelo. Judges were invited to attend as well, and there were two days of congenial discussion and demonstration at this handsome facility. Axel will cover this conference in more detail in a future article.
From there we steer toward Amsterdam. As we head out, I see woman going for a hack on a paint draft type. And I realize there are horses everywhere. For miles along the freeway, I see horse farms of every size, from the spacious pastureland of breeders to compact properties with an indoor and small barn. And this is when it hits me: how do we compete with this?
In the US, our size is our undoing; our geography is our greatest obstacle. Dressage-wise, there are only two areas in our country with a concentration that can even be remotely compared to this from a training point of view: Wellington and Southern California. And in neither place is there a strong connection to the breeders. In these areas of Germany and the Netherlands, there is a culture of horse. It’s just what people do, and what their neighbors do, and what the kids do after school and what the family does on weekends. There is a riding club network in place, where riders can learn and compete at a very local level on club owned horses, and then progress to inter-club competition before being thrown into the deep water of open dressage shows. These clubs are often become the social focal point of the family, too.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve run into several ex-pat trainers who are now living in Europe. Each has the same story: it was cost prohibitive to be a professional rider/trainer in the US. The need for two different bases of operation (Wellington and Somewhere Else Further North), the long hauls to shows, the cost of horse husbandry, the cost of showing…. I am told that all of these things are far more manageable in northern Europe. Now granted, in southern California we get pretty darned spoiled because so many show are so close to so many of us, but the cost of real estate throughout southern California has been the demise of many a horse property. And those who can afford to winter in Wellington have 4 months of an overabundance of dressage shows within 20 minutes drive.
But we drive on – we are now on vacation for a few days!