“I’m going to Germany!” That was my first reaction when I received news that I had an opportunity to go to Germany to train and ride horses. I have been riding horses for five years and learned the different disciplines of English riding: Dressage, Hunter, and Jumper. In May of 2009, I learned that I had an opportunity to go to Germany and train with a former Olympic rider and to better educated Dressage rider. After many days of discussing the pros and cons with my family, the trip was finalized.
I soon realized that people would have done anything for the opportunity to train in Germany with some of the best riders and horses in the world. I was very nervous and somewhat scared about traveling to Europe on my own, especially since I didn’t speak or understand the German language.
I arrived in Dusseldorf, Germany neither knowing where I was going nor how was I going to get to the very small town of Ochtrup. I soon realized that many people didn’t understand English. Thankfully, I was able to find a man who was gracious enough to help me. I first stayed with a very hospitable German family. They were as intrigued with me as I was with them. Throughout that first week I felt very welcome because they helped me learn German while I helped them learn English. I then stayed with my trainer, Britta, and a Canadian rider.
For the two months I was there, I rode two or three horses a day and was responsible for the care of the horses including daily medications, grooming and tacking. I was also responsible for running a household, which included caring for the pets, cleaning and cooking.
Britta brought me to different barns in Heek and ShÃ¼ttorf, where I watched others ride. This really gave me even more insight into the superiority of German riders. Britta brought me out to dinner with various people involved in the horse industry; owners, breeders, vets and trainers. I learned about the German culture as well as how horses are infused into the very culture of Germany. Unlike the U.S.A., horses are a big and complex business element in Germany. I visited Olympic barns, the home of many Olympic Dressage Champions. I was amazed at how these expensive, athletic horses are cared for, with massages and acupuncture as part of their monthly “spa” treatment. Horses are more of a business commodity in Germany when compared to the United States where they are more of a hobby, a status symbol or a family pet.
After two months, I returned to New York and I brought back with me a new outlook on riding and myself. This trip not only helped me become a better Dressage rider, but it also opened my eyes to the world in which I live. I learned that Germans are hard working, frugal people. I learned how serious and ashamed Germans are of their past deeds from WWII; the German flag is rarely flown and very few national holidays are celebrated. My first hand view of the German culture, how they live and run their lives helped me compare it to an American lifestyle. I was given the opportunity to learn a new language by being immersed in the family and business lifestyle.
My first trip to Europe was exciting, educational and an experience I will never forget. All the money and hard work for this trip was well spent because it helped me excel as a rider and also mature as an adult.
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