A Wet Weekend in Warendorf

Young horse shows are forever the topic of debate. Do they encourage good training of our dressage horses from the very start, fast-tracking them towards success in the higher grades? Or do they lead us to breed a new type of horse: the young horse class winner – a horse who is flashy and eye catching at five years old but does not have the ability to train through to Grand Prix? Whatever your opinion on young horse shows – the Bundeschampionate is undeniably one of the most popular in the world and each year thousands of people flock from all over the world to Warendorf to see the German young dressage and jumping horse championships. The dressage classes are held for three, four, five and six year olds with horses and ponies separated into their own competitions. For three and four year olds, mares and geldings also compete in a different class to stallions.

Bundes Logo

To produce a quality young horse requires a different skill set to riding at Grand Prix. Young horses are a different kettle of fish to their older, more educated counterparts. They make mistakes. They wobble and lose balance and get a fright. To ride inexperienced horses in the big atmosphere of a major show requires patience, feel and a good rapport between horse and rider.  Since the World Young Horse Championships at Verden there has been much discussion about the type of horses we are breeding and what is being rewarded in these competitions.

My interest in particular stems from my having recently broken in my own young dressage horse and so I am deliberating whether the Young Horse competition is a suitable pathway for us.

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Some of the jumping action at Warendorf

Having attended a number of young horse competitions in Australia, including PSI Dressage and Jumping with the Stars for many years, I was really keen to get to one in Europe to see first-hand how the horses and judging compare. Even more than this, I wanted to see some of Europe’s famous young horse riders in action. My first job after leaving high school was as a young horse rider and I have continued to have a great interest in and admiration for the riders who dedicate their careers to the art of producing a horse from a wobbly, nervous breaker into an international competition superstar. It is no secret that a horse is a mirror of its rider and the results do not lie: it is the same riders producing winning horses year in and year out. As Carl Hester is quoted as saying, “sometimes you have to give up the opportunity of a lifetime for the horse of a lifetime” and this is why finding the right young horse rider is half the journey in producing a winner in these classes.

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Walking into the grounds at Warendorf I was first struck by the sheer size of the place. It is HUGE! … far bigger than any of the other major shows I have attended. Warendorf is very spread out with the dressage and show jumping competition areas separated by an enormous trade village. Whilst this made for great shopping, it consequently made it tricky to watch both disciplines. Unfortunately, despite being beautifully nestled into gardens and woods, the venue was neither waterproof nor suited to the number of spectators in attendance. It rained for much of the day I was there and without any undercover viewing areas it was quite difficult to see much in these conditions. On top of this, the dressage arena had only a relatively small grandstand on either long side and so spectators were crammed into every nook and cranny to see. When you’re only five foot tall, it’s nearly impossible to get a good vantage point in these conditions. I did my best to see as much of both disciplines as possible, and managed to watch closely a number of the horses in the six year old dressage final.

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One aisle of the enormous trade village

Heiner Schiergen rode Damon Hill son “Daley Thompson.” This elegant horse entered the ring with a lovely open gullet which was pleasing to see. Sadly, as the test continued a lack of balance was evident and caused a few problems. “Daley Thompson” fell through the downwards transitions and became tighter and more closed in the frame during the lateral work and the canter. The changes weren’t established and this cost them quite a few marks. The soft, harmonious picture which entered the arena had been lost through the laterals and spoilt by a lack of balance by the end. They finished with 8.0 for trot, 7.5 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 6.5 for submission, 7.5 for general impression and a final score of 7.5 for thirteenth place.

Next up was Lisa Lindner riding the “Quarterback” son “Quotenkönig.” This liver chestnut with bling showed much more flow than the previous horse and the trot work had great impulsion. The rhythm and frame remained consistent through the lateral work and there was good balance carried through to the walk. The walk pirouettes lacked a little ‘march’ but weren’t bad by any means. Canter was my favourite pace for this horse, with most of the changes obedient and correct (although one change right was a little late behind). The canter half passes were well executed and there was a standout consistency in the contact and frame which made this a very pleasant combination to watch. 8.5 for trot, 8.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 8.0 for submission, 8.5 for general impression for an overall score of 8.3: a good score which had them placed second so far and would see them finish fifth. Interestingly, “Quotenkönig” was placed fourth in the five year old final of the 2014 Bundeschampionate.

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Yvonne Reiser and “Sunlight”

“Sunlight” for Yvonne Reiser was a big, leggy bay. Although he seemed a bit large and long, he was extremely light on his feet. I really liked the soft, open gullet in their trot work, even if there were moments where “Sunlight” lost his balance a little in the medium trot. The walk was active and showed clear lengthen and shorten which is too often neglected. The canter work was nice, with obedient and expressive changes both ways, however the point of balance was not so consistent at canter. The poll was dropping in some of the turns and through the half pass which was a shame. Great medium canter and back to the better frame for a strong finish. 8.0 for trot, 7.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 8.5 for submission and 8.5 for general impression leaving them on a final score of 8.1 and third place so far. This was undeniably a very attractive combination and “Sunlight” has a presence which holds him in my memory as a horse I will be keeping an eye out for in the future. They finished the competition in seventh place.

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Yvonne Reiser and “Sunlight”

The next horse into the ring is one I have seen a lot of talk about on social media coming into and since the event. “Lady Loxley M” owned by Carola Koppelmann and Franz-Josef Münker and ridden by the former is a strikingly beautiful black Rhinelander mare by “Lord Loxley.” She came into the competition in Warendorf in a strong position, having won the qualification class held at the Holtkamper Dressage Days in Bielefeld-Holtkamp in May this year with an impressive score of 8.3. What a classy mare! Cadence, power and maintaining a good rhythm and balance throughout the test. Her medium paces were effortless, especially the trot, and she has a clear adjustability which made her a cut above the rest. The walk is active and ground covering. The changes were not the most expressive of the class, but were all obedient and correct. 8.5 for trot, 9.0 for walk, 8.5 for canter, 9.0 for submission and 9.0 for general impression to beat their qualifying score and finish on 8.8 overall. This score had them in second place so far, a position they maintained throughout the competition. A great score and well deserved – this was a classy, well-polished pair who made a lasting impression.

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Carola Koppelmann and “Lady Loxley M”

Next into the ring was the current leader with her second ride for the final, Norwegian rider Isabel Bache and “FünfSterne.” On first glance, this eye-catching horse was every bit ‘my type.’ Bright orange with bling to boot and decked out in Equiline, what more could a girl ask for?? “FünfSterne” has an eye catching trot with expensive front legs and a textbook uphill way of going but today was a little tighter through the back and straighter in the legs than “Lady Loxley M” just before. I noted with interest that “FünfSterne” is ridden in a drop noseband. The changes were clean and obedient both ways but the canter half passes could have used a little more expression. Nonetheless it was an extremely professional test and Bache presented the horse expertly. The shining feature for this combination was the consistently uphill, open and easy frame. 8.0 for trot, 7.5 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 8.0 for submission and 8.0 for general impression to finish on 7.9 and be in fifth place so far. Bache’s second ride finished in eighth place, coincidently the same position they finished in last year in the five year old final at the 2014 Bundeschampionate.

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Isabel Bache and “FünfSterne”

Ines Knoll rode the striking grey “FBW Fairplay H” by “Fürst Honestein” on whom she won their Bundeschampionate qualification event on 8.5 in May this year. Poor “FBW Fairplay H” was subject to the return of the rain and whilst he worked very well despite the conditions, there were a few moments of head tossing which spoilt the marks for submission. This horse has a real ‘look at me’ presence and it was easy to see how he had qualified with such a great score. Sadly, today he was just a little too long in the frame and slow off the ground to be up amongst the top horses. Some moments of discussion re the contact and trouble with the changes both ways were too costly to recover from. 7.5 for trot, 8.0 for walk, 8.0 for canter, 7.0 for submission and 8.0 for general impression left them on a score of 7.7 in provisional seventh position. At the conclusion of the competition the combination were in twelfth place, a little disappointing after their fifth place finish in the five year old class at the same event last year.

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Ines Knoll and “FBW Fairplay H”

By now the rain had set in and seemed to be here to stay, so I decided to call it a day and make a dash for some shelter. Unfortunately I missed the winner, Isabel Bache on board “Fasine” who from all accounts were exceptional with scores of 9.0 for trot, 9.5 for walk, 9.0 for canter, 9.0 for submission and a perfect 10.0 for general impression to finish on 9.3, 0.5 ahead of “Lady Loxley M” in second place.

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The sea of umbrellas crammed around the dressage arena

After a lengthy drive and train trip home (a five hour journey in total), I finally made it out of the rain to the safety of my bed to reflect on what I’d seen. Germany’s big sister of Australia’s Dressage and Jumping with the Stars was incredible. The sheer size of the venue and the crowds were overwhelming and the trade village had everything from custom boots to spas for both horses and humans. The six year old class pleasantly surprised me. I have come to expect great venues and beautiful horses, but what I liked about what I saw at Warendorf was that the riders seemed sympathetic to the young horse mistakes made due to inexperience.  That’s right folks – even the best young horses in the world make errors. Some of the best six year old horses still hadn’t mastered the changes. Wobbles in the contact or losing the balance in the corner are things that can happen to all young horses.

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Some impressions from the expansive trade village

What I liked even more was the evidence that the judging also supported these young horses.   A horse could struggle with its changes and still score an 8.0 for canter, or have a few whoopsies in the balance but still finish in the top ten. What had happened in one movement was the past and was left behind as they moved on to finish their test. After the final halt every rider patted and hugged their horse and the whole crowd cheered. If young horse shows can be used as a chapter in the book of a horse’s learning journey, and not the final pages, they can help shape better horses at the top level. The best riders presented their mounts such as to show off their natural talents but also the training foundations they have laid for the future, with the FEI always in mind. Mistakes are part of training and they were neither masked nor punished. THIS is what I see as the future of young horse shows – a platform to celebrate training and anticipate what is to come as these horses grow and develop. A crucial stepping stone in the long road to Grand Prix.

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Carola Koppelmann congratulating “Lady Loxley M” on a job well done

There are many factors to be considered when breeding and training horses for the future of our sport. That being said, I was happy with what I saw at Warendorf and am hopeful for what we will see in the international Grand Prix classes in five and ten years’ time if these young horse classes can be used as part of the process, not the final goal.

Happy riding!

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Aachen – More than Just a show

Growing up competing horses in Australia, we are always hearing about the magical world of ‘Europe’ – where it seems grand prix horses grow on trees, prize money falls like rain and every second rider has a gold medal. I think most of us dream of having the opportunity to experience this world for ourselves but very few of us are ever lucky enough to make it a reality. My mother always told me to “create my own luck” and so in March this year I packed up my things, put my horses out in the paddock and got on a plane to Germany. I was working at McLean Reitsport in Germany through to the middle of May when I took a few weeks off to travel. At the beginning of June I moved to Belgium and am now working for and training with renowned Dutch-duo Penny and Johan Rockx at ‘La Fazenda.’

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Cuddles with Simone Pearce’s beautiful ‘Little Lion’ in Germany

One of the things I was 150% convinced I would get to whilst on my ‘European riding adventure’ (as it has come to be called) was Chio Aachen. This year the show fell in the weeks I had free to explore Europe, so off I went. Everyone has always said that it’s the best show in the world but I had already seen Hagen Horses and Dreams so it would have to be pretty good to impress me THAT much more. Well, I can safely say that even after everything Hagen had to offer, Aachen completely and utterly blew me away. I didn’t want to miss any of the action so I bought tickets to the dressage and the jumping and caught a train down to Aachen on the Friday night so that I would be there first thing when the gates opened at 8am on Saturday. When I walked out of the train station I immediately knew I was in the right place – there were huge bronze horse statues out the front of the station and every bus stop had instructions on how to get to Chio. Luckily the bus stop right out the front of my hotel ran regular busses to the venue so a 7:35am bus saw me waiting at the gates at 7:45. As I waited for the gates to open with the handful of people who came off the same bus as me, I was beginning to doubt if many people would come. The enormous venue looked deserted and I hoped that all this build-up would be worth it. In only ten minutes the line grew from five people to fifty and by 8am there were over 100 excited spectators anxious for their first look at Aachen 2015. In the end, 45,000 people attended Aachen over the three days of competition.

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The picturesque entry to the main stadium

I walked through the gates and headed straight for the show jumping warm up. The classes didn’t start for another hour and the shops were still opening up, so it was the perfect opportunity to have a sneak peak at the competitors before the Preis der Soers – the first competition for the day. Well I nearly had to pick my jaw up off the floor – if I though Hagen was star-studded I had another thing coming! Warming up for a big day of competition was absolute show jumping royalty including Bertram Allen, Daniel Deusser, Marcus Ehning, Rodrigo Pessoa, Kevin Staut, Hans Dieter-Dreher and Lucinda Diniz – just to name a few! The Preis der Soers competition was a single round with placings determined on penalties and time, with no jump off. It was set at 1.50m with €30,000 prize money and a special prize for the best performed German rider in the class, presented by the start and finish line and fence judges. The class was won by Frenchman Patrice Delaveau on the holsteiner stallion ‘Lacrimoso 3 HDC’ and second place and the special prize went to German young rider, 21 year old Laura Klaphake on the eight year old hanoverian ‘Cinsey,’ owned by Paul Schockemöhle.

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Delaveau and ‘Lacrimoso 3 HDC’ on their way to winning. Photo by Dirk Caremans

The second competition for the day was the Sparkassen Youngsters Cup Final for seven and eight year old horses with €10,000 prize money. The first round of this competition was run on the Friday and all horses who finished on Friday were eligible to compete on Saturday. The seven year olds jumped first, competing in reverse order of their points from Friday’s competition, over a 1.40m track. The eight year olds followed, also in reverse placing order, but with the fences raised by 5cm. All horses who jumped clear in the first round then went on to a jump off to determine final placings according to time. Every once in a while a horse catches your eye and captures your heart all at once – Scott Brash’s ride Hello M’Lord did this for me. The beautiful bay gelding jumped with an effortlessness and an ease that I doubt I will ever forget. Brash rode like the ultimate professional he is and it was a performance that really stuck with me and reminded me that it is not only your wins that will be remembered, the combination were placed fourth, but that every time we ride we have the opportunity to create real magic. The class was won by Christian Ahlmann of Germany with a time of 40.23 seconds on the eight year old grey Cassini III stallion ‘Casuality Z’.

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Scott Brash and the uber classy ‘Hello M’Lord’

The Winning Round was next up and this was an opportunity for the horses competing in the Rolex Grand Prix the next day to have a warm up class. With €60,000 prize money this 1.55m competition was very hotly contested. Each rider could start only one horse and in the first round competitors rode in reverse order of the World Rankings as at the start of the event, with those not in the rankings starting first according to a draw. The best ten athletes from the first round qualified for second round, where all scores were reset to 0 penalties and placings were determined according to penalties and time from the second round only. My favourite rounds in this class went to Denis Nielsen, Christian Ahlmann, Ben Maher, Bertram Allen and Daniel Deusser. These were not necessarily the rounds that were clean, or the fastest or with the most spectacular horses; but they all looked effortless. There is something about watching a round which flows in perfect harmony between the horse and rider, like water flowing smoothly down a river, which I find just magical. The class was won by David Will for Germany on the fifteen year old chestnut mare ‘Mic Mac du Tillard’ with zero jumping faults and a jump off time of 45.61 seconds.

David Will Aachen Victory Lap
David Will and ‘Mic Mac du Tillard’ enjoy a victory lap

By now the huge main stadium which housed the show jumping was packed out and the crowd was 100% behind every rider – feeling their pain when they took a rail and cheering like crazy for every clear round. The last class for the day was the Jump and Drive. A jump and drive consists of a show jumping round and a driven obstacle course. The rider starts first and jumps a course of eight obstacles. After the last fence they dismount, give their horse to a groom, run to the drivers’ waiting area and get on the back of the vehicle. The driver then has to complete a course with ‘marathon-type’ obstacles with the rider joining the team to help balance the vehicle. Ten riders and ten drivers were invited by the organising committee to form teams and compete. Looking at the program earlier that day I had thought that perhaps I would give this class a miss and head home for an early night as it was starting to get quite late, but the stadium was only getting more and more full so I thought I would stay and see what all the fuss was about – WOW OH WOW! Being front row for the Jump and Drive was what I can only describe as a cross between a rock show and a football game. The competition was fierce. The jumping riders were taking tighter and tighter turns and when it came to dismounting they were throwing themselves off the horses at canter and hoping the grooms would catch them. The carriage horses were cantering full speed in front of a roaring crowd, through water and tight turns, and the times were getting lower and lower.

Most of the teams came from one country but where there were carriage teams with no rider composite teams were made. When Bertram Allen and Boyd Exell entered the arena the crowd went WILD! Naturally so, what a dream team! Exell is the world’s leading driver with two WEG gold medals to his name and Allen is in top form at the moment, taking the show jumping world by storm. Together they proved to be unbeatable, posting a time of 142.27 seconds to win the class, nearly six seconds ahead of second place. As the Australian flag was displayed on the big screen and Exell performed his lap of honour I was swelling with pride and cheering like crazy and I understood exactly why everyone loves Aachen. I walked away at the end of that day on a total high and keen as mustard for the next day.

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Concentration faces! A great photo of the jump and drive by Dirk Caremans

Sunday morning I was back at the stadium bright and early, this time to watch the Deutsche Bank Preis Grand Prix Kur CDI5* (dressage to music). The top fifteen combinations from Saturday’s Grand Prix CDI danced for judges from France, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and England in hope of taking home the €150,000 prize money. Anticipating another huge crowd I got to the stadium bright and early to save a front row seat – I was not missing any of the action! The first horse entered the arena and I was a little girl in a lolly shop – Thomas Wagner’s Abanos x Lord Sinclair Hannoverian gelding ‘Amoricello’ absolutely lit my fire! Representing Germany, they rode to a mash up of Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World’ and U2’s ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ that had the whole crowd dancing and cheering for more. The horse was perhaps a little green and made a few mistakes that damaged the score, but showed MEGGA talent. Wagner made riding look like art and it was electric to watch. A disappointing score of 74.27 meant they were out of the placings but they were a combination to remember and I will definitely be keeping my eye on them in the future!!

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Thomas Wagner and the irresistible ‘Amoricello’

Fanny Verliefden of Belgium on her own Lord Loxley daughter ‘Annarico’ was next. The horse showed a softness and lightness which was absolutely standout, but sadly struggled with the changes and made too many costly mistakes to be competitive. Next to ride into the packed-out stadium was the young German girl, Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl on the Son de Niro x Jazz mare ‘Zaire 14’. This combination showed perhaps some of my favourite choreography in the competition and their music had textbook light and shade to match. Sadly though, the horse was too tense and looked too strong and tight to be competitive. Jeroen Devroe of Belgium on Daniel Lousberg’s ‘Eres DL’ were next and also out of the placings on 71.60. Terhi Stegars of Finland followed on her and Tanja Kayser’s little black stallion ‘Axis TSF.’ This super sweet horse did a nice test, the highlight of which was a canter pirouette coming straight from walk. This looked very special and I made a mental note to remember that if I am ever lucky enough to compete at such a high level! They finished on a score of 73.55. Our first five horses were over and it was time for a short break. As the athletes were competing in reverse placing order, I couldn’t see what the next set of tests had to offer!

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I was very lucky to have such a great view, right up the front for all the action!

First up for section two was Michael Eilberg for Great Britain aboard the big bay Rufs x Mitjulands gelding ‘Marakov.’ Whilst this music wasn’t so much to my taste, the transitions between the light and shade and also between paces were standout! The textbook effortlessness that melts from one part of the test to another and leaves you surprised when you realise you have gone from trot to walk and on to canter without even noticing. The picture was seamless and harmonious, however a little spoiled by an unsustained halt to finish and a tough score of 74.77. Following this big bay was a super spunky little chestnut gelding by Quattro B, ‘Qui Vincit Dynamis’ ridden by Fabienne Lütkemeier for Germany. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this combination was total WOW factor changes. They were such a highlight and paired with lovely music this test showed some super moments. Unfortunately these were spoiled by tightness in the mouth and this also spoiled the score, bringing it down to a 74.53.

Shelly Francis on Patricia Stempel’s Diamond Hit x Renoir gelding ‘Doktor’ was up next for America. With some lovely uphill work, good music and an entertaining performance they scored 75.35 to be in the lead so far. Diederik Van Silfhout of Holland rode a super test on the Royal Dutch Warmblood Hors la Loi son ‘Vorst D.’ This little chestnut was one of my favourites of the day. He showed a lightness in front and on his feet, matched with a quickness behind, that was very sporty and gave an impression of effortlessness. The piaffe was very good and a highlight for me, creating a test to remember. The score of 75.45 put them into the lead but was a little disappointing for such good work. The last combination of this second section were from the Ukraine – Inna Logutenkova on the Don Cardinale stallion ‘Don Gregorius.’ This horse was very nice with a good engine and an obvious work ethic. Unfortunately the combination were just too green for the competition and looked a little flustered, scoring only 72.07.

After another short break the tension in the stadium was rising and there was so much suspense in the air you could have cut it with a knife as the obvious crowd favourite, Isabell Werth, rode in and the fans jumped to their feet and roared with excitement and adoration. To see this many people so excited about an equestrienne gave me goose bumps – I have only ever seen this kind of outpour for singers, actors or AFL players and to be surrounded by thousands of people uncontrollably excited to see a dressage rider was a feeling I can’t quite find the right words for. That is a moment I will never forget! Werth rode Madeleine Winter-Schulze’s Don Frederico x Warkant gelding ‘Don Johnson FRH’ for Germany. A confident canter entry and a perfect square halt – she was off to a cracking start. I have to admit I liked the music in this test more than the actual work shown. There were perfectly timed, subtle changes in the music to mark the features of the test (piaffe, passage and extended trot and canter) and the modern twist on classical matched the big horse to a tee. Unfortunately ‘Don Johnson FRH’ was often downhill, and unsteady and tense in the contact at times and this, paired with some uneven steps behind in the piaffe and passage, and being a bit too slow off the ground, spoilt this test for me. Nonetheless, Werth rode very professionally and played to the gelding’s strengths in front of the home crowd with an impressive half-pass ‘zig zag’ in passage to finish for an extravagant score of 81.20 putting them way out in front. Werth has won the Grand Prix at Aachen ten times and at this late stage in the competition it looked like she might take home the title once more.

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Isabell Werth and ‘Don Johnson FRH’
Photo by
Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Following a performance like that is a tough gig to say the least but when Patrick Van Der Meer and ‘Uzzo’ entered the arena it was clear he was more than up to the job. The Royal Dutch Warmblood gelding by Lancet out of an Indoctro mare was spectacular. I was mesmerised by how beautiful and soft the whole thing was. The horse was light, straight and super correct. This combination showed, in my opinion, the best pirouettes of the class and very good changes. The music melted from one phase of the test to the next and Van Der Meer matched it extremely well. Perhaps the gelding became a little too light in the contact at times, costing them a few marks, finishing with a score of 77.05.

The sight of Steffen Peters and the imposing Laomedon x Florestan gelding ‘Legolas 92’ entering the arena gave me butterflies. The American combination is one of my favourite on the international circuit and it was a dream come true to watch them in real life. With 14 other combinations entering the stadium in a fancy passage or extended trot, it was refreshing to see them enter in a small, unassuming rising trot. Peters halted his horse, raised his hand for the music to start and magic happened. If I know one thing it is that Peters’ timing is an art. Every movement was perfectly in time with the music and he timed every aid and transition to keep his horse focused, calm and on-the-job. Some of the transitions in and out of piaffe and passage showed moments of weakness which was costly for their score, but the whole crowd was rocking along to Peters’ remix of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ which had been altered to include references to dressage and the final score of 75.00 was disappointing. Next in was the German Young Rider Sönke Rothenberger with the Fidermark x Worldchamp gelding ‘Favourit.’ This horse just oozed talent and was one of the best behind – it was easy to see why he had placed second in the Grand Prix CDI! The music was a good twist on modern and Rothenberger made it look so easy I just wanted to get on and ride myself. Perhaps a little too slow in the piaffe, but overall a super performance for a score of 77.37.

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Sönke Rothenberger and ‘Favourit.’
Photo by
Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

With only one rider left to go, Werth was still well out in front and I was beginning to seriously doubt whether anybody could touch her. Little did I know, Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén was about to bring her A-game. Riding the Don Davidoff son ‘Don Auriello’ for Sweden, Vilhelmson-Silfvén produced a very confident test which showed an ease and mastery of all the grand prix movements which was a cut above the rest of the competition. There was a harmony, flow and ease which can only come from a true confidence with the work which really stood out. The gelding was truly MEGGA in front and this, paired with good music, had the crowd cheering for a clear standout winner. The score of 82.48 was well earned and as she took her lap of honour I knew I had seen a display of some truly awesome dressage.

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Presentations for the Deutsche Bank Preis Grand Prix Kur CDI5*

With a grin so wide my jaw ached and an unmistakable skip in my step, I left the stadium to see what else my second day at Aachen had to offer. You can imagine my delight to find that not only was the Rolex Grand Prix about to start, but I was able to find a place right up against the edge of the arena under the big screen so that for every fence on the other side of the arena I could look up and watch the big screen for a perfect view. To qualify for the Grand Prix, riders had to have completed the initial round of at least one CSI5* competition so far at Aachen. There were two rounds and a jump off, with a maximum of eighteen competitors returning for the second round based on penalties and time in the first. All combinations with zero penalties were able to return for the second round. Combinations still without penalties after two rounds went into the jump off to determine final placings. With €1,000,000 up for grabs and the special Challenge Trophy of the City of Aachen to be presented to the winning rider, this 1.60m class was the highlight of the show jumping program.

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A sneak peek at the warm up before the Rolex Grand Prix

To make it even more exciting, this was the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Initiated in 2013, the Grand Slam creates a series of the Chio Aachen World Equestrian Festival, the Spruce Meadows “Masters” and the CHI Geneva whereby the rider who manages to win all three consecutively will be awarded a one million euro bonus on top of the regular prize-money. For two wins in a row, a bonus of five hundred thousand euros is awarded; and for two out of three wins (not consecutively) there are still two hundred and fifty thousand euros for the taking. Basically – a huge amount of money which attracts the top show jumpers in the world! Having won at the CHI Geneva, Scott Brash and ‘Hello Sanctos’ were under a lot of pressure to not only perform but to win the Rolex Grand Prix at Aachen. Brash is quoted as saying, “it will be very difficult…we are all athletes – we need goals. The Rolex Grand Slam gives us a goal and we will do everything in our power to claim the bonus.” Other international superstars with their eye on a slice of the Rolex Grand Slam prize pool included 2014 Aachen winner, Christian Ahlmann; number two in the world ranking list, Daniel Deusser; and Olympic gold medallist, Steve Guerdat, who won at Geneva in 2013 and had his sights set on winning the remaining two rounds of the Grand Slam: “I will do everything possible to reach this goal.”

Once again the crowd was alive and it felt like I was riding with every rider as they soared over the big, square oxers and raced around the tight turns. My favourite line to watch was the open water and then five strides straight down to a steep, airy oxer. This was a test of how well the horses responded to the riders’ aids to shorten and lengthen their strides as they had to lengthen down to the water and then shorten and sit up to make the oxer. Here is where we saw the greener horses struggle – whilst five strides is a ‘long time’ (as I can hear my jumping couch explaining in my head), quite a number fell victim to either getting too close and having to chip in a stride, taking the front rail; or cutting out a stride and being too far away, coming down on the back rail. The riders that stood out were those who looked like they did nothing – they never pumped their upper body or took a dramatic pull with their hands but, as if by magic, the horse came effortlessly back underneath them and made the related line seem like child’s-play. Some riders who ticked this box included Ben Maher, Daniel Deusser and Lucinda Diniz. In a nail-biting finish, Brash was able to make it two starts for two wins and so take home the bonus for winning two Grand Slam titles in a row and put himself and ‘Hello Sanctos’ one step closer to taking home the ultimate one million euro prize. The crowd went wild for the lap of honour and the beautiful big bay horse cantered around the arena like he knew that he was making history – it was electric to be part of that crowd!

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Scott Brash and ‘Hello Sanctos’ in the presentations

In what I was now coming to realise is ‘true Aachen style,’ nothing was short of spectacular and the Farewell of Nations which served as a sort of closing ceremony was to be no different. A parade of ponies were ridden around the main stadium, each one carrying a flag for the countries represented at the competition. Behind the ponies came the competitors, grouped according to their country. As each country was called out a greeting in their native tongue was announced and a piece of music representative of their nation was played as they waved to the tens of thousands of cheering fans. After each country had been called out and the last ‘thank-you’ had been delivered, all the riders rode one final lap of honour around the enormous stadium. The catch? Every rider pulled a white handkerchief out of their pocket and waved it in time with the music and the crowd followed. Almost immediately everyone was on their feet waving their white handkerchief, singing and cheering until the last horse had ridden out of the arena. Words can’t do justice to the power of this simple action to unite so many people and how moved I was to have been a part of it.

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A view of the Farewell of Nations from one of the grand stands, from the official Chio Aachen website

I stood on the edge of the stadium as tens of thousands of people put away their handkerchiefs, picked up their numerous shopping bags and started to walk towards the exit with a feeling I can only describe as pure elation. I was high on the adrenaline, the joy and the celebration of incredible horses and top-class sport I had just shared with so many other people just like me from all over the world. Chio Aachen – you, quite simply, blew my mind. I can’t pin-point whether it was the energy of the crowd, the quality of the competition, the atmosphere, the venue, the horses…I’m not sure what it was that made this show such a surreal, awe-inspiring experience. Something about the magic created by that show reminded me what it was like to be a little girl who fell in love with a pony and never looked back. Until next time, thank you Aachen for the memories and hats off to the organising committee for creating an experience like none-other on Earth.

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I was very sad to be leaving this behind – I hope I’m not saying goodbye, only ‘until next time!’

Until next time,

Happy riding!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highlights from Hagen

When I came over to Europe, I promised myself that even though chances are I will never compete in any of the major international competitions in this lifetime, I was going to beg, borrow and steal to get to see at least some of them during this trip. On most occasions I’m really glad I have an interest in two different disciplines – I get to cheer for twice as many fancy horses and keep up with double the fashion trends! Unfortunately, when I started to plan out my competition calendar for my European Riding Adventure, I suddenly hated my love for two sports. The weekend of the 25th-26th April saw the Longines Global Champions Tour of Antwerp (GCT) and Hagen Horses and Dreams run simultaneously. The show jumper in me was desperate to see what all the hype of the GCT was about, but my inner dressage diva knew Hagen was an unmissable part of the circuit. Both shows were similar distances away and the main classes were on the same days. In the end, Hagen won out because it offered both dressage and jumping in one show and the GCT was put back on the wish list for later in the trip.

Hagen LogoVS. GCT logo

Hagen Horses and Dreams is one of the biggest shows on the international circuit, with approximately 67,000 visitors each year, and one of the features that make it so special is that each year it is hosted by a different country. This year Australia took the honours and I was buzzing with pride to see competitors and spectators alike walking around in merchandise covered with the Southern Cross and the Australian flag. Of course, no Australian-themed event would be complete without its share of kangaroos and there were plenty on show at Hagen! From the event logo to the signposts, the kangaroo took pride of place – the show jumping arena even displayed a large selection of native Australian animal statues for decoration.

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Loved the Aussie-themed merchandise!

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Even the catering area was getting into the Australian theme

I was lucky enough to see Jan Smith whilst at Hagen. Jan has been a driving force in Dressage Australia, especially with our young riders, and taught me on the Victorian Young Dressage Rider Squad so it was very exciting to catch up with her whilst she was over here representing Australia as a ground steward. Jan was on her way to Badminton Horse Trials after Hagen – another show on the wish list! As Jan said, whilst you are over here you may as well make the most of it and see as much of this highest level of competition as you can and after experiencing this level of show I can completely understand her point of view. There is something about the world’s best being all in one place that is just electric to be a part of. I want to take the time to thank Jan and the hundreds of other people who worked tirelessly to create such a big event. I was blown away with the standard of the facilities, the efficiency of the organisation and how ‘user friendly’ the whole experience was for spectators – talk about a dream team!!

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An Aussie invasion! Loved catching up with Simone Pearce and Jan Smith

I spent my Sunday at Hagen embracing my inner-show jumper watching both the Grand Prix and the young horse class. In the Grand Prix I had the pleasure of watching a number of the world’s top riders who I had only ever dreamed of seeing in the flesh, including Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and John Whitaker. A number of Australian riders were competing at Hagen, including Jamie Kermond who rode a cracking double clear aboard Quite Cassini in the Grand Prix for third place. The little bay horse was on fire and looked to be in fantastic form and the Aussies in the crowd couldn’t have been prouder of this super team, cheering like crazy when that perfect 0.0 score was posted. The Hagen Horses and Dreams official website reported that “The DKB Riders Tour is unknown territory for Jamie Kermond from Australia. He jumped to third place with…Quite Cassini which was also his first start at the CSI in Hagen.”

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Picture-perfect seats to enjoy all the show jumping action at Hagen

The ‘young horse’ class completely blew me away – these seven and eight year old horses jumped a tough 1.40m track like seasoned professionals. The riders varied from young riders right through to some of the world’s best and the Aussies were well represented here too with Phil Lever and James Patterson-Robinson both competing. This class was a real showcase of some of the up-and-coming jumping horses and promised a bright future for international grand prix classes. With horses jumping this well and succeeding at this level of competition so young, it comes as no surprise that the number and quality of horses competing in the biggest classes is always increasing.

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Pleaseeeee mum, can I have this one?!

Australian riders had a very important role to play at Hagen as part of the host country.  Many of our European-based riders were posting great scores in the competition arenas of both disciplines. Jamie Kermond was a stand out in the jumping with his third place in the Grand Prix. In the Grand Prix CDI dressage, two Australians made it into the freestyle. Briana Burgess and La Scala were placed 13th on 68.775 with Lyndal Oatley and Sandro Boy close behind in 15th position on 65.550. It is also worth noting that Mary Hanna’s ‘Boogie Woogie’ was placed 7th in the Grand Prix CDN with Malin Nilsson on 70.488 – a score not to be ignored!

Aussies were also prominent in the media-side of the event. The Hagen ‘mascot’ each year is a full size ceramic horse, decorated in the theme of the host country. This mascot is immortalised in a statue and images of it feature on all the tickets, programmes and signage for the show. Who better than to design the ultimate Australian-themed Hagen mascot, than Australia’s very own Katharine Farrell of New South Wales? Katherine is a member of the National Youth Development Squad and a very successful Grand Prix competitor with her elegant Luxor 118. It was very exciting to see Katharine’s horse ‘brought to life’ and I’m sure she dreams that one day soon she will be taking a horse she can ride to Hagen as well.

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Katharine’s Australian design featured next to a horse painted in the German flag in the show jumping arena

As if the sheer size and quality of the competition wasn’t enough, Hagen also brought the goods with respect to a super user-friendly show. Want a bit of retail therapy between watching your favourites? No problem, just hit up the huge trade village with everything from fence paint to brow-bands and every option in-between. Peckish? The indoor catering area with over nine different types of cuisine and rows upon rows of tables and chairs to sit out of the elements and enjoy a meal with a good view of the show jumping has you sorted. Want to know more about the show? It has its own newspaper! All t’s were crossed and all i’s were dotted, so to speak. As I sat down with my lunch in front of the show jumping I picked up a copy of the Hagen Horses and Dreams newspaper and opened up to an article about an Australian name synonymous with dressage – the Oatleys. “From Hooves to Hamilton Island – Australia’s Oatley Family” explained how Bob Oatley “decided to try to help lift the standard of our Olympic equestrian teams in the 1970s by bringing to Australia the first Hannoverian” and a number of his other achievements and contributions to tourism, sport, medical research and visual arts which led to him being awarded an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). It was a great piece, giving insight into another side of one of the biggest names in equestrian sport to come out of Australia, and also introducing the beauty of Oatley’s Hamilton Island to the international readership at Hagen.

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The indoor catering area

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The Hagen Horses and Dreams Festival Newspaper

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Loved seeing an Australian legend in the spotlight!

At the end of the day, the figures from Hagen came in at: 326 riders from 38 nations; 572 horses; 65,000 paying visitors; 14,000 sausages; 6,000L of beer; 5,000 bottles of wine; 3,800 burgers; 1,800kg of French fries; and 2,000 staff member meals. That’s one hell of a show!!

Now that I have been to Hagen, do I regret choosing it over the GCT? Not for a second. I LOVED the Hagen experience and even more so because it was a showcase of all things Australian. A spectator could want for nothing more than what Hagen presented, and the level of competition was on a level I had never experienced before. To see so many quality horses and riders come together was a dream come true and big inspiration to go home and work hard to raise the standard of my own riding. So the Global Champions Tour is still on the wish list and I am back to the drawing board with my competition calendar – stay tuned for the next instalment!

Until next time,

Happy riding!

 

 

Equitana Germany, Visitors, Celebrations and Spring

Well if there is one thing I can say about the girls over here at McLean Reitsport it is that they are far from lazy! Between working long days, studying and maintaining a social life there is hardly time to catch a breath. Since my last blog update I have been to Equitana Germany, attended my first horse show, we have been visited by Amelie Gropper and Simone Pearce, we celebrated Bennet Conn’s birthday as well as Easter, a beautiful baby boy was born and – believe it or not – it looks like Spring is finally coming!

Equitana:
It has been weeks since Equitana now and I think I am STILL recovering. I can genuinely say that I have never seen anything like that in my life! Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer size of this event. I have attended Equitana in Melbourne a number of times and have accepted that it is simply impossible to get through the entire show in one day. Well, I attended two days of Equitana Germany and can confidently say it would be impossible to get through everything there in one week!

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I was like a child in a lolly shop with all the beautiful European fashions!

On first entering Equitana I was impressed – the stands were all enormous and boasted the world’s top brands from Equiline to Samshield, Kingsland, Petrie, De Niro, Kyron, Mattes, Pikeur, Eskadron, KEP, GPA, Animo and much much more. Once I walked through this hall and realised that there were nine (from memory) more halls, some more than twice the size of this one, I nearly died.

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They have saddle blankets in every colour combination imaginable…

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And stirrups..

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And fleece…

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And even boots!

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And what would equestrian be without a bit of bling?!

On top of the quality clothing and saddlery brands, they also had a huge range of beautiful trucks and trailers in every shape and size imaginable. There were talented artists with paintings, drawings, cards and statues. Another feature which really captured my attention was the number of stands where you could have saddle blankets and bonnets made or customised. Lots of people were choosing colour combinations to have made into blanket sets in front of them and then customising them with crystals, embroidery etc. – you name it, they can do it! One store I loved had an online boot-simulator which allowed you to design the most incredible top boots I have ever seen. You could choose the boot shape and colour (everything from brown to purple, orange or crocodile skin) and then add details with stitching, laces, crystals, studs and pretty much anything else you could think of. I had a lot of fun playing with the idea of purple patent leather tall boots, however I felt these may not be so well received in the competition arena back home.

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Just a selection of some of the amazing boot designs 

Equitana ran for a week and each day had a different theme. The first day I attended the theme was ‘Sport horses’ and I was lucky enough to watch the final of the indoor short course eventing. Wow oh wow! The best way I can describe what I watched in this amazing competition is the technicality of some of the hardest jumping courses I have ever seen, but with cross country fences in a dressage-sized arena. The arena was very long and thin which meant the riders were required to ride tight turns and fast changes of direction. The fences were portable cross country obstacles including brushes, arrowheads, suspended logs, oxers, skinnies and roll-tops. The class was judged on time so each rider completed the entire course against the clock.

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Some photos of the indoor eventing course

As the class went on the riders took shorter and shorter lines and started to really kick on and pick up the pace – the whole audience was on the edge of our seats oohing and aahing. I loved that the competitors ranged from teenagers on ponies and younger riders on older schoolmasters to Olympians on younger horses and even the legendary Ingrid Klimke. The atmosphere was intense and the huge audience (a completely packed-out stadium) was riding every jump along with the competitors. Ingrid rode last to a very convincing win and the crowd were right behind her – what an experience! Watching this competition reminded me how important it is to perfect the hardest lines in our jumping training so that when we compete it seems effortless. There was a clear difference between the professionals who rode the challenges cool, calm and collected and looked like they had all the time in the world whilst posting the quickest times; and the amateurs who looked adrenalized, frazzled and fast which in the end only slowed them down. I could hear Adam Wootten in the back of my head telling me to stop jumping easy lines and train the things I think are impossible and I could understand why – thanks Adam!

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Ingrid easing her way into first place

For those who are into gadgets – I have never seen such a crazy huge range of equine performance technology! There were huge automatic horse walkers where the horses walk on a track that surrounds an arena, treadmills, swimming pools, solariums and everything in between. There was also a model Finnish house which looked like a small wooden igloo – it was very fun to see how all these new things worked! The equestrian industry is developing at such a great rate and to be in the middle of all these new technologies was very very cool.
Equitana Germany is easily one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced and I whole heartedly recommend adding it to the bucket list!

My first German dressage show:
Well my first German show was not exactly what I expected. A ‘tiny practice show’ at a local stable surprised me in two ways.

The first was that not every horse was a warmblood ridden by a professional. There was a huge range of combinations from kids on naughty ponies that bucked them off in the warm up to haflingers to professional riders on horses that made my jaw drop. I guess more than anything it was a bit of a reality check – I had this false impression that everyone in Europe was a Charlotte Dujardin in the making and by attending this tiny show I came to realise that everybody has a journey and everybody starts somewhere. We are all at different stages of chasing the same dream, no matter who we are or where in the world we are, and I really liked that.

The second thing that caught my attention was how much of a spectator sport dressage is over here. Although it was a very small show, with only one 40x60m arena, there was a crowd of people standing out in the cold to watch the horses and riders. Upon speaking to another Australian lady now based with McLean Reitsport, I have come to understand that here it is not seen as something only ‘horsey’ people can enjoy. Everyone from the local town sees watching a horse show as a nice, social event for a Sunday afternoon and so they come down for some food, drinks and entertainment. This is what we hope to achieve at our biggest events in Australia and it was so inspiring to see it at a small one over here. I hope that we continue to aim for this back home as it really added an atmosphere to the event.

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Happy with a job well done for Team McLean Reitsport

Visitors:
There is never a dull moment here at McLean Reitsport and we have had a number of visitors come to stay. The lovely Amelie Gröpper came to work and train with us for two weeks. Amelie is a very talented, hard-working young German rider and it was very exciting to watch her training her horse ‘Carl’. Seeing the standard of Amelie’s riding at just 17 years old on a horse she has trained herself really showed me how good you have to be to keep up with the best – motivation levels through the roof!

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Amelie at a competition (took this one from Facebook – sorry Ami!)

We have also had one of Australia’s most popular Europe-based young riders, Simone Pearce, staying with us for a few weeks whilst she relocates. Simone had three horses here: her super cute grand-prix pocket rocket ‘Little Lion,’ her Australian bred ‘Faust’ and her new ride, the uber handsome jumping stallion ‘Now on Top.’ I have loved having another Aussie girl around and it’s been great to pick Simone’s brain. Having been based in Europe since she was seventeen, starting her career as a working pupil and moving on to be a professional rider for some of Europe’s biggest stables, Simone is a walking encyclopaedia of all things European dressage and jumping from fashion to stallions and competitions. I have loved watching Simone ride some of our sales horses, as well as train ‘Now on Top’ with Charlotte Westerlund. She has also allowed me to ride the very cool ‘Faust’ which has been a great experience! Simone left yesterday for Holland to train with ‘Now on Top’ – can’t wait to see this combination out and about on the European show jumping circuit!

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Simone training ‘Faust’ 

Celebrations:
Upon arriving in Germany I was told that over here every public holiday or celebration is a big deal and Easter weekend certainly proved that! The Saturday night we celebrated Bennet Conn’s birthday with a pyjama party and it was great to have a large group of Australian riders now based in Europe all together. I loved catching up with Angela Donaldson who I used to work with at Oakside Stud in Adelaide and who rode Danson Wolkenaction before I purchased him. Angela is now riding for Sprehe and has quickly started to call Germany home – they are lucky to have her over here! Australians know how to party and we were all dragging our feet to take the horses out on Sunday morning.

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The Australian crowd at Ben’s PJ Party

Easter Sunday brought an even bigger celebration. Without much idea what I was in for, I headed out with a few of the German members of our stables to an Easter Party held by a local farmers association. When we arrived what I saw far surpassed my expectation – an enormous indoor arena had been transformed into the best party hall I have ever seen. A stage and dancefloor up one end, tables and seating at the back and then four portable bars set up throughout the middle. Filling every square inch of the rest of the indoor were young people from the local town celebrating, catching up and, most importantly, dancing. We had a fabulous night and I’m very grateful to everyone for including me in the celebrations – I’m quickly learning that the Germans know a thing or two about partying as well!

The most important celebration of all since I have been here, however, has been the birth of Warwick and Carolina’s beautiful baby boy. Benjamin Neil McLean was born on the 27th March at 10:40am and he is the most beautiful little bundle of life I have ever seen. ‘Benji’ has a great range of outfits, including a star-printed onesie his father sported the adult version of at Bennett’s birthday party; and loves going ‘cross country’ (aka having his stroller pushed across the most uneven ground you can find).  He has grown so much already and is a little celebrity wherever he goes. Congratulations Linus and Warwick on your gorgeous son.

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Beautiful little Benji

Spring is coming:
FINALLY! I thought I was destined to a life of thermals, the heater cranked up as high as it goes and sleeping under two doonas but these last few days the sun has started to shine and I think I’m finally thawing out. It’s been great to be able to enjoy a few barbeques in the sun and socialise after work – not to mention riding outside! Last Sunday I went on a hack out in the field with Simone Pearce and Anna Ahava, a young Finnish rider based here and I think all six of us (the horses included) were happy as can be wandering along and soaking up the sun.

Bubbles cuddles Hacking out
Sunday funday on the beauiful Faust

I should also mention that Rock Tape is one of the best things I put in my suitcase! My osteo had suggested I use Rock Tape to help improve my posture and I had seen it advertised in relation to equestrian by Amanda Ross. Deb Palmer bought me a roll at the Boneo Classic and since being here I have used it to create a shoulder brace, to support sore wrists and on a toe which was unceremoniously stepped on by a young stallion. I remember Morgan Duel speaking once at a Young Ambassador Training Camp about how essential bailing twine is in any tack box and I’m 100% sure this super handy product challenges it for top spot – I am officially a Rock Tape convert!! You can check this great stuff out here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RockTape/516042828539810?fref=ts

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So many pretty colours!! 

Next week we are off to Hagen Horses and Dreams Meets Australia and I couldn’t be more excited! This event combines top level competition in dressage and jumping and is one of the biggest weekends in the European Equestrian calendar. Over 67,000 visitors are expected to attend. One of the show’s biggest features is that the host country changes each year and with Australia being the most distant host country to date (16 612km away as the crow flies) it should be an event to remember. You can find out more here: http://horses-and-dreams.de/eng/home.html?hid= – I promise to take lots of photos!

Happy riding!