Many people dream of traveling abroad, and I'm one of them. So when Meaghan Byrne '08, equestrian associate, sent out an email to students in the equestrian department asking if we'd be interested in riding in Germany, my answer was a resounding yes. Vechta, Germany, is one of the most successful equestrian hubs in the world. Home to world-renowned auctions and more green pastures than I can count, I can see why. We were lucky enough to study and ride at the State Equestrian College at Weser-Ems.
Our group of 13 was one of the largest that the State Equestrian College had ever had, so they separated us into three riding groups. Our first ride of the day was the dressage lesson. The riding instructors at Averett are fantastic, and so were the ones in Germany. What was different was the teaching style. It was up to us as riders to figure out what was going wrong and to decide how we'd fix it. The instructors only intervened if we were really struggling. It was pretty enlightening to ride this way. I felt empowered knowing that I was making the correct choices in order to better my rides.
After the ride, we spent about an hour and a half studying theory, which included everything from building materials to equine anatomy. No topic was left untouched because at the end of the trip, we had the chance to showcase our progress and test for the small bronze medal offered by the German Equestrian Federation. In order to earn our medals, we had to get a score of five or higher on each aspect of the test. Since we had no idea what questions the judges would ask us, we wanted to be absolutely prepared.
After theory was over, we did a quick cleanup of the barn and were able to go home for lunch. Unlike in the States, lunch is considered the "big" meal of the day. The main dish was usually some form of chicken or pork and included side dishes like potatoes and salad. After lunch, we had some serious down time. In Germany, a lunch break can last up to two hours. More often than not, I took advantage of this free time by taking a nap.
Our second ride of the day was the jumping portion. Although Averett has a number of jumping horses, and we can take jumping courses, none of it was close to my experience in Germany. The horses we rode were simply phenomenal. On any given day we were jumping fences between three feet and three and a half feet. It was hard to feel discouraged or afraid with horses so good. We all knew that our mounts would take care of us.
After the second ride, we had another theory session, where we studied some more. Around 6 p.m., we would wrap things up for the day. This was our chance to explore the town of Vechta. Most of the regular shops closed around 6:30, but because it was Christmas time, the Christmas markets were setup in the town square. Almost every stall in the market sold something handmade. From the food (Nutella stuffed crepes), to candles made from beeswax, to Christmas decorations (hardened gingerbread cookies); everything was one-of-a-kind.
On the weekends, there were day trips that gave us a chance to explore the region. We visited the Bückeburg Palace, which is the seat of the princes of Schaumburg-Lippe. We were only able to see half of the castle because the members of the royal family still live in the palace. We also went to the site of the former concentration camp Esterwegen. Once the second largest camp (only smaller than Dachau), all the main buildings were demolished by 1959 and the barracks sites are now covered by lava rocks and trees. Now, visitors can see artifacts and models of the camp.
At the end of the 18 days was testing day. We had been practicing our dressage test religiously and had the jumping pattern memorized. We could spout off management and riding theory in our sleep. Only one of our judges spoke English, so we had to rely on Alex Wortmann, our primary instructor, to be our translator. After our rides, Alex would sneak us a thumbs-up to assure us that we did well. I can't tell you everything that happens on test day, it would ruin the experience for next year's group of travelers — but everyone passed.
The trip wasn't easy. We had traveled to a foreign country that was 10 hours ahead. Our days usually exceeded 16 hours, without those midday naps. Riding is physically exhausting. The studying was mentally exhausting. We worked hard, giving 110 percent every day. And it was worth it. Every student came home with their small bronze medal and everyone, including Meaghan and Ginger Henderson '91, equestrian studies professor, earned their Basis Pass, which is a test to highlight general horsemanship knowledge required by the German Equestrian Federation. This trip highlighted one of the most important truths of the Equestrian world: "If you want to go far in this sport, you can't just have skill. You have to persevere through everything it throws at you."
To view photos from the trip, go to the department's Facebook page by clicking here and then click on photos and then albums.
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