Posted by: deloise | April 21, 2011

Sometimes cute horses fall into your lap

It is rare but it does happen. One of the trainers has had a couple young cheap horses brought to him or he has found some cute ones by accident I think, and they all have potential. It is good to get them out of his hands quickly, however, because his training methods are less than desirable. When I returned from the States, one of the girls was catching me up on the gossip, and she wanted me to see the couple new horses that have arrived in the past couple of weeks, so she showed me this adorable brown horse standing in his stall, and when he lifted his head out of a dirty pile of hay, I could see her infatuation with him. On the middle of his forehead was a giant bright heart, embellished only by a small snip on his muzzle. Now I have long gotten over being a sap, but I have to admit I was pretty stricken at the sight of him. Tiana went on to say he knew nothing but was the laziest horse she had ever met. She can recognize lazy, because it is pretty rare in these parts, I have to say. Kidding around, I asked if he was a hunter in the making, but her reply to anything I ask is always “yes, yes he is!” so I decided to take her enthusiasm in stride and see how he goes. A couple days later, it was time to see him under tack. I had arrived on a Saturday, so by this time it was Tuesday, and he probably had last been ridden last Friday, was my best guess. Laurens tacked him up and brought him into the indoor ring first to make sure he wouldn’t buck her off or crow hop, or anything, and before she finished two laps, she was beating him with a stick to find any kind of rhythm at the trot or canter. I like that. Outside he was the same horse, loping lazily around the ring, it was only about ten or fifteen minutes before the tank was empty and he wanted to walk. Nothing fazed him, other horses, bicycles, pigeons underfoot, even the uncontrollable sprinklers that turn on without any warning between ten am and noon.

The following day we tried him over some poles and jumps. How could a three year old ten days under the saddle possibly know how to jump? At first he balked, but it was more like he was staring to figure out what to do with the timber on the ground. Were they toys? Obstacles? I led him through the poles the first time, but he got the hang of it right away and cleverly trotted over the cavalettis. Next we tried a crossrail, and I was thinking I was a bit mad to be attempting all of this on the first day, but he gave no indication it wasn’t fun, so I went with it.

What a horse. As for the working and living situation, it is amazing to me how doors open just when you need them to. Abdel’s youth and inexperience is definitely not the right avenue for me. He has to cut corners, take horses on the cuff left and right, swing horse deals cleverly, too cleverly for me, and I am well beyond the point where I can be tossed around like a rag doll and live with any uncertainty for my future. I have little time left here, and I have been independent my entire life, so partnering with another dealer has proven to have too many headaches to make it worthwhile. We either don’t agree on horses, or money, or situations, and standing back watching while someone quite a bit younger makes mistakes I have witnessed already in my life is a drag. I knew in my head Spain was a temporary fix for someone in need, and I loved going to the show with him, meeting new people, making great connections, seeing a country I found beautiful and scary at the same time, but in the short time visiting home, the twelve horses grew to nineteen and I knew I was toast. I could smell disaster. I received a frantic text on the way to the airport that there were problems with the financial situation, he wasn’t prepared to pay for my apartment and anything on top for basically 7 days a week labor, and he had hired another boy that was close to the stables that might be a better option for him. Wow, panic much? I drank a couple little bottles of wine on the plane and tried to calm myself down. I convinced myself I am scrappy, I have made it out of far worse situations, right? I mean, no home, no car, and in a foreign country isn’t too terrible is it?

The anger hadn’t receded too much upon my arrival in Belgium, although the little distractions were good for me as I made my way back to the stable via trains and a bus, and I couldn’t imagine anyone would actually throw me out on the street, and say good luck. I didn’t eat much, thinking it was a good time to diet anyway, and no way was I spending any extra Euros if I didn’t need to, but I did sit down with Katrein and explain to her my full situation. She manages the whole farm, and makes most of the decisions, taking the biggest problems to Alex to mull over. I asked if I could trade the apartment for a few days of work, and she thought it sounded reasonable and took it back to Alex for his thoughts. By Monday night they assured me it was fine and I could work three or four days a week in exchange for room and board and a car would be provided upon request. By Wednesday night Jessica, the daughter, was convinced she wanted me full time, and by Thursday I was officially staff with salary, and a car full time. Did I mention Alex owns a BMW dealership? My beamer arrives Monday.

Posted by: deloise | April 17, 2011

Following Spain

April 2011. Spain was great. Interesting, fun, funny, and different. I do well with different. I am intrigued by other cultures, lifestyles, and interpretations, yet realizing the common thread. We are all connected by the horse. We love the horse. If someone were to ask me which part of the horse I found most interesting, I would have to say its eye. I love looking at the whole horse, the beauty of its structure, the way the hindquarters speak power, the way the shoulder drops down from the withers, the curvature of its top line, the thickness of its neck, but my eyes look to the head and always come to rest on its eye. I always wonder how he is perceiving the world, and us. Horses, I believe, do love humans, understand that we are caring for them, feeding them, turning them out, leading them through life, and the longer we spend with an individual horse, the deeper the bond becomes. As a culture, people fall in love with another person and find an emotional or physical connection that lasts a lifetime and is rarely duplicated. Horse people tend to fall in love with one special horse in our lives, and like boyfriends, every horse after that pales in comparison. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to make it work, but if you really talk to a horse person about the most special horse in his or her life, there is one that holds space as the most loved and adored creature above all others. A space is reserved in our hearts for that particular horse of a lifetime,

my horse of a lifetime, Zebe

that makes us feel lucky or honored to have been a part of an animal’s life and sharing in the wonderment of it all. People that cannot make a connection with an animal don’t stand a chance with a horse person! Luckily, my husband is a cat person, so he has been able to survive through my devotion to the horse despite my long absences, trials and tribulations, as I continue with my matchmaking services for other horse people in the world. My last visit home was far too short and I was very sad to leave after only two weeks, but my appreciation to him and the rest of my friends and family is boundless and I hope to make them all proud. My life is possible only because of them, and I am incredibly fortunate to have such wonderful people be so supportive. Time slips by so quickly, and before you have a chance to gather your own thoughts it could be too late to make a difference, so I try to focus on all of the good things in our lives, and dispose of the garbage. So when the thieves were making off with my backpack containing two computers, my video camera, my jewelry, and all my personal belongings, and I watched helplessly as the metro doors closed behind them and they drifted away into the darkness, I was able to pull myself together and cope, and find the strength not to completely break down in shock and desperation. I hadn’t been hurt or wounded, and I recognized it as a setback, but not the end, even though I allowed a few tears to escape following the incident!

The theft occurred in the train station in Antwerp on my way to Geneva, Switzerland where I was to get on a plane to come home for a short stay before returning to Belgium. I am not a naïve traveler by any means, but this certainly jump started me to being much more diligent about watching everyone around me keeping my back to the wall at all times! I faced my fears head on when returning to Amsterdam, and purchased a train ticket to Antwerp, then followed it up with a bus ticket to the stable from the city center. I am not a fan of buses, or bus stations, but was determined to see it through to the end, so I found the ticket agent, handed over two Euros, and waited for almost an hour for the bus to Halle. It was a beautiful day in Antwerp, the sun was shining, there were hordes of people milling about sight-seeing, young and old, and I enjoyed watching the activity. I was prickly to a group of young men who looked like they were about to ask me a question, and they quickly walked away, leaving me alone to wait for the bus to arrive. It did, on time and within 45 minutes I was disembarking a hundred yards from the stable, pink suitcase intact, shoulder bag and purse undisturbed. I was exhausted but completely satisfied by the trip.

I took stock of the stables since my departure, learned about some changes in staff, Abdel hired a boy in the neighborhood to care for his horses in the mornings, but it unclear if it is temporary or permanent, and Kim has been let go, also for unclear reasons, and I was saddened of the news, she was very good to me and helped me through difficult times when I first arrived and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing in the stables. She worked for the owner of the farm, Alex, and I will miss her greatly. Abdel is in Lummen at a horse show with the Swedish girl Lynn, whom I lived with in the lorry in Spain. I had given her the keys to my apartment while I was away so she could shower and sleep in a real bed if she wanted, and I was thankful everything looked as I had left it two weeks ago. Ian’s horse truck was gone, so I assumed he was at a show with his newly acquired 5 year old stallion, and took the other two left behind out to graze in the sun. Marcel and Elka were returning from a week holiday in Turkey, and Laurence was suffering from a broken toe, albeit still riding dutifully as many as she could during the day. I felt like I had been gone for a month, not two weeks, and was grateful not to have missed too much more. I headed to bed early, happy to be back in Belgium and excited for whatever lies ahead.

Posted by: deloise | March 7, 2011

Spain?

Ok so I am in Spain. It was sort of a last minute decision, someone needed help for a horse show, the horse show is five or six weeks long, and I couldn’t really think of any reason not to go, so I agreed to help out. I mean, I haven’t really seen the sun in months, and it has become my weird mantra to see and experience as much as possible in a short amount of time, so why not? I already know the rider, an Egyptian born, Belgian residing, named Abdel Said(pronounced Sah-eed), he has been stabled next to us for the last several months, and I have been periodically helping him out with his horses while he has been away at shows, scouting equitation horses for him, and riding for him a bit, so I already know the basics. He had organized nine horses for the Sunshine Tour in the very south of Spain, but needed an extra person for riding, managing the horses, that sort of thing, so it seemed an ideal position for me. I had to drive a small horse truck, while someone else drove the big lorry, and follow him for two days through the hills of France and Spain down to Cadiz, which I later learned is a very short boat ride from Africa. (I have yet to see Africa, but it is on my list.) We stopped once for a few hours in a training stable in Bordeaux, France, to give the horses a few hours to rest, and us to get a few hours of shut-eye, then continued on through the night. Almost all of the driving was at night, so I saw very little of the countryside, but hopefully we will drive during the day on the way back. As we approached the horse show it was starting to get light, and the palm trees started to warm my heart, we passed through Seville during rush hour, but I didn’t mind, there was a lot to take in. I was excited, rolled my windows down and snapped silly photos left and right of anything I could through the truck windows. I was particularly impressed with the giant bull on the hillside and almost ended up in the ditch trying to get enough photos of him. I have really missed the sun. The warmth of the truck was almost too much for me to bear, and I sung along with the radio, which was playing a ton of Michael Jackson. Sung maybe an understatement. I almost lost my voice entirely from the racket I was producing. Lynn and Tim were in the lorry ahead of me, our walkie talkies had died ages ago (my fault – I was telling Lynn funny stories about myself to keep her awake when it was her turn to drive), so I took advantage of my alone time and shouted “I’m Bad,I’m Bad” over and over again to the Spanish drivers flying by me.

layover in France

Lorry, layover France

helper dog in France

Abdel is only 21 years old, but only a few people realize that because he has been around Holland and Belgium for years, showing very successfully as a junior, riding with Emile Hendrix, an infamous trainer and dealer in Holland. He was riding for another dealer until the middle of last summer, when he decided enough of working that hard for someone else, it was time to try it on his own. His mother lives in Germany, his father in the south of Egypt (out of harms way from the political disturbances) and he currently resides in Antwerp with his fiancée, Sacha, more commonly known as Sunny. He moved into our stables with four or five horses and before we knew it, he was asking for room for ten or twelve. Ambitious he is, there is no doubt. Experience in the ring he has plenty. The rest of the stuff he is figuring out as he goes along, and I admire his fortitude. It is easy to want to help him, because he is young enough to still have a positive attitude about the horses business, and be good-natured on all levels. He loves his horses, has some really good ones, as well as difficult ones that people know he can develop easily. I fit really well, because the horses I can ride while he stays in contact with his owners and clients. I am thankful not to have to pay his phone bill each month. He could not possibly ride 9 horses every day in Spain, so it made sense for me to come, and with two pairs of eyes scouting horses, we can really know what is going on at the horse show.

Ferdinand on a hillside

Driving in Spain

Early morning view of Lower Rings

Week one has been great. After I learned the scheduling, which is entirely different than home, it wasn’t too hard. Young horses show in their age group, five year olds, six year olds, seven year olds, and older horses show in either a small tour or big tour, depending on your desired fence height. Each horse shows one class a day for three days, and a rider is only allowed to show one horse in each class. If we had brought any more horses, we would have been in trouble, there are just enough classes for each horse and for Abdel to ride them all. We have four young horses and five older horses, so Tuesday through Thursday he shows Zoe, Nelson, Fairplay, and Kohinoor. I hack the others, then it swaps on the weekend. In the meantime, I have to watch as many young horses show as I can so I can figure out what I like or don’t like and what else is for sale. So far, I have found three very desirable horses, hunters, and a couple of ideal jumpers, and I stalk them through the week, snapping photos of them, or taping them in the ring so I can remember to ask about them later. My bubbly personality has endeared several people thus far, and I have been quick to make friends here, or at least acquaintances. I wear lots of colorful clothing, so I tend to stand out in the crowds of navy and black. What is it with the Europeans and their insistence on drab clothing. Everyone looks identical, all Kingsland, all the time. Enough already! Bring out the pink! Why is everyone so serious? Never in my life have I been so appalled at fashion sense. I though Spain would be different, but clearly I was way wrong – I have only seen one person with colorful accessories, and I complimented her on it at great length. We joked about how dull everyone else was, she even had a pink bridle rack and pink pitchfork, so I encouraged her to find more stuff in pink, but she admitted it was hard to find here. One more reason, Americans are more fun, we love color.

The Brits at the end of the barn set out two American flag chairs, which I commented on the very first day of arrival. Although slow to warm up to me at first, when they learned more about me, they were pleased to brag about acquiring them in Palm Beach the year before, and how much they enjoyed setting them up in horse shows. I really helped them like me more when I tripped over my own spurs trying to get a horse into the wash stall and lay flat out on my back squawking like a trapped chicken with the horse pulling me backwards through the mud like a donkey. How is that for a first impression? I got up, covered in mud, looked around at the crowd of twenty people staring, and said “this is only the start of the free entertainment! More exciting things still to come!” p.s. always laugh at yourself when you are an idiot, people will remember you in a better light.

So the first week was busy, very busy, but it was a good start, the horses were all pretty well behaved, with a few needing a learning curve adjustment, but nothing terrible. They all appear to be just as happy to be in Spain as I am. It has to feel better than winter in Belgium! I keep saying by the end of circuit we are going to have an incredible string of horses, they get stronger and better every day, and the young horses see so much, their little brains are on overdrive. It is a smaller show than Ocala, Florida, for sure, but there is way more to see. There are 11 rings total, schooling and show, some grass, some sand, and colorful big courses, with banners and flags everywhere. You have to descend a steep hill for the lower rings on one side of the horse show, which has led to some pretty spectacular horse acrobatics when they realize halfway down they are pretty far from the stables (not ours, other people’s), and once at the bottom, the openness can be too much for them to handle. I still wear my helmet religiously, and am constantly amazed at the people refusing to mess up their hair when their horses are seriously hell bent on killing them before they even walk into the rings. The lungeing ring is not even fenced in, and I have seen loose horses terrorizing crowds of people and horses tearing across the asphalt back to the barns, lunge lines whipping behind them, creating a domino effect of rearing, darting sideways, slipping, spinning, things that would have Americans out with lumber and nails in a second to create a safer environment. Not here. It is truly wild.

lower rings, looking from schooling into show ring

Abdel showing Zoe, the million dollar baby

a hunter I am secretly stalking

Posted by: deloise | January 25, 2011

Rainy weekend, French customers

Since losing the car to the auto repair shop in Arnhem, I have been a little sad. I have grown quite attached to the Audi, even with its’ shortcomings, it certainly makes me feel safer than driving the little elf. The Renault elf is waiting ever so patiently in the driveway, but it irks me with its noisiness and grinding brakes, so I have been ignoring it, and ignoring the outside of the stable. It has been raining for days anyway, so what little motivation I had for exploring has vanished this week.

Most people went to horse shows this weekend, and despite still being sick and feverish I wanted to get caught up on some riding and even ride for some other people in the barn. Taking advantage of the peace and quiet of the empty indoor, I made a video of one of Abdel’s horses, as an equitation prospect, and his groom Kathleen commanded the camera for that one. I attempted to get Natalie to help me make a couple of videos of our horses. However, she had a hard time holding the camera still, and focusing on the horse, so I was pretty seasick after thirty seconds of watching her tapes. She really wanted to help, so I felt bad when I had to tell her that her movie making skills weren’t going to make YouTube. I blamed it on the horses, and said they didn’t photograph well. Natalie works for the people next to us, unless no one is watching, then she kind of hangs out in the barn. I try to avoid having too much eye contact with her most of the time, because she tends to stick like Velcro, or duct tape, but she is sweet. There are security cameras in the barn, so I am kind of surprised no one has caught on to her idleness, but hey, not really my problem.

Saturday night I had about a thirty minute warning that there were customers on the way for three horses, and I was going to be stuck with them alone. It was already 7 pm, and I wasn’t exactly thrilled for that one, but hauled my butt off the couch to go meet them.  They were French, kind of arrogant, and demanded to know why I wasn’t in Palm Beach. I replied that I thought Belgium was more interesting than Palm Beach at the moment, but if they asked me again, I would be happy to head to the airport if it made them happier. They didn’t seem to get the sarcasm, or just thought I was crazy, either way, I didn’t feel obligated to be too nice to them. They complained about each horse, like I was the one who they should be negotiating with, but I shrugged, rode them all perfectly anyway, and said better luck next time. I heard they made a lowball offer on one of the horses the next day, but so far have been denied.

Monday rolled in, rainy again, and it was busy. Another set of French guys stopped by to see a few of the horses, and I was put on riding duty for it. Sometimes I wonder of the testosterone makes people a bit goofy, because it seemed as if it was a bit of a game to them. Ian told me to make the horses look easy, because these were most likely bad pilots, and they wouldn’t bother to get on any horses that didn’t look like a five year old could ride them. I responded with something like, well good thing you have an idiot American girl riding for you, because if I can get the horses around, anybody can, right? Jesus. And that’s exactly how it panned out. The one guy couldn’t be shown up by a girl, so he had to get on every horse I rode, whether he liked it or not. Even the last horse, newly arrived, wild, unbroken, with a penchant for standing on its hind legs every few minutes and waving to the crowds (which was kind of aggravating) instead of going forward and actually jumping a proper course. Everyone acted amused and made the jumps bigger and bigger, so there was little I could do but kick more and hang on for dear life. When they finally said enough, the boy wanted to get on and do it all over again. What a weirdo. Ian came back in the barn all tickled with how the horse went, calling him a machine, while the horse was dripping sweat, wouldn’t stand in the cross ties, broke a halter when he turned the solarium on over him, and nearly trampled three people, but – he is a machine. Jumps the moon if he is in mind for it.

That night we had another customer, younger American girl, not sure exactly what she was looking for, but she tried Casper, Abdel’s equitation horse. He was a saint, because she was obviously nervous and floundering around in the tack, but he stayed true to course and carried her around the ring. She was a bit heavy and awkward, so it didn’t look that smooth, but the horse never put a hoof wrong. Casper is quite wonderful, I have enjoyed riding him this week, hope he sells to someone nice, and his mind is always on his job, not how to get around it.

Posted by: deloise | January 21, 2011

Another trip to Germany

I have been lucky enough not to have too many adverse adventures, so I knew I was do for at least one mishap. Returning to the stable wasn’t overwhelming or anything, just busy, but by Monday I really wanted to get to Germany to try a hunter prospect, and Ian had a farm he wanted to visit in the same area, so that night we made a plan to head that direction. Tuesday morning rolled in, Ian was overcome with the stomach flu, Jack, down from Ireland to shop for horses, was also trying to get to Germany, but with a different game plan, so I snuck out quickly and early and started the three hour drive into horse country. It had been over a month since my last visit, the landscape had changed tremendously, with rivers overflowing their banks, and the ground muddy and brown, not terribly attractive, to say the least. It was raining, again, causing it to be a dreary drive. I had one pit-stop, chose a little pizza snack for lunch, which tasted delicious at the time, but eventually turned against me, and by the time I arrived at the pretty little stable in Munster, I was overcome with nausea. I was in a huge amount of pain, and it was all I could do to keep it together to try the horse. I was cranky and tired, and not attempting to be impressive, so I hurried through the motions, with little feeling for what was going on. He was very good, but very green, but from what little attention I gave him, it was not a bad ride. All that jostling around in the tack did me in, however, and afterwards had to puke in their bathroom in their house, which was very awkward. I hate getting sick more than anything in the world, hate the dizziness, the sweating, all of it, and for more than five minutes I was freaking out. I haven’t been sick in ages, will go to great lengths to avoid it, but it was beyond my control this time. Luckily no one was waiting outside the door to lead me back to the stable or anything, so I did the best I could to clean myself up, thanked them for their hospitality, and headed home. It poured rain all the way back to top off a miserable day.

Once home I felt much better, reviewed the tape, and was pleasantly surprised at what I was watching. It was not bad at all. The girl did a tremendous job with the camera, and the video turned out quite nice, actually. I poured over it for an hour, converted it and uploaded it to youtube, and sent it out to a few people for their feedback. Abdel was in the yard, packing for a show in Germany, and I had to do a dinner run for him and his helper. Of course he wanted pizza, which I retrieved, but wasn’t really in the mood for, so I had beer instead. He thought that was pretty funny, so I let him be amused. We also talked about his new sales horse, and I agreed to ride it for him while he was gone and make a video of it because it looks like it wants to be a great equitation horse. It’s a big tank of a horse, slow and cold, and every time I sit on it, I am in sweat by lap two of the trot, but he is just about the most comfortable thing to sit on, so I am thinking some junior is really going to like him. Sometimes he is a bit rude, but we are coming to terms with each other, and he is beginning to understand if I want the counter canter to be soft and light, there really is no option but to just do it.

By Wednesday there were a few good responses from the video I sent out, including a request to go try him again, maybe in a bigger arena. I juggled a few things around, asked Ian about the farm he wanted to go visit, and made a plan to return to Germany. Ian gave me the contact, said I was on my own because he had other things to do (not sure exactly what), so I made an appointment for Thursday morning. Sometimes it is better to go alone, but for some reason I was annoyed at having to go to this place, maybe because in Germany, new trainers are not always the easiest to deal with when a girl walks in off the street and says she wants to see what you have. However, I am supposed to be the stronger of the two genders, right, so suck it up, and walk through the stable doors, and put a smile on your face, and act all impressed with the trophies on their walls. My contact was Tom a young twenty something boy working for an older gentleman Fritz and his dressage queen wife I was never actually introduced to. There were dressage horses, jumping horses, and young horses in the stable, and every time we turned a corner, there were a dozen or so more horses. Tom had apparently called Ian a few weeks earlier in a little bit of a panic, saying they were running out of room, and were desperate to move some stock. I could see why. Every nook and cranny was being caged in to hold a beast, sometimes two or three in one space, there were even ten young horses in the center of the walker, milling about chewing on the sides of the walls. There were pens of twenty or so two year olds, three year olds, and four year olds, hairy, muddy, but docile looking, all waiting to be broken, or continue with their training. Wow.

Fritz was a cagey old German that took me a while to find his sense of humour, talked like his dentures were about to pop out, smoked like a chimney, and limped around with this crazy hitch in his step that made him look like he was staggering rather than walking around the stable. He was very serious, wanted me to drink about ten coffees, and told me a few stories about clients he had had from California. It wasn’t until I finally asked if he ever had any American working students in his stable that Tom stifled a laugh and Fritz grew suddenly very silent. Oh shit, what did I say? “It is not possible”, Fritz started, “to have pretty American sixteen year olds bouncing through my very serious working stable, in front of my very loyal, hardworking Polish grooms, unless I do one thing to the men. Castrate them.” Was he serious? I burst out laughing, I couldn’t help it, it was the funniest thing I had ever heard, and he relayed a long story about having an American girl coming one summer and how she ended up on the top of a plastic elephant outside of a disco with all the men underneath trying to look up her skirt. Polish guys did not understand flirting or silliness and couldn’t concentrate on the tasks at hand so horses were being put away with boots still on, in the wrong boxes, or other lapses in judgement during the day. After that incident, he said no more Americans, he couldn’t handle it. They were too liberal and went against the grain deep inside of Germany and stressed him out entirely.  Wow, they were really serious about the riding here.

The next several hours I was thrown onto some big bulky German beasts, that pulled my arms, spooked at other horses, bucked at the ends of the ring, didn’t do lead changes, or did too many of them,  jumped like orangutans instead of well bred equines, and as the last one was pulled out of it’s box, I was sweating, exhausted, and depressed that they weren’t in better form. I felt bad for Tom, who knew the inexperience of these young horses was telling of his situation, and he was starting to show his frustration. They needed mileage, and badly, and they weren’t getting it. One of harshest criticisms of Germany is the difficulty in accessing small shows, cheaply and efficiently for young horses. In a shared stable like this where the dressage horses have priority in the ring until lunchtime, and no jumps are allowed until the afternoon when no one has the motivation to drag them out and build a course every day, so the horses become unaccustomed to jumps, and show their greenness in spades. Tom was fighting a losing battle on this one, and it was going to take more than me to help him through it. Somehow I couldn’t picture Fritz throwing caution to the wind and shipping half a dozen horses to live in a world where shows are every other day, in every third stable of the neighborhood and 5 euros a pop. However, this was needed if there was any hope of moving horses through his stable. We taped as many as we could so I would have something to show Ian, and upon quick review, they were lovely to look at, good movers, adequate jumpers, just lacking in sophistication, and spoiled. Too soon to tell what will come of it, but there it is.

I left Fritz and Tom and continued to Munster to try the 5 yr old again in a bigger indoor, his own turf actually. After all of those silly beasts, this one was so pleasant to ride, I really enjoyed him this time, and took my time to get a good feel for what kind of horse he is. I was stunned that he picked up right from where I left the other day, remembering how I wanted to go nice and slow around the ring, jump slower off the ground, and just be a hunter. He gets it. I love him.

I knew my drive home was going to be slow, dark, and boring, and was kind of dreading it. I phoned Tomasz from Alan’s stable to see if he wanted to meet for dinner, but couldn’t reach him, so gave up. Unfortunately, so did my car. Halfway back to Belgium, the once very dependable Audi was suddenly very sick. I groaned as lights and bells went off, and felt a sinking feeling as I watched the temperature gauge slip into the highest range. SHIT. These are the commonly the times I find religion, inadvertently making deals and promises with God if I can just get to a safe place, begging, and pleading, looking like an idiot in the driver’s seat, but somehow it all pays off in the end. I cajoled the Audi into Arnhem, a big city in the center of Holland, and crept around downtown to land myself in front of a Best Western directly across from the train station. I figured this was the best I could do, and checked myself in, asked the girl at the desk to find a car repair shop, texted Ian that I was stuck and not coming back until tomorrow. I checked email, and collapsed into bed, too tired to even bother finding a meal, and set the alarm for 7 am. I figured this would give me enough time to get my bearings, and figure out how to get the car fixed. In the morning I wasted several minutes on the phone, confusing myself and others about where to take the car, but eventually found someone willing to speak with me in my own language, and give me proper directions. I started praying again once I started the car, and wove my way through Arnhem to a mysterious out of the way location for a garage, I have to say, and couldn’t imagine how they got much business back here. However, they were not hurting, and I had to beg pretty hard to get my car looked at. I busied myself on the computer while they sorted out what was wrong, and  a nice gentleman came back with really depressing news. The water pump was cooked, leaking all over and the distribution belt also needed to be replaced. Oy, Ian was not going to be happy about this one. I knew enough to know this was a major headache, time-consuming, costly, and couldn’t be stitched together with duct tape to get me back to Belgium. Sure enough, that was not a fun phone call, but I had no choice but to leave the car there, ask for a ride to the train station, and head back to Antwerp. They promised to try to let me know Monday when I could retrieve it, and I started trying to come up with some more ideas to move some more horses through the stable to pay for the bill. Staring out the window wasn’t helping my mood either, as I took in the horrendous flooding of the canals, and saw impossible to believe gushing water that had once been cornfields, and livestock paddocks, and wondered where all the cows and sheep were. I could make out tops of fence lines collecting debris in the raging water, and tree tops just above the line. The Dutch have had to master issues with water for hundreds of years in order to survive, so high water levels are not exactly newsworthy, but seeing flooding is a disturbing experience. There is no high ground here, so if canals fail, damage will wreak havoc on people here.

I wore out the computer battery while staring at videos on the train, and tried to come up with my next plan of action. Creative thinking for survival, people, that’s what keeps us going.

Posted by: deloise | January 15, 2011

Happy New Year

Not sure who was happier to have me back in Belgium, the people or the horses, it might be a tie, but as for me, it feels good to be back. It was a wonderful holiday, and good to go home, see people, eat a LOT of food (yikes!) and receive lots of presents (good stuff!).

xmas party 2010, me Tom in back, with Kevin and Cidney

It was a long, but uneventful journey back to Antwerp, which is just what I was hoping for, and I was met with typical Belgian weather – rain. Lots of rain. Luckily it is quite warm, so no chance of this turning into snow anytime soon. Any trace of the previous winter storms are long gone, washed away and melted off, and it seems I missed the major headaches so far everyone else here had to deal with.

The first day back in the stable was busy with two vetting, one bay jumper I really love, and the other one I have grown quite attached to, the Guidam. This little chestnut stallion pretty much has endeared us all in the stable, especially me, because he is by far the easiest horse to ride here. He is going to a local girl, so I will most likely get to see him still, but it was sad to see him go. I slapped some half chaps on after the vet left, and felt brave enough to tackle the riding. I had a feeling I was in for a real treat as I couldn’t imagine Ian and Phillippe had been riding much while I was gone. I was not disappointed by the slew of antics I endured the rest of that day and the next, as there was much playfulness in our group, and my fingers are sore, and my arms a few inches longer already. That first night I crawled into bed thoroughly exhausted, not even bothering to unpack my suitcases, it was all I could do to shower and brush my teeth.

I discovered the second day my pants were quite snug from the holiday decadence, so I was quite motivated to get through as much riding as possible and knocked out all but one horse, working way past normal hours. There were some new ones to sort out, as Ian and Phillippe have been busy moving horses around and finding new ones. It is actually almost a whole new set of horses from when I left, and I wasn’t even gone a month! We had some French customers for a couple of them around lunchtime, but I couldn’t follow which horses they liked or disliked –  I thought they went incredibly well, considering they were still a bit fresh, and I had to hide the fact that it felt like I was being pulled around by tour buses instead of equines, not as easy as it looks. With the warm weather I was drenched in sweat and red faced, which no doubt must have been such a pretty picture. Whatever, not a bad jumper in the group, so no one was particularly worried, and I was fairly certain by the third day, the horses would be settled down into a normal routine.

Now it is the end of the week, and I am unpacked, settled in, and the barn is looking straightened up and organized again. If I heard it once, I heard it a dozen times that I was sorely missed, which was complimentary, albeit slightly unsettling, and the horses are back to recognizing me when I walk through the doors in the morning. I have appointments for horses in Germany at the beginning of the week, so I have some planning to do before I hit the road again, and some new videos to make. It is hopping here, and there is little room for slacking off, so I need to suck it up and get into the groove as quickly as possible. It could stop raining soon, too, I am forgetting what the sun looks like!

Posted by: deloise | November 23, 2010

Jockeying for position

Part of the reason I don’t hesitate to get in the car to drive a few hundred kilometers to see a farm that has not one horse I would like to ride in real life is that there is always some cool stuff to see on the way. Belgium is no exception, of course. There are abbeys, castles and towns with antique shops and flea markets tucked away in remote areas, often not far from your intended destination, and of you are clever enough, you can fit it all into one excursion for the day. Today was no exception.

Somehow I made a remote contact of a very polite gentleman far to the south of Antwerp, almost to Luxembourg, that thought he might have some horses well suited for America, and invited me to come see for myself. I am always up for an adventure. I mean, why not? This is why I am here after all.

It was a cold morning to start, and the navigation system was a bit frozen, taking twenty minutes to even recognize the city I was heading to, which sent off the first red flag. The system in the Audi is quirky at best, and since I am not totally familiar with all of the roads and cities in Belgium, I could not recognize that it was taking me well off the beaten path to Erezee, and not one highway would be used to get me to this destination. I dutifully followed the instructions, however, nervously looking at the time I had allowed for myself to get there, and realizing I was way going to be quite late. By some miracle, the gentleman called me to delay our meeting by an extra couple of hours, so I was off the hook to arrive when I had intended. I took advantage of the delay by paying close attention to my surroundings as I drove along. My neck hurt from trying to catch glimpses of each side of the road while I was slinking along, and every time I spotted an interesting sign, I followed it to wherever it was pointing. I saw castles for the first time, great massive structures now converted to entertain the public with tours or offer themselves up as venues for art openings or weddings. One was still in use for Buddhists, and the followers scurried around with hands clasped, in silence, and wearing colorful robes. I tried to picture myself as a Buddhist, and Julia Roberts meditating flashed into my mind from the last movie I had just seen, (Eat Pray Love), and I came to the conclusion that I would only like meditating if I looked like Julia Roberts. Sitting still for long periods of time has never been appealing to me. I drove on, starting to get slightly nervous that the address I was given was not recognized by the navigation system. This can happen if new properties are built, or new roads, and since the disk I was in possession of was several years old, I was starting to have doubts I would even find this place. I followed signs to the town, ending up in a small farming village, with a church and, surprisingly, a police station. I stopped at the church first, thinking I better avoid the authorities for now. There was a walking map with the name of the road I was looking for you sort of scribbled on one side, so I picked a road to follow and tried it. A mile down the road, there was a pretty large sign for a chocolate factory. Now who can pass up a chocolate factory? Upon closer examination, the dirt road also bore the name of the road I wanted, so I was in serious good fortune. Sure enough, climbing the steep hill toward the chocolatier, a horse farm appeared right beside it, so I kept my fingers crossed this was the place.  First things first, however, I needed chocolate. Stepping into the little wooden building, I was overcome with the aroma of cocoa. Wall to wall chocolate – instant heaven! There were people everywhere, kids, families, people in brown outfits making chocolate, tour guides, quite a busy destination for such a remote area. When I finally made my choice, I understood why it was so popular, the chocolate was so soft and creamy, and lingered on your tongue, instead of disappearing in a flash, kind of like peanut butter, thick and smooth at the same time. I was glad I only purchased one bar, because I could imagine myself getting quite sick if I ate too much of it. And since we all know I lack all self-control when it comes to chocolate, I was in dangerous territory. I paid for my little piece of heaven and scooted out of there before I changed my mind about buying more.

A chateau in Belgium

tree lined drive leading to a chateau in Belgium

Another chateau, for Buddhists

still beautiful, even in November

Bottles of liquid chocolate, no kidding

more chocolate

making the chocolate

I made my way down the slope to the horse farm, and it turned out to be the right address after all. I can’t believe how lucky I get sometimes, after always feeling lost, I somehow always end up at the right place in the end. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see there. It was an event barn, mainly, and the horses were kind of mediocre at best. I was more amused with the husband and wife team running the operation – there was at least a 25 year age gap between the two of them, and they had a small 4 year old boy running around the place totally wild. They had just purchased the farm, and built a new 72 stall barn, indoor, walker, and were in the process of building the outdoor ring, and a track to train the eventers on. Fascinating. The wife had little skill with jumping, but made up for it with bravery, and every time her husband watched her go over a jump, he did a little twitch of encouragement with his body I found totally hysterical. If the jump was really big and she cleared it, he did a little fist pump as well, like he had just scored a touchdown. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him!

Every horse felt the same, slow to the fence and a great rush of adrenalin over top of it. It was the most unnerving feeling in the world. The older man loved how I rode, however, and offered me a job four times. I was seriously considering it, mostly due to the close proximity of the chocolate factory, but kept imagining me in the window display, passed out from devouring too much chocolate – like the movie Johnny Depp was in – Chocolate,( I am not sure why all these movie references keep popping up, but I figure it is okay to share anyway) and told him I might have to pass on the nice offer this time around. I was flattered, but couldn’t see myself living in this remote of a location.

It didn’t take nearly as long to get home once I found the highway, only about an hour and a half, and as I drove I did a lot of reflecting on my time in Belgium. There are so many things I love and hate about being here, and is taking some time to work it all out. I love Belgium itself, the country is so much more interesting than other places I have been, and is never boring, despite rumours about what it has to offer. The people are trickier to figure out, and I have met several that make my skin crawl. I am not cut out for doing business with shady characters, never possessed the tools to be wicked enough just to make a buck, and will not sell myself short just for a sale. I spent a lot of time wondering if I am a good enough rider for this very male dominated sport over here, and as it turns out, I am good enough, most of the time better, I am just very different from what they are used to here, so I have to endure the criticism, endure the insults, and carry on. Women are fantastic riders, here and in America, but are constantly facing the harshest critics. We have to dig deeper to turn off our emotions that can interfere with our communications, and do what we do best – ride the horses. Because there are so many more people here watching the sport, there are ten times the critics for any one rider. It is a flaw in the system here, whereas at home, I am always wondering less about the riding capabilities, and more about how nice people are to work with. Americans tend to pull from the same resources over and over again because they build a relationship based on trust and understanding, not on the quick buck. I haven’t seen that so much here, maybe because there are no trainers supplying horses for amateurs or juniors, so there is no need to be loyal to any one stable or dealer, but it is alarming to an American, and even more to a woman. I take no offense anymore if I am called a bad jockey, more often it has nothing to do with being a bad jockey – quite simply the horse is probably a donkey and I am lucky it didn’t kill me in the first place. I would take offense if someone was unhappy about buying a horse from me, because that is something I work very hard to do well, and in this land of greed and mistrust I am constantly navigating land mines in order to make that happen. I wish there was a way to combine the two worlds and bring out the best American values and combine them with the stock Europe offers. In the meantime, I plug along, enjoy the countryside, try not to think about the money, and eat chocolate in far corners of the country. The beer here is pretty good, too.

More power to the women here, I salute thee!

The following is a clip of a trotter turned jumper I had to watch go around, but did not get on. I didn’t really have a customer for him. 🙂

Posted by: deloise | November 18, 2010

Joining a Women’s Group

I finally made it to a women’s group meeting – American Women in Antwerp – and met some ex-pats from America, and a few other countries. It was nice to be in a room with all English speaking people, although it was overwhelming to be surrounded by all women. Chatty ones at that. There were about 40 women, and if I had to guess, because I couldn’t speak to each of them, mostly housewives of men who had been relocated because of large corporations operating out of Belgium, or had jobs that caused them to move around a lot, so they needed group therapy during their stays. If they didn’t have jobs themselves, I guess they would have to do something to occupy their time. I didn’t meet anyone like me, but that is not surprising. They were all very nice, we were shuttled through a yummy buffet line and asked to take our seats to eat and listen to a moderator talk about the organization. The meeting turned into a very long discussion about changing their constitution, updating the by-laws, and arguing over whether or not they should start accepting more non-Americans in their group to keep it alive. Apparently there are not so many Americans moving to Belgium these days, so the fear that there wouldn’t be enough people to participate in activities alarmed the board of directors. I listened intently to both sides of the argument for well over an hour before I grew weary and raised my hand. Why do I always raise my hand? Why can’t I just get up and get more cake or something? I don’t do it on purpose, it just happens, and I get flustered at lack of direction. I introduced myself and said I was a newcomer, the room said a big hello, and I thanked them. I suggested that it was clear they were not going to solve the issue of membership today, but both sides of the argument were very good. Maybe it would help if they did three things.  First, look at WHY the organization was created in the first place, look at WHAT their purpose in the 21st century should be and three, give me a good reason I should join. Pregnant pause. The moderator went for the by-laws, reading out loud the purpose as stated in the handbook, which clearly says two things:

Motto: May we never be hasty in judgement and always generous.

Purpose: Our purpose is to create a center for social, cultural, and philanthropic activities for American women in the Antwerp area.

and everyone sort of looked at each other and stopped arguing.

After that the meeting was wrapped up in ten minutes. I wasn’t sure what kind of impression I had just made, but went for the cake anyway. Thirty seconds later I was surrounded by women wanting to give me their reasons for joining, and had to eat my cake off a plate standing up, I never made it back to the table, but I did meet a lot of new people in a very short amount of time. Two people thanked me for steering the meeting back to the point, and I had a lot of clipboards shoved in front of me with activities to sign up for, so I guess it all worked out.  I was certainly grateful to participate in something that got me out of the barn for a few hours, and gave me the chance to dress up. I snagged the woman in charge of book club, gave her my email, and told her I was interested, then boxed up some leftovers, helped clean up, and headed home. It was sort of a surreal experience, and each woman had a totally interesting story about how they came to be in Belgium today, no two of which were similar. When I hear about people moving all over the world, I am usually envious, because it is exciting to see so many different places, but I am hearing the good stuff. I forget about all the hard stuff that goes along with it, the acceptance from the locals, the loneliness, the lack of compassion, the constant readjustments to your life you normally take for granted. Like horse people, these women share a common bond, and offer friendship and guidance no questions asked. I would probably be just fine not joining the group, and carry on in my own little world, but I really want to be a part of it, if nothing else for the cake.

Coming back to the stable, I pinned Ian and Philip down to help me make a little video of the new horse, who is now my favorite to ride in the barn, mostly because he is so freaking easy and honest, and sweet, I can’t get over it. He may not be very big, but he is a dreamboat to ride, and once he learns a little, he will be a perfect kid’s horse. 5 yr old stallion by Guidam.

Posted by: deloise | November 16, 2010

Day trips

I looked at my last post and could not actually believe a month has passed since I last checked in, I feel like it was yesterday that I was at that horse show! Time has really flown by, there has been so much activity, that I have barely had any time to collect my thoughts. We have new equine faces in the barn, just arrived, and looking for new homes. I have been to Germany a couple of times, found some interesting prospects, and spent some agonizing moments trying to find a buyer for a fancy brown gelding all made up and ready to go – all it needs is a plane ticket to the States.

One of the reasons I haven’t noticed the days flickering by is the weather. Besides the leaves suddenly changing to orange and promptly dislodging themselves from the trees, the weather hasn’t changed too much. It is a little cooler, but not much, and it is still always raining. Daylight savings rocked my world for a couple of days, a week earlier here than at home, and went unnoticed by me until Monday when people arrived at a drastically different time than me. Darkness settles in by 6 pm, by next week it will probably be 5 pm. I keep expecting it to get really cold, but despite one or two brisk mornings, we haven’t suffered much yet. The owner did insist on removing all of the jumps out of the outdoor ring which blindsided and horrified me when it happened. I hate riding indoors, our arena is not that large, and there are plenty of us to keep it congested. The young horses still struggle on the tight turns and deep footing, so I keep them outside until absolutely necessary, yet even when I lugged a few jumps back outside for customers a few days ago, it was less than 24 hours before someone was out there, loading poles and standards back onto the truck, and putting them back into storage. A frustrating dilemma. I am not likely to repeat all that work a second time however, so the horses will just have to jump inside until the spring.

I am intent on exploring Belgium a bit more this fall, with the holidays fast approaching, there should be plenty to see as towns are already getting into the Christmas spirit and hanging special lights along the streets. I keep spotting areas of interest and started to make a list of towns I must visit when I have some free time. One recent discovery was Metropolis, an enormous movie theatre complex on the edge of Antwerp, just about 20 mins from here, that surprised me with its’ sheer size. I didn’t need the navigation system to find it, because there were plenty of signs pointing the way, and enough lights to land the space shuttle, yet I was lucky I gave myself extra time to get there, because finding a parking spot and making the hike to the lobby was only the first challenge. The second challenge would be how to buy a ticket. I knew which movie I wanted to see, out of the thirty that were being offered (yes, thirty), but the hordes of people huddled around ticket kiosks were making it confusing to see if this was my only option for purchasing a ticket. I stood in one line for a while and observed the people in front of me trying to navigate the touch screens, but panicked when all of them were not using cash, but special looking movie cards to pay for the movies. I left my line after asking some college students for advice – they just smirked and pointed to the back of the lobby. I pushed my way through more hordes of people and stood in another painfully long line to the Reception, staring up at the movie board which was ten times more confusing than an arrivals board at any given major international airport and searched for my movie choice, Eat Pray Love. Much to my alarm, the board also told you exactly how many seats were left in your particular chosen movie, and changed every few seconds as people were frantically buying tickets. When I started in line, there were 85 seats left out of what looked like a possible 225. By the time I made it up front, there were less than 20 seats left, and it was still a half hour before show time. I sputtered out what I wanted so fast to the geek behind the desk, I had to repeat myself twice before he finally understood me handed over my ticket, and I could breathe a sigh of relief. I was beginning to feel like a game show contestant.  I grabbed my ticket and headed down a long hallway toward the smell of popcorn and the distant movie theatres themselves. I was hoping I had enough time to buy some popcorn, I was totally curious to taste the difference. I was shuffled into the food area, which was set up like a cafeteria, you pulled what you wanted off the shelves and headed for the cash registers at the end of the room. I grabbed a small bag of popcorn, and stood in yet another line to pay for it, marveling at the choices of junk food offered around me. Americans aren’t the only ones addicted to crap, that’s for sure. I paid my three euros and kept hiking down the hallway, finally making it to theatre 28. It was assigned seating, and you were only able to choose your seating at the ticket kiosk, but I was happy to even get into the movie, so didn’t care that I had to climb up to the top to get one of the last seats available. I had a moment when I wasn’t sure I was translating Row and Seat properly on the ticket, but verified with the very nice ladies next to me that I was in the right spot, and settled down to enjoy the movie and popcorn. Ok, popcorn. I have been brought up with butter and salt as the favorable toppings for movie popcorn, yet apparently the Belgians prefer a different approach. This popcorn was sweet, with a sugary coating akin to caramel rather than the traditional American coating. It wasn’t heavy enough to be a distraction, but it was clearly an addictive twist I was going to have to watch out for – thanks goodness I only purchased the small bag!

Movies are fun, but exploring towns are top-rate. There are several towns to choose from, each has their own feel and vibe, whether they attract visitors, students, retirees, bikers, or whatever, each one gives off a vibe. Leuven has a fantastic feel about it with true medieval architecture, and holding several different universities, the town was teeming with 20 yr olds. I spent a good amount of time there, purchased a little lace ornament, since the area is famous for making lace, ate dinner at a fantastic small restaurant just outside the Grote Markt, where the owner shared with me his story of owning a business for 21 years in a bustling neighborhood. It was surprisingly fascinating, and, of course, the tortellini stuffed with cheese and truffles, and topped with a mushroom-truffle sauce was pretty good, too. He even pulled out a map of the town for me, and gave me directions back to the street my car was parked on, since I had spent a couple of hours looking for it with no luck. I might need a tracking system to get back to wherever I leave my car, because my enthusiasm to sight-see tends to override my common sense, causing me to lose it (on more than one occasion).

Turnhout is not far from where I live and has a large church planted right in the dead center of the Grote Markt, with bars and cafes surrounding it. It was engulfed in heavy mist today, as the cold weather is creeping in after days and days of rain, so I took a quick tour around the shops then headed back to a museum on the edge of the square. This area is famous for an old tradition of making playing cards, and the museum boasted antique presses and a full history of playing cards, with dozens of different interpretations of what should be in each deck, from the Rolling Stones and Marilyn Monroe, to porn, cartoons, and medieval knights. It was pretty cool.

I don’t always make time for myself, but if there is one thing I have learned, it is make time for yourself. The horses will still be there, when you return. You will still be in touch with your customers, and be able to give them the answers they need. It is easy to forget when there is so much pressure to make business happen in the horse world, and I am totally guilty of getting caught in that trap. I will work seven days a week 365 days a year without blinking, and end up missing the small stuff. Here, I have started to slow down a little and focus on the balance, rather than the achievement. In the end, I may be shorter on cash, but I bet i will have fewer regrets! Enjoy the pics.

townhouses along a canal

everyone bikes here, no matter the weather

everyone bikes here, no matter the weather

interesting building in Leuven

old church in Leuven

really old church in Leuven

mixing old with the new

antique press for playing cards

playing cards

Posted by: deloise | October 4, 2010

horse show weekend

There was not much time to recover from being ill. The next day, I was puttering around in the stable when Ian came in and asked if I wanted to go to the show down the street. Well, sure, why not? I threw some tack in the little lorry, changed my clothes and loaded a couple horses on. Dalton and the little brown horse from Ireland seemed like good choices to begin with, so we loaded them on and I headed down the road. The horse show was less than fifteen minutes away, started at noon, and was fairly easy to find. I made my way to the secretary, and asked to be included in the first class, but she said I could only get one in, being there were only twenty riders, and it was well under way. Dalton was closest, so he was the lucky winner and buzzed around the 1.15 m class. Ian and Phillippe showed up and I told them the brown horse didn’t make it in, so they just said to do him in the next class 1.25 m. He was a fairly new arrival, and my first couple of rides on him were slightly unsuccessful. He had spent a fair amount of time on the truck, been fed quite a lot of oats, and was explosive underneath of me the first day he arrived. Since I had been sick I maybe had three rides all together on him, and six jumps. Maybe. A 1.25 m class indoors was quite a step up. However, I went with it, tacked him up, and said a small prayer to the horse Gods that I would not die today. The warm up ring was small, as per usual, packed with local riders all vying for the same jump, but the little horse ignored everyone and happily clipped along to the jumps.  I managed to get one vertical off the right lead, felt more or less ready, so headed over to the ring. The show ring was actually quite inviting, good footing, nice jumps – challenging courses, but rideable. The buzzer sounded and I gathered up the little monster and headed to the first jump, a huge white oxer, three strides out of the corner. He leapt up over it so easily I instantly relaxed, and basically just steered him around the course. We were totally in sync, and I did my best to stay out of his way and let him do his thing. In the end, we only had one rail (first of the triple combination) but by no means were any of us displeased. He was fantastic. And quiet. The little firecracker from the first day had completely chilled out and was looking more like a working hunter.

We decided to go back and get two more, so the new chestnut stallion came, and one of my favorites, Upignac. This big horse is still learning, but is a crazy good jumper, and so freaking cool to ride. He is so docile at home, but loves showing and his two days off made him a bit frisky that I felt like I was getting pulled around too much, but watching the video looked different than it felt. Sometimes that happens. The stallion was totally dreamy to ride, and although he may be going home soon, I love riding him. He got a prize at the end of the day and brought home fourth place. Not bad since there were almost a hundred in his class!

The next day was baby day. It was a much earlier start, I was still feeling under the weather, and had to do the stables and be at the horse show by 9 am with two horses that didn’t even know how to load. After some strong encouragement from one of the girls I share a stable with and a broom, we finally shoved the stallion up the ramp and closed the door. He whinnied and carried on while I went to change into my whites, but I did my best to ignore him, wondering if Ian and Phillippe were going to meet me at the show, or if I was going to be left on my own today (that happens a lot). I drove on to the show, slightly behind schedule, and squeezed the van into the last tiny available spot on the grounds. Goodness, there were a lot more people here today. I quickly learned my course, and headed back to fetch the first one when Ian and Phillippe appeared out of the blue ready to help. Only problem was that I had brought the wrong horse, and it was the mare they wanted, not the stallion. The mare had arrived two days earlier, and I had about five minutes on her back, and she probably hadn’t been ridden in three months prior to that. I shrugged and told them tough, I was riding the stallion. I wasn’t about to go back for her now. What I like about those guys is their ability to go with the flow. It makes my life so much easier! They agreed, and gathered up my video camera in it’s cute hot pink case, and headed inside to watch.

The stallion was a trooper, and even if it may have been a little much for him to take in, he tried his little heart out, and did the best he could in the circumstances. He had never done a course in his life, much less a show, and I was freaking tickled pink with him. (notice my grin at the very end as I pass by the camera) It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done!

The gelding I knew would really be a challenge, and he had a bit of fear in him that we were working out, but again, he came through unscathed in the end. I was determined not to let him stop and stuck to him like duct tape to get him around the scary jumps. We had two or three good jumps, and some trotting  but no disasters and a healthy start to his show career. Second shows are always easier than first shows!

Dalton came back that afternoon for the big class, 1.25 m, and despite a gallant effort on his part, we had the first jump down, the rest he jumped clear. I was disappointed, thinking I could have woken him up a bit more before we went in, but that’s horse showing for you. I was commiserating for a moment with another rider, but it was brief, because I was called back to the farm for customers from Canada that were looking for hunters, so I had to hurry back to get things organized. It is not unusual to have little or no warning when customers want to show up, but with three of us, we can be pretty on the ball with short notice.  One of us is always close enough to meet people coming through the area.

The Canadians stayed for hours, tried almost all of our horses, and took a great deal of time with each of them. It was past ten o’clock when they left, but it seemed a good idea to go for a beer. I still had breeches on, and Michael (6) was with us, but what the heck, to the local pub we went. Inside it was packed with what seemed like 18 year olds, it was noisy, but they had a foozeball table. Is that right? Fooze ball? Almost as good as a pool table, and when you are six, it is awesome! We all took turns playing against Michael, who was incredibly thirsty for Chocomel’s – the leading chilled chocolate milk drink in the Netherlands, and downed several in a span of thirty minutes, which must have made him quite difficult to get to bed later!

Sunday came way too soon, but it was agreed the horses had had enough jumping, so we nixed taking any to the show. Instead, Ian suggested I check out another horse show on the other side of Antwerp that was the local farmer championship, and see if I could spot any potential horses. I took my time getting there, and was not prepared for the spectacle that lay before me. It was more like a circus, and not only was jumping a priority, but driving and dressage was on display as well. There were thousands of people there, all of the horse enthusiasts of Belgium it seemed, and it was one huge party. I didn’t exactly spot any hunters, but I was thoroughly entertained for the afternoon by the activity, and I was able to have pancakes and beer, a near perfect combination.

ponies! note jack russell in front seat

big drafts pulling a cart

random urinals in the middle of show grounds - eww.

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