The first time I went to Holland, everything was unknown. I had no idea what any aspect of the experience would be like, so I felt about a 50/50 mix of nervousness and excitement. Well this time, I knew what I was in for, but I was still feeling that 50/50 mix! Now don’t get me wrong, I had the time of my life a few months ago, but on that first trip, nothing was expected of me. I was a stranger on a difficult horse that I had never sat on before, why would anyone expect much out of this combination?
Well, by the end of my stay with the Bartel’s, I had made great strides with W (both literally and figuratively) and received some very confidence boosting words from Imke and Mischa on the progress that we made together. W ended up selling very soon after my time with him and I was on cloud nine after making a real improvement on a horse in front of riders that I have idolized for so many years. Now that I was returning, I really wanted to be able do that again and soon, I would have that chance.
Later that week, I boarded the most beautiful FinnAir flight from Tokyo to Helsinki. This plane was sweet! Roomy seats, big bathrooms, the nicest crew and I’ve saved the best for last… baskets of warm bread with each meal. It is no secret that I love bread, but maybe a lesser known fact is that I am not a fan of airplane food. I think that I have been on so many planes this year, that I just start to feel a bit green when the cabin fills with the smells of tin foil wrapped fish. A few hours in, they announced that dinner was being served, but didn’t say what it was. Most of the Asian airlines (which is what I have been flying lately) pass out little menu cards with “Japanese, Chinese… etc” or “Western” meal options, so you typically have a choice between two or three options. As they began to serve dinner, I noticed that it actually smelled good… really good. The person in front of me asked what their choices were and he was told that if you didn’t mark a preference when you purchased your ticket, that you would be getting shepherds pie tonight. Shepherds pie on a plane? I was not holding out a lot of hope… until my plate (yes an actual plate) was set down in front of me. Remember, I fly economy, so I usually don’t get real dishes and silverware. I usually get a little tin tray and a plastic spork. Well, let me tell you that FinnAir goes all out my friends! A glass dish filled with a tasty little shepherds pie, a salad, crudité and warm dinner rolls.
I slept like a baby for the rest of the flight…
↓Look how skinny Okinawa is!!
The Helsinki Airport was very cool. Modern and all dolled up for Christmas. They had these cute little mistletoe stations set up (where is Nate when I need him??), piles of reindeer pelts for sale and lots of good shopping…
I landed in Amsterdam late that night. It was 3°C and pouring. Thankfully, Desiree (the Bartel’s stable manager extraordinaire) stayed awake late into the night to let me on the property when I arrived. The farm is all locked up at night, no one in or out without special provision, so I am very glad she was waiting for me! During my first trip, I stayed in the “hotel”, which is a small barn finished out just like a modern hotel, but this time, I stayed in one of the on site apartments and they are warm, cozy and very inviting after a long trip!
The next morning, I woke up bright and early with one thing on my mind: my horse. So, I put on my riding clothes and headed for the door. Unfortunately, as soon as I opened that door, I turned right around and added several more layers. It was cold!!… and raining! Once I was properly layered up, I headed for the stables where I was introduced to my new friend Ms B. She looked beautiful, but reserved. She looked at me quickly and then returned to her breakfast. I don’t like to be disturbed when I am eating either, so I let her do her thing and I headed for the indoor. Sitting in the viewing area of the main indoor at the Bartel’s is second only to actually riding there. It is like an assembly line of the coolest horses on earth, one after another, being ridden right in front of you by some of the very best riders in the world. I can literally sit there all day.
This morning was special. Imke was riding this stunning young stallion, there was Christmas music playing over the sound system, I had a cup of hot chocolate and someone brought me a little dish of kruidnoten (little Dutch spice cookies) from the kitchen. It was awesome!
Later that morning, I had a meeting with Imke to discuss the horse. B is a nine year old KWPN mare out of the stallion Johnson (Jazz/Flemmingh) and this excited me, because I have been a fan of these bloodlines for a long time. She was working some lateral movements, but was struggling with flying changes. This can be very disappointing for a horses future, but I was looking forward to the challenge. I consider flying changes to be one of my specialties and I now have a chance to test myself with this horse.
Next, I headed to the barn to get her ready for our first ride. She was a lot bigger than I thought once she was out of her stall and I noticed that she was built a little high behind. Sometimes this effects a horses way of going and sometimes it doesn’t, so I kept an open mind. She has a lovely personality. She was reserved, in an elegant way, but not snobby. She wanted to take look at each brush and towel that I brought into the wash rack and loved having her shoulders curried. I needed to find a little ladder to bridle her (she is tall and I am not) and then we were on our way to indoor…
I took our first ride slow. I really wanted to give her time to get to know me. I think it is very important to introduce yourself to a mare in a fair way. Of course, we should ride all horses kindly, but if you get right on and tell a mare what the plan is, you have a good chance that she will explain her plan to you soon after.. In the end, I am the boss, but it is imperative that a mare feels that WE are working together. If I don’t take the time to get us on the same page, we will remain at odds and this is no way to develop of a positive relationship with a horse. By the end of this first ride, I felt confident that we understood each other and I was really looking forward to tomorrows ride.
That evening, I was invited to dinner in the library with the Bartel’s, the stable crew and the other riders. The library felt so cozy. There was a big fire in the fireplace, soft music playing and it smelled incredible. Annet Broeckx cooked the entire dinner and every bite was delicious. She made traditional Dutch winter dishes like stamppot (mashed potatoes with spinach, carrots and onions), rookworst (smoked sausage), warm clam chowder and an apple tart with whipped cream and her homemade caramel sauce. Annet rocks!
After dinner, we watched some video snippets of Imke and Tineke from past competitions. It is a surreal feeling to be watching the same videos that I used to watch over and over as a little girl now sitting right next to these women. I had to pinch myself. As the evening went on, someone brought up Santa Claus and asked me what kind of Christmas traditions that we have in the United States. Then someone told me the story of Sinterklaas (the Dutch Santa) to me and we all had a good laugh discussing the differences between our two Santas.
It was a lovely evening and I slept well with a belly full of Dutch winter favourites….
Click here for Training in Holland 2.0 - Part II