The next morning, I walked past the outdoor arena and saw Tineke coaching Imke on her fabulous black mare. They were out there alone, early in the morning, so I didn’t want to intrude, but I wanted to watch them work together so badly! I walked over a little closer to the arena and Tineke asked me how I was doing this morning. I stepped close enough to answer, but kept a respectful distance. A few moments later, Tineke asked me if I wanted to sit down, so I sat in one of the chairs a few feet behind her. She was seated in a all directors chair and as soon as she noticed that I was behind her, she stood up, moved her chair to the side and motioned for me to bring my chair up next to her. I am smiling just typing this out. She is so warm and welcoming and I felt so honoured to be welcomed into such a fabulous private training session between two masters.
They had just started, so they were focusing on warming up the mares back with some round stretching and transitions between gaits. I know that being mother and daughter, they have been working together for a long time, but it was so impressive how connected they were to each other. It was like Imke did something as Tineke said it and it was all so harmonious. Of course mistakes happen during training and this mare was still in the developmentally stages, but the way mistakes were handled and corrected was inspirational. Both Tineke and Imke talked about being clear with your aids and making sure that the rider is doing everything possible to make it easy for the horse, they rode this way too. I think one of the biggest things I got out of watching both of them ride was how important it is to be clear about what you want and not to waiver on that goal when things don’t go as expected. I think it is easy to think about not changing your plans when your horse does something naughty, but I think it is so important that we don’t change our plans when they horse doesn’t give you quite what you had asked for. Its in those small moments where our clarity becomes so important. Yes, we need to keep riding when things go wrong, but you also have to when your horse tries a little less than you wanted or when you are getting only 80% of your goal for the day. I think they ore advanced we become as riders, the more we are able to help things along and this isn’t the best way for the horse. Stick to your goal and wait for the horse to come with you.
They went on to school some half-pass and changes with lots of emphasis put on the lines they were riding. During my lessons, Imke often reminded me that even though the changes were good or the pirouette was nice, I had slid off of the line I had originally wanted them on. This is big, because my horse needed to improve in all aspects of his way of going, so even if I rode a good, clean change, but I was eight inches to the right of the line I had started on, it wasn’t the best it could be. Not only did she remind me of this during our lessons, but she did it herself on every horse I watched her ride. It was like learning in two different ways, by watching her and by feeling it myself. It may sound like a simple element, but it requires a lot from both horse and rider and being able to own that line and do your movements, adjustments and corrections there improve the horse in big ways.
This session finished with some piaffe and passage and it was dreamy. Not only was the mare fully prepared through all of the earlier exercises, but she looked like she could have stayed there forever. Although piaffe and passage requires a great deal of strength from every horse, Imke had built this mare up so beautifully that it appeared very easy. Through experience in developing horses through the levels, I am full aware of the hard work that goes into getting a horse to this point and what a pleasure it is to watch the fruits of such a masterful riders hours in the saddle.
Todays date meant that I only had two more rides with Imke, so I really wanted to challenge myself with the goal of improving what was hardest for W. The two things I wanted to achieve were better control in the pirouettes and better control in the tempis. So during todays lesson, after we warmed-up, we began focusing on being able to control the amount he collected and the track he was on. Unfortunately, W thought a pirouette was like a party trick. As soon as I asked him for a little bit more sitting or a little bit more bend, he would drop from a 15 meter circle down to a tiny pirouette. When he was corrected for this, he became a bit frustrated that I would not allow him to show off his fancy moves, so this ride was really dedicated to expecting exactly what I wanted from him, when I wanted it… no more no less. It was the worst that he had acted since I started with him, but the best break through we had made together. By the end of the lesson, we were able to ride competition worthy pirouettes at a specific point with a specific number of strides and alternating between leaving in counter canter and riding a flying change. It was such a fabulous feeling! (see Training Notes)
After my ride, I was asked to do an interview for the Bartels website about my experience. I am the first American to take part in the training at the Academy Bartels. They asked about my life in Japan and my thoughts and opinions on the stables, riding and my own lessons. It was a great time! I am posting a link to the interview here. It is in Dutch, but I will be posting an English translation as soon as possible. After the interview, Imke and I posed for a photo near one of the beautiful pieces of art. I was able to chat a bit about our goals for the last ride. It was really special to have a moment to chat with someone I have admired for so long about what we are going to work on tomorrow. I will remember those moments forever.
That evening, a group of us went to dinner at a cozy little restaurant called Taverne Paulus. I had been there a few evenings back with several lovely ladies from the barn and really enjoyed the food, so I was excited to return. It was fun discussing the differences between the US, Holland and Japan… the way we eat, our customs and of course, the horses. It was such a fun evening and all of the ladies in training were so fun and a pleasure to get to know.
The next morning was my last lesson with Imke. I had such a great ride today and tomorrow was going to be the fifth consecutive ride for W. I was worried that he would be a bit stiff from several really good rides in a row, so first thing in the morning, I gave him a hot bath and took him out for a good long hand walk all over the farm. I let him stop for a few bites of grass so I could watch Tineke ride my favourite little chestnut mare one more time and then we went back to the stable to tack up. W absolutely loved having his body curried. Most horses have their “spot” that they enjoy being scratched, but W seemed to love it all. He lifted his lip and pushed his back into me while I curried his back and hips and if I was anywhere near his front half, he made a big attempt to return the favor. Our ride was scheduled for 9:30am, so I headed over to the arena around ten after to give him a nice long walk. I was really hoping he would feel good on our last ride together… and he did!
As soon as I asked for the trot, I could feel that he had lots of positive energy. We warmed-up in a nice round stretch and then we headed over to Imke. She said that all of my hard work has really paid off, because this is the absolute best he has looked. I can’t describe how wonderful it felt to hear her say this. After those first few tough rides, I was so determined to show great improvement in W and although the last couple of rides had been quite good, today everything came together and the biggest change was in W himself. He felt happy, supple and ready to work. Before my ride, I set my phone in the viewing area, but not one person came through the arena during my ride. This was the only time this had ever happened during my stay and if I could have picked one ride to be captured, it definitely would have been this one. Oh well… the lesson was fun! We did just a few pirouettes brushing up on yesterdays lesson and then moved on to some series of changes on very clean, straight lines. First, we started with changes in no particular order, then moved on to fours, threes and twos. We talked about how he may have the ability to do ones, but good quality changes were difficult for him and we decided to quit on a high note. Moments like this require restraint, but although pressing for more could have been fun, it wasn’t the right thing for W, so we finished there.
I am pretty sure that I stopped every person that we passed on our way back to his stall to tell them just how good he did today. This boasting earned W a few extra pats and even a sugar cube. It was funny how much I really disliked working with him for the first few days and now, I felt kind of sad untacking him for the last time. I cleaned all of his things and then spent the rest of the afternoon watching Imke coach a group of her clients the were leaving for a competition the next day. It was a great experience watching her teach riders preparing for a competition. Although Imke wants clean lines and great use of the arena all of the time, training is a bit different right before a show. I had a pen and paper with me and took so many notes during this time. These lessons were all in English, so I was able to understand every wonderful word (see Training Notes). It turned out to be a beautifully sunny afternoon! Sitting out in the sun in a comfy chair, drinking a cinnamon tea with a handsome King Poodle’s head on my lap watching great riders on their stunning horses was the perfect way to end my stay… or so I thought.
Academy Bartels scheduling manager extraordinaire Annet Broeckx asked if I had any plans for dinner and when I quickly recalled the two slices of Swiss cheese, seven day old grapes and Pringles can in my apartment and gave a hearty no and she told me that she was going to take me out on the town that evening. Annet is lovely, very warm and just a beautiful person, so I was very much looking forward to getting to know her a bit more. Later that evening, Annet picked me up and we were off! She showed me several beautiful places in the area… an old hunt field that used to hold cross country events, a HUGE outdoor statute of a man standing in front of a painting easel right in the middle of a freshly plowed field (it must have been twenty five feet tall!) and many beautiful old Colonial Farm style homes. As she was driving me all over the countryside, she said, “We are in Belgium now.” I had no idea we were so close! We joked that our trip was so extensive that it crossed country lines ;)
Once back in Holland, she took me to a viewing tower that overlooked the beautiful Dutch countryside of Lage Mierde and Lake De Flaes. This tower was way taller than I thought it would be and it looked like a piece of art. It was a giant spiralled staircase made of twisted metal and the biggest tree trunks I have seen in person. I am not the biggest fan of heights, but the excitement of what I was about to see overrode my fears and I was not disappointed when I reached the top. It was raining that evening and a big double rainbow was in the sky. The lake was beautiful and everything around it was lush and green. Such a beautiful place and to think, if Annet hadn’t taken me out this evening, I would never have known this place even existed. After we took some photos, we headed to Den Bockenreyder for dinner. Den Bockenreyder is a hidden gem deep in the woods that was ranked the number one restaurant in the Netherlands in 2016. It looks like several cabins grouped together surrounded by pastures. Annet said that during the Summer months, many people ride their horses through the trails to come eat here. She said at times there can be a hundred horses tied to the hitching posts in the pastures!
Annet said that there are several options for places to sit, so we tried the smallest building first and there was a cozy little table for two right in front of the fireplace just waiting for us! The menu was in Dutch, so Annet helped me decide on a bowl of Asparagus soup to start. It was so delicious and really hit the spot of a rainy night. While our main course was being prepared, the manager brought over a plate of Bitterballen (beef croquettes) and Frikandel (Dutch sausage) for us to sample. I am so glad a tried these tasty little appetizers! Next, I had a big plate of fried eggs served over curly bacon on soft, buttered wheat toast. It came with a small salad of pearl onions, pickles, cherry tomatoes and black olives. It was such a big plate, but too good to leave anything behind. After dinner, Annet and I split a caramel Stroopwafel sundae. I think Stroopwafel is my new favourite cookie. Rian and Anita were sweet enough to give me a bag of them to take home and they did not last very long! Not only is it a tasty little cookie, but it is really fun to say too ;)
After dinner, Annet took me to see her home on the way back to the barn. It is a beautiful place with red and white shutters that Annet painted herself and a lovely garden and yard. It was a delightful way to end a great stay in Holland. Annet, if you are reading this, you are such a pleasure and I can’t wait to go out on another romantic drive through the Dutch countryside with you ;)
The next morning, I woke up early to say farewell to my friend W and to talk a bit with Imke. It was hard to put into words how much I appreciated my time with her, but I did my best and left two feet taller after hearing her opinions on my riding. This experience was fun, exciting, challenging and rewarding and I cannot wait to head back for more. Not only are Imke, Tineke and Mischa beautiful, successful riders, but they are wonderful coaches as well. I look so forward to bringing everything I learned back to my own students and horses. Till then…
Click here to go to Training in Holland - Training Notes Part I