By Monika von Windheim
This past April, I had an incredible opportunity to visit the Haupt-und Land Gestuet Marbach in southern Germany, a state run stud farm located in Marbach. My eldest daughter, Natalia, started working there as a volunteer during the gap year between her junior and senior years of college. Natalia’s father had trained dressage horses in Germany during his youth, and he would often share these stories with Natalia during her dressage lessons. With these stories as inspiration, she set off at the beginning of January to make some of her own. Texts and video calls were a great way to stay in touch between the USA and Germany, but I was excited to finally be with Natalia, and the horses, in person.
I had an easy flight via London to Stuttgart, where I picked up the rental car and headed off. Haupt-und Land Gestuet Marbach is situated in a very picturesque area called the Schwabian Alb, just over an hour south of the Stuttgart airport. The winding roads reminded me a bit of the foothills in North Carolina. I passed by villages, with church steeples rising above the trees. The sight of old fortresses on hillsides made me appreciate that, once upon a time, there had been another lifestyle in this region. I thoroughly enjoyed driving my compact stick shift around the tight corners, up the mountainside, and through the villages. On my approach to Marbach, I passed a horse driven carriage and knew I was almost there.
It was great to be reunited with Natalia. In her time away from home, she had learned to speak German, and was easily introducing me to her colleagues in their language. On a quick tour, she showed me the stables, the horse stadium, the office building, and the gift shop. She explained that she had also spent time working on another farm, where the Marbach stallions were kept. Her main tasks, whatever the location, were to muck out stalls, groom horses, and sweep the aisles. When I saw the broom Natalia used, I thought that it was a witch’s broom- it was just a stick with branches attached to the bottom! Sure enough, these brooms were put into action several times a day, and I never heard a leaf blower.
After dinner, Natalia had to work a shift of night watch in the foaling barn. She had been informed just before my arrival that she would be needed to watch the mares, because the usual foaling staff was unavailable that night due to illnesses. Natalia had worked with the mares previously, but never experienced a foaling.
After a long trip from the USA, I was tired and looking forward to going to bed, but first I stopped by to say goodnight to Natalia in the foaling barn. Natalia assured me that she understood what to do and when to call the barn manager. She summarized the signs of a mare going into labor, and the maiden mare Natalia was watching was exhibiting all of those signs. She stood close enough to the stall gate that I could reach in and pet her, and when I felt her warm, sweaty coat, I knew the first stage of labor had begun.
I decided to stay and watch. Natalia offered to set me up with some hay bales, but I chose to stay with the mare and offer her companionship. Labor progressed, and within two hours the mare gave birth to a handsome colt. Once the foal was born, the mares in the neighboring stalls gave a round of nickers. I’m not sure if it meant congratulations to the mare, or welcome to the foal. However, it was a very reassuring sound.
Over the next few days, Natalia showed me her favorite places in the surrounding area. The nearby villages offered an ice cream parlor, a bakery, and an outlet shopping center. After each excursion, the return to Marbach always felt like we were taking a step back in time. Perhaps it was because I was surrounded by the architecture of former days. Or, maybe because it was a quiet week and only a few tourists were visiting. I was told that if I visited during another time of year it would be a totally different atmosphere.
Marbach offers several events for the horse enthusiast. I missed the opportunity to attend the horse auction that is held in early spring. The grounds are also used to facilitate an international Eventing competition, at the beginning of May. The first weekend in July is the Marbach Classic, which is an extravaganza of horse performances, accompanied by a live orchestra. Another large event is the stallion parade that occurs in the fall. The schedule on their website (info is in German at http://www.gestuet-marbach.de/)lists the numerous other events and opportunities available at Marbach.
I left Marbach wanting to return. This traditional horse community, established in the year 1514, is both a step back in time and very much a part of the 21st century. I was pleased to hear about Micheal Jung’s win at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, the weekend following my arrival back in the USA. He won the event on his mare, fischerRocana FST, sired by Ituango xx, one of the successful stallions standing at Marbach. It was a fitting end to my German adventure.