By Viva Medina
It is not often that reality exceeds one’s dreams. I had long dreamed of a trip to Germany to experience the German horse culture. The week long course with the Hannoveraner Verband far exceeded my dreams, and I savored every moment. I didn’t want the days to end and each experience is a memory I replay over and over.
The course was presented by Dr. Ludwig Christmann, head of International Affairs, Development, and Education. He has been with the Verband for 32 years, and his trained eye doesn’t miss a speck of dust on a horse. His charming assistant, Maren Schlender, was a great asset and a fount of knowledge as an approved horse judge and advisor for breeders outside of Germany. The course was attended by ten people, including myself and my friend, Cheryl Howe. The horses were amazing, and the warmth and hospitality of the German horse community was an unexpected pleasure. There are many breeding clubs under the Verband, and the traditional German breeder is a farmer with a couple mares. There are approximately 15,000 Hanoverian mares in Germany, compared to about 2,000 in the rest of the world. The love of horses is universal and the passion for Hanoverian horses was a common thread that bound these participants.
The first day started off at the Breeding Station Verden with a lecture on the breeding program. Dr. Christmann spoke about the foundation breeds for the modern sport horse, the evolution from draft to riding horse, and the formation of the stud books. Dr. Christmann wrote an article that explains many of the technical aspects of judging conformation, so I suggest you to read his article for a better understanding of what we learned from his lecture. The breeding season was winding down, so only a few stallions were in residence. Of those few, several were brought out for us to admire, including 20 year old Graf Top, the oldest G line stallion. Despite his age, he still lets you know he is “the man”. We also saw his son, Gray Top, who loved the attention.
Afterwards, we headed across the street to the training facility, stables, and famous indoor arena where the auctions are held. Even empty, it was a thrill to stand in that arena. We were presented with three young mares, which Dr. Christmann evaluated one by one as he explained the judging procedures. He encouraged the participants to start training their eyes to see the positives and negatives of each mare. The day concluded with a delicious welcome dinner at the hotel Niedersachsenhof.
The second day consisted of a mare performance test and foal show at the impressive Gestüt Letter Berg, Coesfeld, owned by the Voss family. Over 50 horses were presented, and the quality was evident from the start. Dr. Christmann was in the center of the arena with the other officials. Much to my surprise, I was invited to stand in the center of the arena with them. It was an amazing experience to watch the free jumping up close. The three-year-olds went first, then the four-year-olds and older. Next, there was an under saddle portion, with three horses in the arena at the same time. Initially, a mare was ridden by the owner or trainer, and then evaluated. When the judges were satisfied, a professional test rider, chosen by the Verband, got on. He gave the judges his impression of the horse’s temperament and rideability. I never got the test rider’s name, but he was impressive, and I saw improvement in each mare during his ride.
After this, we had a lunch break where we were introduced to Mr. Voss, the owner of Gestüt Letter Berg. He was very welcoming and gave us a grand tour. He had over 100 horses! His goal is to sell 25 horses per year, as three- and four-year-olds under saddle.
After lunch, we returned to an awards ceremony that was set up in an outdoor dressage arena. The best eight mares from the morning session were brought back and awards were handed out. Dr. Christmann spoke about each mare, and his comments were educational. Then, we had some fun with the foals. There is just something so very entertaining about adults chasing foals around with plastic bags on the end of lunge whips. It is serious business for the breeders, but fun for the spectators. The foals were branded when the inspection was over. It was a successful day for all involved.
Day three greeted us with welcomed sunshine, after days of rain. Since this year’s course focused on mares, we traveled to many breeding facilities and farms. First, we visited the farm of Edda Kröner in Schüttorf, family owned for 150 years. Edda’s welcome to the group was as warm as the sunshine. We mingled with her mares and foals, while she explained the principals and application of the interactive barn. Her mares and foals were obviously happy with the arrangement, including a computer controlled feeding system. Then, we traveled to a mare show at a large facility owned by a breeding and riding club. The inspection triangle was set up on the grass, with flower decorations. Again, high quality horses were presented. The group stood with the judges, while Maren translated the commentary. The quality of the mares and foals was consistently high, including some very cute ponies. Finally, there was a special trip to a breeder who focused on eventers, after which we were treated to a trip to Celle, where I got to sit on a concrete replica of Weltmeyer’s back. There were no stallions at Celle, but it was still very special to walk through those storied barns.
Sadly, we came to our last day, which found us back in the lecture room. Dr. Christmann gave a comprehensive presentation on the Hanoverian bloodlines. Even though I had stopped breeding a few years ago, I hung on every word. I took the course because I had wanted to for so many years. When I was breeding, I had neither spare time nor money to do so. I appreciated the experience and knowledge gained, as well as got a sense of validation for the breeding choices I had made and how I have always handled my horses. I encourage everyone who breeds, has thought of breeding, or just wants a better understanding of Hanoverian bloodlines and standards to attend one of the courses. Next year, the course will focus on stallions. Perhaps fate will be kind and I will get to attend that one too!!
The author, Viva Medina, lives on the island of Maui, HI. She is the President of the Hawaii State Dressage Society. She has shown through Prix St. Georges and has two USDF/Dover Saddlery Adult Amateur Medals. While retired from breeding, she continues to ride and train her Donnerhall Weltmeyer granddaughter.