No doubt, Germans have wonderful horse breeds-- the Rheinlander, the Hanoverian, the Holsteiner, and the Trakehner, to name a few. And they have produced world champions and Olympians in various disciplines. But what about pleasure riding? Is it all about competitive sports and no casual riding in Germany? Far from it. Germany has extensive, well maintained horse trails, and there are endless opportunities to go through lush green landscapes and dense forests on horseback. Last year I visited a young friend in the Odenwald, a hilly area Southwest of Frankfurt near the Rhine River and the famous romantic route through towns with cobblestone streets, vineyards and miles of forests.
Frequent rainfall in Germany makes landscapes green year-round, and horses are always out on pasture. In the Odenwald region many farmers keep Norwegian Fjord horses, but warm bloods are also quite common. My friend is in her early twenties and has been riding just about all her life. She befriended a middle aged couple that breeds Hanoverians in one of the villages. She invited me to come along and spend a weekend with the couple, their three Hanoverians and a beautiful filly. Barbara and Friesel live right in the middle of the village and have a horse stable in their backyard. In order to turn them out, the horses are led through the village onto green pastures at the edge of town. The couple’s main goal is to show and sell Hanoverians, but they do not ride them. They are grateful to the young and eager riders like my friend who come frequently to exercise their horses. After introductions, my friend and I went to get two Hanoverians from the pasture, one was the mother of the filly and it took a bit of convincing to make her leave the filly with the remaining horse. We got English saddles from a tack room of a small adjacent barn, saddled the tall horses and rode through the village. At seventeen hands, this was the tallest horse I had ever ridden. Sasky was a terrific, dependable thirteen year-old with nice long strides and no fuss. Residents gave us friendly “Hello’s” as we were passing by. We soon reached the edge of the forest and ascended up a steep hill on a wide trail lined by tall pine trees.
We spent an hour among the trees, mainly trotting and cantering, which was exhilarating. These long legged horses developed quite a speed on the long flat stretches of soft pine needled ground. I felt safe and secure on this big mare though, and even if back home I mainly ride on Westerns addles, this well made English saddle fit me perfectly, and I enjoyed the support of the leather rolls while speeding through the landscape. The dense forest was sometimes interrupted by an opening with views of green fields, hills, and sun filled landscapes. When we came back to town, the mare got more and more excited the closer we came to the field where her filly was waiting for her. We brought all the horses to the barn. It was time to get the mare and her daughter ready for a filly show scheduled for the following day by cleaning them up and braiding the mare’s mane.
On show day the proud owners were quite excited. We drove the horses through some villages and onto the fairgrounds. Cuteness was all around, with quite a few mares and their sweet fillies. My friend ran the mare on the lead line, and the filly didn’t quite behave as she should have, which prompted the announcer to say that the little one was “farting around,” causing quite a chuckle in the audience. However, the little one did well enough to make second place in a show of twenty mother/child pairs.
We had one more day and one more ride left. This time my friend invited another village woman to come along on a different trail with all three of Friesel’s and Barbara’s adult horses. This time a thunderstorm was brewing. Summers in Germany can get hot and humid, and thunderstorms can be vigorous. This time rushing through the forest on horseback felt like a race with the storm. We made it back to town just when the rain started pouring. After taking the horses back to their stalls, we sat in the backyard under a huge umbrella sipping a freshly brewed German beer and watching the dark grey sky unload sheets of rain. A wonderful weekend in the Odenwald it was.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.