If Italy sets the standard for wine and France for elegant cuisine, then Germany is the center of excellence for riding and horsemanship. Nine UF English equestrian students, accompanied by their instructors, traveled to Germany during winter break to see just how they “stood up” to the extremely high standards of the German equestrian community.
It’s necessary to travel back to August 2015, to see how this international riding experience unfolded. At the start of the semester, English equestrian majors were given the opportunity to enroll in a 3-credit hour class that would culminate with a trip abroad and a chance to earn a “Basis Pass and the small German bronze medal,” the first step in the rigorous German medal system.
According to Nicole Thuengen, director of the English riding program, the German Medal System is the “entrance” to be able to show horses in nationally recognized German shows.
“It also proves the rider’s ability in certain levels (in which) they want to compete,” added Thuengen. “The medals show that you are capable to show in this level and eventually higher.”
Thuengen, who began working at UF at the start of the 2015 spring semester, accompanied the students on their holiday trip that started on December 4, 2015 and (for some) lasted through Christmas. Also traveling with the group was Fred Magazzeni, dressage instructor. Both Thuengen and Magazzeni have worked and shown extensively in Germany and were comfortable with navigating the country and keeping up with an almost exhausting itinerary.
“It went smoothly, except initially when we tried to load 12 suitcases, 11 backpacks and 11 personal items into two vans,” laughed Thuengen.
A Working Vacation
Basing themselves in the town of Vechta (in northern Germany), the group began preparation for their medal test at the State Riding College. (State Riding Colleges are supervised by the German government and by the German Federation of Riding.) Monday, Dec. 6 saw some UF students getting assigned to a horse, while others rode two horses, specializing in both jumping and dressage. For the next three days, the UF contingent rode on the flat and learned theory in the mornings, then, after a quick lunch, heard more theory and rode over fences in the afternoons.
On Saturday, Dec. 11, the group visited the German Riding School in Warendorf and marveled at a class of “Master Trainer” applicants schooling for their final exam in 1.40 m. (about 4-foot) fences. They also toured the German Olympic Committee for Riding (DOKR) where most of Germany’s Olympic horses had trained.
The UF students found it inspiring to see ponies, with riders ages 11-16, jumping 1.30 m. They watched the 25 best of the nation qualify for an important show at the end of January.
“Warendorf is the most important town in Germany for horses,” said Thuengen, a German Certified Master Trainer. “It is also the home of the German National Riding Federation.”
Both Thuengen and Magazzeni agreed that watching the German riders was a great experience for their students.
“They were more encouraged. . . positively encouraged about their future as riders,” said Magazzeni. Students realized they would have to “gear up” to qualify for these strong requirements.
The following week was one of intense study, as students prepared for their Friday, Dec. 18 medal exam. Exam day began at 8:30 a.m., with questions about horse care and handling. Students transitioned into riding mode, with jumping first, followed by dressage. By 1:00 p.m., the examiners announced that everyone had passed and awarded medals, certificates and stickers.
Although focused on riding, the trip did allow for some sightseeing, with stops at the German Horse Museum, the German Hanoverian Association headquarters, the 11th century Verden Cathedral, and shopping at the Verden Christmas Market.
Most of the students departed on Dec. 19 to be back in the U.S. for Christmas, but Thuengen, Magazzeni and a few students remained to spend a few more days in Germany.
Earning the medal and gaining entrance into the world of international riding is a real boon to the UF students’ career aspirations. Magazzeni feels that Europe is opening up equine employment opportunities to “outsiders” for the first time. They are also seeking competitive riders from other countries.
For the nine UF students who completed the program successfully, the European trip was far more than a Christmas gift. Competing in a rigorous and challenging endeavor has given them the confidence to move forward in what may be for some, an international riding/training career.