Why I'm Packing Up My Whole Life to Ride in Germany
I think we are often asked to sacrifice a lot for our careers. I can't imagine this is something unique to the horse industry. On my part, I’ve lost relationships, left home, turned my life upside down… and I’m only twenty one.
I’ve also moved to new places on my own - except not quite. I always moved with Mariska, my first and only horse. She is an adorably small and sassy friesian cross standing at 15.1 with a sturdy build. She has moved with me everywhere I go. This time, however, the trek is too far and too expensive. She’ll stay in the states while I move across the world to Muenster, Germany - my furthest move, and the first I’ll be making all alone.
This is perhaps the hardest part of leaving my life behind. If it weren’t for Mariska I would have completed my Bereiter certification as soon as I turned 18. She’s also the reason I have this opportunity. Her willingness and her natural balance made a backyard horse into a real competitor in the international ring. She took me to the North American Youth Championships and gave me opportunities to learn with some of the best trainers in the world. She never made things easy, but thanks to her I have such an array of experiences in different disciplines from dressage to eventing to liberty work.
"If it weren’t for Mariska I would have completed my Bereiter certification as soon as I turned 18. She’s also the reason I have this opportunity."
There are many things about what I’m going to do that will make it an easier experience for me than others. My mother raised us bilingually, and I can speak German almost as well as I can speak English, and that makes a huge difference. I have friends and family to help me move, I’m familiar with the culture, and my summers there as a child make me quite fond of the cornfields and the windmills dotting the horizon.
But, to say that I’m 100% excited and ready to go would be a lie. I know that my predicament alone is one that I am privileged to have, but fear of change and managing others' expectations is something we all struggle with, in every industry.
Some days I’m not excited at all. I think about all that I’m leaving behind and I get really sad. My parents, my little brother, my best friends, Mariska. And yet, I’m still going. On days when I’m not excited it gets really hard to talk to people about it. On those days it seems I have to put up a front to meet the excitement that is expected of me. On days like today, when all I want to do is be a hermit in the woods, every mention of this incredible opportunity makes me sick to my stomach.
So after all of this, why am I doing it? I’ve always felt I had something to prove to the world. I have a theory that my small stature and the fact that I’m a woman contributes to it, but it’s also my intense craving to be the best at whatever I do. This opportunity felt like a challenge to myself that I knew would be hard, but I felt I could manage. We’ll see if I’m right...
Why I'm Choosing the Bereiter Program
Germany is the center of the dressage world. It has won 8 of the last 9 Olympic medals. Many of the top American horses were bred there. Their “Bereiter” program is unlike any other in the world. It’s a structured two-to-three-year program with exams, and often there is a school to attend, too. Once I’m done, I have my “Trainer A” certification, which is the highest teaching certificate, and I have the qualifications to train horses professionally.
This structure is what drew me to the program in the first place. I wanted a thorough education in the equestrian field, something I know is achievable in the states, but in here the certification process is not as well organized, not to mention you have to pay to complete it. In Germany I’ll get paid. I’ve been a working student since I was 15, six years, but at what point do I decide to go pro? That I have learned what I need to learn to make my own decisions about my horses and other people’s training? I wanted a clear answer to that question, so I decided to start applying to different barns in Germany to be an apprentice.
The first and arguably hardest thing I had to do was rewrite my resume and my cover letter in German. Academic writing in another language was a lot harder than I expected and something I had never done. It took a lot of help from my mother and my best friend, and I learned a lot of new words along the way.
Once I had that sorted out I made a dream list of my favorite riders and trainers.
With that list in mind, I asked a few people I knew in Germany who they would recommend -- trainers I knew they respected. To my surprise, the names I got were already on my list.
I sent all of those names an application consisting of a short email, cover letter, and resume. I got some rejections, didn’t hear back from some, and some responses where they wanted to meet for an interview. I ended with two trial interviews set up with Philipp Hess (Christoph Hess’s son) and Helen Langehanenberg for my visit in December 2020.
I had already decided that I was going to go to Germany that December regardless of work. My grandparents were seeming more and more fragile by the day and I had never spent Christmas with them. I knew COVID would make things complicated, but I decided it was worth it.
My best friend lent me her car, and I left one Tuesday morning to head to my first interview with Philipp Hess. There were a few challenges to overcome first. For one, I had a very basic level of understanding when it came to driving a manual car. Not to mention a basic knowledge of German traffic laws (which Germans understand very well, the way New Yorkers understand the very brisk walking pace that is expected, nay required). So with my beginner shifting skills and extremely elevated blood pressure, I set off.
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I planned my drive so that I would arrive in the small town of Bettenrode before dark -- which hit around 4:30 pm this time of year. Naturally, there were two hours of slow traffic and by the time I was anywhere near the barn, it was pitch black. After nearly dying a couple of dozen times by trying to match the aggressive speed of German drivers on dark winding roads, I finally arrived, and I was blown away. Tucked behind a little mountain was a farm the size of a small town. Truly, when I drove in I thought I had found a whole other city. The yard consisted of two indoors, one covered, at least 4 barns, and more than 60 horses, easily. I found my room and went right to bed.
The next morning we started at 7, “not bad” I thought. I can do a 7 am start any day. The operation was pretty standard. Philipp started riding at 8. And he kept riding and riding. All day, genuinely until 8 at night he was on a horse. But he met the day with such positive energy it was contagious. The work environment seemed lovely, and once I got used to the long days, I felt like I fit in pretty well there. I knew there would be a lot of riding opportunities- between 5 and 8 horses a day. I considered it a very serious option.
After four days, I said goodbye and drove to my next interview with Helen Langehanenberg.
The Perfect Fit
The drive was much easier this time, only three hours. I had that day off and used it to do some work for my boss back in the states: Tik Maynard.
I was told to be at Helen’s at 7 the next morning, so I left my Airbnb at 6:35 for the 10-minute drive there. Still, I had made the mistake of not driving the route in the daylight and I couldn’t find the barn until 7:05. “Great”, I thought, “What a first impression!”. I hate being late more than anything, and I will never forget those five minutes. I walked in and Helen was already riding. She gave a bright “Guten Morgen!” and told me to find one of the apprentices to help. I was told to tack and then hand walk a horse and by 7:30 I was on that horse. Back to back, I got to ride three top-quality horses with small comments from Helen here and there. There were about 30 horses at her barn -- a much smaller feel compared to Philipp’s barn. Every horse had their own set of polo wraps hanging on their stall door, something the OCD part of my brain really appreciated.
After the riding was done for the day, Helen had a little talk with me. Standing barely taller than me (I’m 5’2”) I couldn’t help think how cool it was that someone my height could ride these huge horses. She was wearing a knee-length purple coat and a scarf and I was shivering in my inadequate Florida-strength jackets. She told me she liked my riding and that she could see this working out for me. She said she had two more people interviewing the week after, but that things looked good for me. So with a cheek-to-cheek grin, I drove the five hours to my grandparent’s house in Berlin.
The decision was fairly easy for me to make. For one, I liked the intimacy a smaller operation provided. Each horse got a little more time and their care was slightly more specialized. Also, I desperately wanted to learn from Helen. She seemed so similar to me and I wanted to emulate what I saw in her riding. So, a week later I gave her a call and told her that I wanted the position if she’d have me.
And now, shortly before my move to Germany, my contract is signed, I have a place to stay, and all that’s left to do is get there and get settled. I’m honored to have a position with such a distinguished rider, and I’m so thankful for everyone that has helped me along the way. In particular my first trainer, Katie Poag, my mentors, Tik and Sinead Maynard, my parents, and most of all the little horse that could: Mariska.
Written by Juliette Cain
Juliette Cain is a 21-year-old dressage rider who won NAYC Jr Team Gold in 2018. She's documenting her move across the world, from the USA to Germany, to participate in the 3-year-long Bereiter Program at Helen Langehanenberg's yard on NOELLEFLOYD.com.