Tuesday, May. 28, 2024

Chapter 2: Johann Hinnemann Is The Lord Of The Manor

The driveway must be at least 200 meters long. The entrance to drussurstall van Hinnemann is a reflection on his whole property and philosophy: nothing extravagant or decadent, but everything purposeful and meticulous.

The rows of trees lining the long walk to the door are evenly spaced, soldiers saluting me as I put on a brave face. I’m nervously anticipating meeting Johann Hinnemann for the first time. The red brick house is covered in ivy just starting to turn autumn red. It looks old, the way all brick houses look old to me.

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The driveway must be at least 200 meters long. The entrance to drussurstall van Hinnemann is a reflection on his whole property and philosophy: nothing extravagant or decadent, but everything purposeful and meticulous.

The rows of trees lining the long walk to the door are evenly spaced, soldiers saluting me as I put on a brave face. I’m nervously anticipating meeting Johann Hinnemann for the first time. The red brick house is covered in ivy just starting to turn autumn red. It looks old, the way all brick houses look old to me.

The stable is attached to the house in the popular European style. I arrive in the morning, just as the renowned trainer is rushing off. As he leaves, he manages to fit in an introduction to his secretary and all around director of operations, the very fashionable, competent and young Julia Siebel. She has given up a career as an architect in order to manage the life of Mr. Hinnemann.

I get shown to my apartment, one of nine that are reserved for employees, students and other hangers-on. I’ve drawn a loft suite in the roof of the barn. The interior renovations on this 19th century farmhouse are obvious. Huge skylights and new wooden furniture give it an anywhere-in-the-world kind of feeling—sort of like I’m in an Ikea catalog. I’m duly informed that if I’m not too tired, I should have a shower, a quick bite to eat and start work immediately. I’m eager to do all three, and I take a short tour of the estate before I start riding the five horses I am assigned for my first day.

The property has two houses, a collection of apartments and suites of various sizes, stalls for 40 horses, an indoor and outdoor arena, a few outbuildings, and five fields, the largest of which has a sand track around the outside.

The peaceful picture is completed by fruit and nut trees spread out around the property. (I have even roasted chestnuts already!) In one field there are four masticating brown cows and one calf. Mr. Hinnemann prides himself on his grain-fed, free-range cattle, which often have the run of the property. They easily return the favor by allowing his huge equine operation to function as a farm (and of course, every year one of them pays the ultimate price).

In fact our chef (like in chef d’equipe), as he is called around the barn, began his life as a farmer’s son. Since then he’s become a dressage rider and trainer of international acclaim. He is one of eight Riding Masters [Reitmeister] in the world. He was the 1998 International Dressage Trainer of the Year. But what says it all to me is this: Since being here I have met Coby van Baalen many times, an Olympic silver medalist and a very successful trainer in her own right, and when she wants help, she comes here!

Everything about this place, the nine apartments, the caretaker, the cook, the self-sufficiency and the wealth, reminds me of a medieval manor. And that’s exactly how the chef runs it, like a lord. He can delegate and give orders like nobody’s business.

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In brief military clips he will organize the day: “Walk this horse thirty minutes,” or “Warm up that horse for me,” or “Longe the new horse for 20 minutes and make sure the side reins are tight.”

There is never a please or thank you, simply the complete and utter expectation that you know exactly what he means, and it will be done properly and efficiently. It should be noted that he expects this obedience from all the horses as well.

As for his helping me with my riding, it’s been a similar experience. But this is the way he teaches, short directions, often from horseback, with the anticipation that I will then go and do my homework. Of course he sees everything; he is always in and out of the ring, either riding or coaching, and often watching from the office that overlooks the indoor arena.

He also has eyes in the form of his bereiter, his head rider, Steffi Wolfe. Steffi is a 24-year-old girl who has been a professional since she passed the German riding exam when she was 18, after only two years (it’s usually three) of the state-run apprenticeship program.

At first it got my back up a little to have this young girl teaching me. It took me two minutes to realize she knows far more than I do, and I should take help where I can get it. In my three weeks here she has helped me a little every day—humility is not the only thing I’ve learned.

Every day I ride between three and six horses, sometimes just walking them or warming them up for the chef or the bereiter, and other times working them myself. My instruction often happens like this: Mr. Hinnemann breezes in and sees me riding his 10-year-old black stallion, Timeless. I’m having trouble with the canter-trot transitions, the transition isn’t smooth. The canter shortens and collects too much, and I end up with a couple strides of a sort of half-trot, half-canter gait that is passagey.

“Your transitions aren’t smooth! Work on that!” I hear. And he is gone again.

“Well, thanks,” I think, but desperately wonder: how? That’s when Steffi, who has become a breath of fresh air, will step in.

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There may be three reasons why the transition isn’t working: He has too much energy, he doesn’t understand the signals I’m giving, or he isn’t round, supple and through enough. Steffi’s instructions solve all three: “Ride him shoulder-fore and a little rounder, use your voice and keep doing transitions until he settles.”

BAM! Just like that! This place operates with military organization and competence.

I still haven’t figured out how to make the brrrrr sound by vibrating my tongue behind my teeth, indicating to the horse to slow down or stop. Instead I brrrr with my lips, as if I’m cold. The horse seems to understand, but everyone else thinks it’s hilarious.

The riding starts only after all the other chores are done. The day begins at 7 a.m., and it takes five of us two hours to do the morning chores—feeding, mucking, sweeping and sometimes cobwebs or other odd jobs. The entire barn gets swept three times a day, and we rake the edges of the rings, by hand, every morning.

There are always between 30 and 40 horses here, depending on what students are here, and what horses have been bought or sold. We break for breakfast and lunch, which we eat together, and work until 7 p.m.

The work, like the training of a horse, is disciplined and structured, yet necessarily flexible. So far though, the only flexibility for me has been towards more work and longer hours, never less. Yet I remain cheerfully optimistic that I will improve, make some friends and hopefully improve my dismal German. Until then, bis spaeter!

 This article was originally published in Gaitpost magazine in December of 2008.

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