Monday, May. 27, 2024

Chapter 4, Part 2: Ingrid Klimke Provides A Welcome Silver Lining

Ironically my exodus from Mr. Hinnemann's farm has proven to be the most important chapter of my stay so far.

It was only because of my unexpected exit that two weeks later I found myself working for Ingrid Klimke. I think it's not uncommon that the most traumatic event will bring about the greatest transformation. And, like a colt being weaned from his mother, I was forced to find a new pasture for myself in the big, big world.

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Ironically my exodus from Mr. Hinnemann’s farm has proven to be the most important chapter of my stay so far.

It was only because of my unexpected exit that two weeks later I found myself working for Ingrid Klimke. I think it’s not uncommon that the most traumatic event will bring about the greatest transformation. And, like a colt being weaned from his mother, I was forced to find a new pasture for myself in the big, big world.

Ingrid’s stable was what I had been unknowingly seeking all along: a chance to learn in a positive atmosphere that encourages questions and independence rather than blind obedience and anxiety, a stable that builds professionalism and self-confidence and fosters loyalty.

Ingrid lives and working in Muenster, Westfalia, a region I have come to appreciate for its good beer and great horses. On weekends in the summer there are often 10 horse shows all within 100 km of the city. And apparently there is no sacrifice of quality for quantity. (Of course the same goes for the beer.)

Ingrid has everything that I would look for in a trainer: the best classical knowledge available, passed on to her from her dad; a deep compassion and understanding of the horse, courtesy of a childhood and adolescence caring and riding all manner of horses and ponies; respect from her peers for her dedication to horses and her open, honest manner with people; and experience in dressage and eventing, including three Olympic Games and one Olympic gold.

But most of all Ingrid really enjoys riding, and she spreads that enthusiasm like confetti in the wind. I can see it every time she’s on a horse—her concentration and focus is matched only by her exuberant smile.

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On my second weekend in Muenster, Ingrid went to a “really, really important and prestigious” dressage show (so says my roommate, dressage enthusiast and fellow Canadian, Eiren Crawford). Well, everyone thought it was a big deal, and she ended up second to Isabell Werth (also a big deal). What impressed me though was a little footnote of the show that wasn’t printed in the official results.

The night before the show, Ingrid was out working Damon Hill, her top stallion, when she overheard some grooms casually berating the inability (or lack of opportunity) of dressage horses to jump. That was too much for her. She had to put them right.

“My horse can jump,” she told them. The grooms knew Ingrid, and they were excited to see where this might lead. They eagerly—although somewhat nervously, considering the surroundings—challenged her to jump a bale of hay.

One bale?” she replied with dignified scorn, as if that was not worth her time, “Put out two.” (I love it! Euro-dressage trash-talking!) The grooms’ excitement did not go unrewarded; Damon Hill cleared it with ease. And then the duo, who were now attracting a crowd, jumped it the other way as well. The grooms were eating a little humble pie.

But it gets better!

A drunk guy (I’m not sure where he came from, or what role he had at the horse show) appeared, and in a tipsy German drawl he asked if she could jump him as well if he lay on the bales of hay. (I’m also not sure if he was joking or not. And maybe he wasn’t sure either.) But Ingrid, who was feeling pretty confident at this point, said it was no problem. There was nothing skittish about Damon Hill as he boldly approached the makeshift jump. Drunk guy was surprisingly still as they easily jumped over him and landed lightly on the other side.

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But Ingrid is not all guts’n’glory, rather that is a side that only complements her very serious work ethic. In her day-to-day training she is a relentless perfectionist, and she carefully plans every day of every week. She is structured yet flexible. She writes her goals in concrete and her plans in sand. She is careful to surround herself with competent and enthusiastic help. And she keeps the number of horses at her stable to a manageable number, between 10 and 15, so that she can ride every horse there and see to it that they’re receiving the highest possible standard of care and training.

On my first day there I rode five horses. I think this was more a chance for Ingrid to evaluate my riding than a compliment to my ability. Nevertheless, I didn’t let that deter me from relishing the chance to ride such athletic and competition-proven horses. My last ride of the day was on FRH Butt’s Abraxxis, her 11-year-old Hanoverian that had been her mount in Hong Kong. Braxxi and Ingrid placed fifth individually and also won team gold. This is surely the most accomplished horse I’ve ever ridden, and I was flattered that I got the chance to ride him twice more that first week.

I have another two weeks at Ingrid’s stable before I leave Germany for good. I’m learning more here than I thought possible. At times I’m still upset with myself for not making my stay at Mr. Hinnemann’s more successful and productive, but as Eiren says, “It is his failure as a teacher, just as much as it is yours as a student, that you were not learning and enjoying riding.”

While talking with Ingrid the other day, she asked what my plans for the future were. I told her I was planning on going to the O’Connors’ farm in Florida next, and from there, if possible, to find a top show jumper to train with. I told her who my first choice would be, and to my surprise she said that she might know an owner who could get me a job there. Ingrid Klimke was willing to vouch for me and put my name forward to an internationally known rider. For me, that was a compliment that made all the anxiety of the past few months just disappear.

This article was originally published in Gaitpost magazine.

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