Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2024

Shopping In Europe, Part 3: Ensuring A Good Outcome

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This past summer, a friend, a trainer and I went to Germany and the Netherlands with an agent to look at dressage horses. After preparing for the trip and getting through the logistics of the trip itself (visiting 20 barns to sit on 28 horses) came the fun part: What happened after I found the horse I wanted.

Making Decisions

While I planned to look at horses for five days, we built time in our schedule for a day of re-visiting horses that I really liked, as well as a day for vetting if we found one (or more) that was a good fit. Our Dutch agent, Norbert Gieling of Gieling Dressage Horses, encouraged me to pick two or three, as sometimes vetting doesn’t work out on the No. 1 choice. 

By day three, I had a top two, and I decided to set up a second ride on my first choice (I’m glad I did; there were others in line behind me!) before the end of the week. My top two horses, were not only smooth and elastic, but I felt connected to them. I know just a little about breeding , but my friends and Norbert were more knowledgeable, so we talked about the bloodlines of the horses I liked, how they might work with my goals, and so on. I watched the videos of these horses critically and tried to see if what I felt could be observed on the video (interestingly, I think I looked like I matched with several horses on the video—and I did enjoy riding them—but only two gave me that “I’m home” feeling).

The horse that gave author Rebecca Rickly (center, with agent Norbert Gieling, left, and trainer Kelsey Broecker, mounted) that “at home” feeling, a 5-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare named Noa. Photos Courtesy Of Rebecca Rickly

I rode 28 really wonderful, talented horses, ranging in age from 4 to 12. But the two that rose to the top of my list were more than just talented: they were kind, they were smooth and they made me feel safe. I felt at home when I was on them. After riding my first choice a second time, this time going outside to see how she reacted to traffic, in an outdoor arena—she didn’t—we set up a PPE. We all met at a fantastic veterinary compound, and I got to take part in the PPE. The veterinarian there walked me through the X-rays, which I sent to my vet back home. They both concurred that Noa, a 5-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Fürstenball—Wabola, Krack C), was one fine horse, and a deal was struck. 

Coming To A Farm Near You

Because I chose a mare, I knew there would be a longer wait to get my new horse than if I had purchased a gelding, because breeding stock (mares and stallions) have to go through a more rigorous quarantine process. We worked out that she would stay in the same barn in the Netherlands until all the bloodwork came in. During that time Norbert gave me all kinds of updates, including information about her feeding, work schedule, a picture of the bit she was used to and more.

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After the local quarantine, she would fly from Amsterdam to New York. On Norbert’s suggestion, I contacted the women at Horseflight.com, and I signed documentation to make sure my mare would be well tended, and for them to keep me apprised of how she was doing on her flight to the U.S. and subsequent quarantine here. They were great: Once my mare was out of quarantine in the Netherlands and on her way to the U.S., they sent me near daily updates, often with pictures, to tell me how she was doing. 

I also made sure to speak to my insurance carrier. I wanted to make sure my horse was insured for her trip, as well as once she landed. Horses like to make our lives interesting, right? My mare is no different. She cut her coronet band on her left hind when she landed in the U.S. It wasn’t a bad wound (it didn’t require stitches), but we decided to be safe and give her a shot of antibiotics. Unfortunately, antibiotics can be a masking agent, so we had to wait almost two weeks extra so that we could do the blood tests, making her quarantine stay almost twice as long as it normally would be.

Then the waiting game began in earnest. 

It felt like forever since I’d had the opportunity to sit on this wonderful horse, and I was on pins and needles waiting for the go-ahead to arrange travel to my barn. Once she was out of quarantine, I used Equine Express to ship her to my farm. She had an easy trip, and she settled into her new life fairly quickly.

Rickly and Noa getting to know each other after their second ride in the Netherlands, after Rickly decided to vet the mare.

Takeaways

My horse-shopping trip was a success for a number of reasons. First, riding all these incredible horses over a short period of time with the attention of a trainer, my friend and Norbert was akin to attending a week-long clinic. I got to work on my position, my contact, my “being present” with 28 different horses, and I came back a better rider than when I started. My friend, her trainer and I all appreciated Norbert’s insights so much that we invited him to give a clinic in Dallas in early December. (I attended and had some lovely rides on my new partner there.) 

Second, my European trip was surprisingly cost-effective. Because I don’t live in California or Florida, the horse meccas of the U.S., going to see horses domestically is time-consuming and costly, especially once I added in the cost of bringing a trainer along. But with Norbert’s research and contacts, we were able to see more than two dozen horses in less than five days, and the rental car/fuel was much less expensive than plane tickets would have been. Even with the cost of flights, I came out ahead.

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Third, my “team”—my friend, her trainer and Norbert—provided a support network that made my trip smooth and successful. I was lucky in my selection of agents, teammates and horses. If you are an amateur and would like to make a trip like this one, I strongly urge you to find a team you feel supported by, then do your pre-trip preparation diligently, and enjoy the journey.

I had a brilliant experience prepping for and going to Europe to look for a horse. I found the most wonderful horse for me, one which met all of my criteria—including staying within my budget. Thanks to my team, my family and Norbert, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me and my new partner.

Suggested Checklists For A Successful Shopping Trip

Pre-trip preparation 

  • Find your team: friend(s), trainer, agent
  • Establish must-have criteria, as well as preferences you can be more flexible about
  • Consider timing
  • Check passports, adapters, etc.
  • Purchase tickets/lodging (and possibly rent a car)
  • Pack clothes inside your boot/helmet bag in case of lost luggage
  • Figure out what you like
  • Make a master sheet for horses you try to keep them straight
  • Communicate clearly and often with your agent/your team

Trip suggestions

  • Ride the way you will at home (with/without spurs, in a snaffle/double, etc.)
  • Stay hydrated
  • Make good notes/take videos
  • Keep your criteria in mind as you examine the videos/notes 
  • Have a top two or three horses just in case one doesn’t vet as well as you’d like
  • Recognize that mares/stallions take longer to quarantine
  • Make sure you have insurance before your horse ships

Rebecca Rickly, 63, is a retired professor of rhetoric and technical communication at Texas Tech University who now lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. While she’s ridden since age 9, she only had her first lesson at age 45, when she finally decided she would follow her dreams and “do” eventing while living in Lubbock, Texas, there were no eventing coaches in the area. She’s now enjoying her new discipline of dressage with the 5-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare she found in Europe, as well as popping over the occasional jump on her faithful Irish Sport Horse Paddy 2.0, who, along with his predecessor, taught her how to learn.

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