For as long as I can remember, everyone I have ever known that has travelled to Europe, whether equestrian or otherwise, has said it was the experience of a lifetime. Thus, when the opportunity came to not only go to Europe, but to go to Europe and ride…let’s just say I jumped on that plane as fast as I possibly could.
The thought of not going never even crossed my mind, despite the fact that, to be honest, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew at the time was that I was going to ride, in Holland, somewhere near Germany, for a friend of a friend of mine. I really didn’t know much else, other than I trusted the two friends that had presented the opportunity to me, and that Freek Vestjens, who I was to go work for, sounded both knowledgeable and nice on the phone.
As it turns out, working for Stal Vestjens is the best situation I could have ever asked for. A top quality operation run by great horsemen, Stal Vestjens is home to approximately 20-25 jumping horses in training at any given time, as well as a sizable breeding operation.
In Dutch, stal = stable, and in Dutch, things are described in the opposite order from English, so instead of Vestjens Stables, it is Stal Vestjens. While I am trying to learn as much Dutch as possible, I am finding that instead what I am learning is that Dutch isn’t exactly the easiest language to learn! However, that being said, everyone here in Holland speaks English very well, and the more Dutch words I ask, the more Dutch words I know.
After traveling eight hours on the first transatlantic flight of my life, I arrived in Dusseldorf (Germany), about a 45-minute car ride from Limburg (the Netherlands), where I would be staying for the next three months. Shortly after arriving, I was given the option to stay home and rest or go to the stable to see the horses. My answer was, of course, go to the stable. Thus, within a few hours of landing, I was already sitting atop a horse in the middle of Europe—a lifelong dream come true.
I officially started work the next day, and the job was everything I could have ever wanted: a lot of riding, a lot of learning and a lot of observing both at home and at shows. The quality of horses at Stal Vestjens is very impressive, as is the quality of the horses throughout all of Limburg, which I am told represent the best Holland has to offer. I live with the Vestjens Family: Mart, Petra, Teun and Freek, all of whom are extremely nice—it already feels like home away from home.
I went to my first horse show in Holland just a few days after arriving: Jumping Peel and Maas, a one time per year, by invitation only competition held at the Hendrix Training Facility. Held out on a beautiful grass field, the first night welcomed a feature event for the ponies, in which Freek’s younger brother Teun was invited to participate. The following night, I returned to the competition to see the Masters—a competition where every rider who goes clear is given the opportunity to choose one fence to make higher for the next competitor. As the competition goes on, different jumps keep getting higher and higher, and it was interesting to see who chose what jumps and how successful their strategies were. Following the Masters, there was a BBQ of sorts (aka a really good party) in the big white tent overlooking the field in which the Masters had just finished.
Let’s just say, the Dutch know how to have a good time, everyone is extremely friendly, and after that night, seeing the quality of horses and people, I thought I may never want to go back to America.
Until next time, as the Dutch say…Haije!