“A Good Seat: Three Months at The Riding Institute von Neindorff” by Lynne Sprinsky Echols, Part I in a Series

“A Good Seat: Three Months at The Riding Institute von Neindorff” by Lynne Sprinsky Echols, Part I in a Series

(@ 2003-2018 Lynne Sprinsky Echols. This excerpt from Chapter One is used with the author’s permission and and the entirety will be posted in a series. The author describes in fascinating detail the three months that, along with her friend Meredith, she spent in intensive training with Herr Egon von Neindorff at his world-renowned riding school in Karlsruhe, Germany…in search of “a good seat”. Feature image “The Imperial Riding School” (1702) by Johann Georg Hamilton.)

Saturday, February 1, 2003

We arrived in Karlsruhe at almost midnight yesterday. We’d been up for 48 hours straight and were cold, tired and hungry by the time we finally got to bed. The trip did not go smoothly – and that’s an understatement!

Lynne Sprinsky Echols and Rufus. Photograph by Michelle Guillot.

Meredith and I, with my son Matt as chauffeur, left home at about 11 a.m. on Thursday, January 30th. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 5:10 p.m., and we arrived two hours ahead of time as suggested by British Air, to allow for time to clear the security check. As anticipated, when we went to check our bags, I got socked $85 for my extra duffle. What neither of us had anticipated was a four-hour delay in departure, but that was the unfortunate news from the B.A. ticket agent. A freak three-hour snowstorm at London/Heathrow was causing backups in the take-off and landing of flights there, and the solution was to delay all incoming flights before they even left the ground. I quickly got on the cell phone and caught Matt before he got too far away. He came back and retrieved the two of us, and we waited out the delay at the home of my best and oldest friend, who at that time lived about 10 minutes from the airport. At the appointed time we returned to Dulles, only to find that there was a further two-hour delay. We finally got off the ground at 11:45 p.m. East Coast time.

The flight itself wasn’t bad at all as the plane was not full and many people (not including me, alas!) were able to stretch out across a vacant bank of seats to sleep. I discovered that Tylenol P.M. is my friend, however, and slept much better than I have ever done on a plane before. Because of the late departure, we were close to our normal sleep cycles, and we arrived in London about eight hours later, at about our usual getting-up time. Then we sat on the ground for another hour and a half because Heathrow was so jammed up with delayed flights that we couldn’t even get a space at a gate to disembark. Once a gate opened up and we were able to get off the plane, we were supposed to have an hour to catch our connecting flight to Frankfurt, which was scheduled to depart at 3 p.m. London time. Not surprisingly, it was delayed too, and actually took off about 5:30 p.m. Heathrow was a zoo, but we passed the time in their marvelous concourse shops and I treated myself to tea and a scone with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, so I count the time not completely wasted.

We got to Frankfurt without further ado, but after waiting patiently at the luggage-claim carousel until everyone else had left, we discovered that British Air had not managed to get any of our bags onto the plane for Frankfurt. Another hour later, we had filed lost luggage reports and received two British Air “Overnight Kits” containing the usual toiletries. Then we quick-marched our way to the train station, which is conveniently located inside the Frankfurt airport, and bought tickets for Karlsruhe. At 9:54 p.m. local time, we made it aboard the last train for the day with five minutes to spare. The Frankfurt –to-Karlsruhe trip took a bit over an hour, so it was almost 11:00 p.m. when we reached the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Karlsruhe.

A short taxi ride later, we were at the Hotel Kübler, where we were expected. Our little suite wasn’t in the Hotel proper, however, but in a Gästehaus (guest house) located about a ten minute walk down the street and around the corner. Because our taxi had already departed, and it was cold and windy, we were actually glad we weren’t schlepping all of our luggage. Practically congealed with cold by the time we unlocked the door to our room, we were delighted to see an auxiliary roll-around heater, which we immediately turned on “high” and wheeled over close to the bed. Quickly shedding our clothes, we crawled, shivering, under the down comforters to sleep like the proverbial dead until about 9 a.m. Saturday morning.

British Air told us that the average time for retrieval of lost bags is 24 hours, but you never know. The next morning, we tramped back to the Hotel Kübler proper for directions on how to buy a reduced-fare streetcar ticket, and to find out which tram to take for the Reitinstitut von Neindorff. We decided against indulging in the Hotel Kübler’s breakfast offering because it was priced at €11 and we are trying to stick to a €15 per day budget for food. We were hungry, though, so we set out to find some breakfast. Around the corner we came across a little Bäckerei (bakery) where we got coffee and orange juice to help get our eyes open. After polishing those off, we picked up some ground coffee, milk, more rolls, and some butter across the street at another little Lebensmittel (grocery) shop. Then we trundled back to our Gästehaus to make ourselves a decent breakfast before taking off for the RvN.

Our room has a little “L” with a couch and easy chair and a small table that will serve for dining. In the corner opposite the “L” is a built-in desk, where I set up the laptop. A king-size bed topped with two twin-size duvets occupies the largest portion of the room. Beside the bed, a sliding mirrored door reveals a more than adequate bathroom with a full-size tub and one of those telephone-handle showers. And then there’s our Kochnische, a small kitchen in a separate room at the end of the entry hallway, equipped with a dorm-size fridge, a two-burner stove, sink, and cupboards. The Geschirr (table service) is a bit sparse – two coffee cups, one bowl, two wine glasses, two water glasses, and about three plates, plus a small number of knives, forks, and spoons.

The streetcar stop recommended to us by the Hotel Kübler’s reception desk is conveniently located perhaps four minutes’ walk from our Gästehaus, in the Platz (square) named Mühlburger Tor. A month’s pass for unlimited public transport on busses and trams cost €34, so we each bought one from the little newspaper kiosk at the tram stop. To get to the RvN, we ride about three stops on the Number 3 streetcar and get off at Kussmaulstrasse. From there it’s a ten minute walk to the school.

One long side of the indoor school faces Nancystraße, and the view from the street looks just like the photo in the Dressage Today article that I read and clipped for my “some day file” back in 1998. There’s a gateway to the left, just at the corner of the arena; this gate, I learned, gets closed during the Mittagspause (mid-day break). We walked through it, past the short end of the indoor school, and then turned the corner to walk up the other long side of the hall, which forms one leg of the rectangular property. The second leg of the “L” is the stable block, with Herr von Neindorff’s living quarters above. In the angle of the “L” is a cobbled courtyard. Also contained with the rectangular school property is a second, small riding hall fashioned from an old Quonset hut of WWII vintage. Beside the Quonset hut are an outdoor riding area with sand footing, some small turnout paddocks, and a covered storage area for manure.

We walked past the open door to the riding hall and peeked in to see a lesson underway. A bit further along, we found a pedestrian door standing ajar. Inside, a young, blonde-haired fellow was industriously sweeping the aisle with a broom fashioned of birch twigs, like the kind you see in drawings of witches. We asked him where the office was. (Shortly thereafter, we learned that his name is Jan, pronounced Yahn.) Jan stopped what he was doing, led us to the office of der Chef (the boss) and knocked on the door. Upon hearing“Herein!” (“Come in!”), Jan opened the door for us — and there we were, face to face with Herr Egon von Neindorff.

He looked just like his pictures: a very high forehead with receding hairline; large, brown, slightly protruding eyes lined with crow’s feet; thin lips above a receding chin. His still dark hair was combed straight back, and he was wearing an olive green trench coat and cavalry twill trousers. At 78 years old, his erstwhile military posture was a bit stooped, but his eyes were bright and his toothy smile welcoming.

I introduced us in German, saying that we were the folks that Walter Zettl (my friend, colleague and riding instructor in the U.S) had called him about. He welcomed us politely and then said that Melissa Simms was there and would show us around and help get us started. The brief interview concluded with a handshake which struck me as being peculiarly German: Herr vN inclined his body slightly forward at the waist and gave a curt nod with his head as he shook our hands in an abrupt up-down motion. I almost expected to hear his heels clicking together! Then he went back into the recesses of the office. Jan quickly found Melissa for us and we were able to proceed in English.

Explaining about our lost luggage – which, of course, has all our riding gear inside– we tentatively arranged for a longe lesson on Sunday morning at 11:00. Then we sat in the Tribüne , which is a tiered spectator’s gallery across the short end of the indoor hall, and watched for a while. About 2 p.m. things quit for the Mittagspause, so we started back to the Gästehaus. One stop before the Mühlburger Tor, I saw an “Intermarché” sign, which I recognized as representing a decent-sized supermarket chain, so we hopped off the streetcar, thinking to buy some groceries.

It was a lovely surprise to see none other than Erik Herbermann (small world! another of my instructors in the U.S.), who apparently was waiting to catch the tram at the stop where we got off. He looked snappy in a crisp belted trench coat, polished tall riding boots, and his signature beret. I introduced Meredith to him, and we exchanged a few words. He said he’d probably be at the school to ride on Monday morning. We said we’d look forward to seeing him there, and then he got on the departing trolley and rolled away down the street.

Meredith and I went in to the Intermarché and bought provender for a couple of days: cheese and cold cuts, mostly, with some preserves for our continental breakfasts and some canned soups for lunch or dinner. We’re a bit limited by the fact that we have no microwave or conventional oven, just the stovetop.

I noted that in the time I’ve been away, Germany has gotten very “green.” Plastic grocery bags are not supplied automatically; you have to buy them. Most shoppers seem to carry reusable fabric bags. Perhaps we’ll have to acquire one or two.

We made ourselves some lunch from our purchases, and then went out to buy a phone card. This was procured from the Deutsche Post office in the Europa Platz, a five-minute walk down the pedestrians-only Kaiserallee from “home,” in the opposite direction from the Mühlburger Tor. We spent a couple of hours window shopping and people-watching, just soaking up the German-ness of it all. I was looking for a Konditorei, that seductive teutonic combination of coffee shop and bakery, but the one we passed was closed, it being Sunday afternoon. I shall have to put my yearnings for a nice bit of Kuchen (cake) on hold. (Sigh.)

Then it was back to the RvN to spectate at the evening session.

Meredith, who speaks no German, was trying to learn enough to understand the Kommandos (commands) Herr vN uses during a group lesson. So I translated as we watched, and she began to catch on to the ones he gave most often. We stayed until we were both shivering with the cold, then called it a night about 8:00 p.m.. Upon returning to our hotel, we got a call from the reception desk advising us that two of our five missing bags were to arrive that night via special courier. And indeed, about 9:30 p.m., they materialized at our door. Praise God! They were the very ones that contain our riding boots and at least one pair of breeches each. My duffle, however, had opened in transit – well, actually, a line of stitching anchoring the zipper to the body apparently failed — and I am missing one of my solitary pair of dress shoes and my boot-cleaning kit, among other less important items. (Note to self: Write the vendor a nastygram when I get home. I just paid $150 for this bag!)

Sunday, February 2, 2003

I guess I shouldn’t have six cups of coffee before bed no matter how cold I am because I didn’t get to sleep until about 4 a.m. The alarm went off at 8:30 a.m. anyway. A hot shower helped, as did another six cups of coffee. We were at RvN by 10 a.m. and observed a riding lesson and a longe lesson, both going on at the same time in the indoor hall, which is not as big as a regulation 20m x 60m dressage arena. I’m guessing it might have been that size before the Tribüne was installed across the short end that connects to the stable block, but now, I guess it’s maybe 20m x 45m or so.

Several of the horses were rather fresh and there was a considerable amount of undesired “airs above the ground,” which upset the longe horse and evoked a “Pass auf!” (“Watch out!”) from Melissa Simms, who was doing the longeing. I attempted further translation for Meredith, who was busily taking notes and starting to recognize a few key Kommandos.

At 11 a.m. I volunteered Meredith for the first longe lesson – age has some privileges! — and she acquitted herself admirably, riding out a couple of “airs” when another horse from the group lessons acted up too close by. I filmed the 30-minute lesson on my new digital video camera and then Meredith returned the favor when it was my turn. She got to ride a lovely horse named Conversano Thais, a Lipizzaner stallion. I was assigned Favory Fantasia, another nice guy but much older and more staid than Thais, for which I was grateful. Melissa had us both do a lot of both-arms-to-the-rear circling while at walk and sitting trot. We both ended up with forward-seat saddles and yet Melissa wanted our thighs down and back, a bit of struggle considering the saddle. I was supposed to get my thigh back enough so it was actually on top of the rear edge of the saddle flap and that was difficult for me. Toe-lifting was also the order of the day, and I’m feeling shin splints already.

Meredith doled out some Ibuprofen for me when we got home during the Mittagspause, but before we left the school, we arranged for a riding lesson with Melissa on Monday morning at 9 a.m., followed by individual longe lessons.

We ate lunch and then were happily surprised to get another call from Reception saying that the remainder of our luggage was on its way to our door. It arrived soon thereafter, and nothing more appears to be missing. The combined contents have completely filled up the little closet that is the full extent of the clothing storage in our Gästehaus. We layered up with long johns, woolen socks, hats and gloves, and then took another stroll down to the Europa Platz so Meredith could use her new phone card to call some friends in Freiburg, about 90 minutes southwest of here by train. She arranged to get together with them this coming weekend.

Free WiFi service in hotels wasn’t yet the norm, so on the way back to our Gästehaus we found an internet café and sent a quick message home to let our families know we’d arrived, albeit minus our luggage. Even that didn’t go entirely smoothly as we wasted almost half an hour (at €2 each) doing so, only to have “page not found” messages keep popping up. I’m using my ISP’s website’s mail function, and the program is supposed to keep a copy of all sent messages. However, there was no copy in the “Sent” mailbox, so I wasn’t at all certain my brief message had gone through. Oh, well! We resolved to try again tomorrow.

Upon returning to our quarters, we had just enough time to review the morning’s videos before going back to RvN for the evening session. Meredith and I cuddled up under a fleece lap robe, and were grateful we weren’t riding either one of the two horses that were in the arena for the 6 p.m. lesson. One was a young bay gelding appropriately named Komet (Comet), who looks like a part-Arab and was being longed by a young girl wearing a helmet. Most adult riders don’t wear protective headgear, we discovered, although Melissa commented that they don’t because, “Well, we’re just stupid.” Personally, I imagine it has more to do with differences in the degree of litigiousness between our two nations.

The young girl on Komet had a death grip on the horse, who was bucking and shying and running sideways despite the side-reins he was equipped with, and after longeing him she left the side-reins on for riding. The death grip was understandable under the circumstances, and to her credit, the girl did stick with him like glue through all his “airs.” Herr vN was occupied at first with the other rider, a good male rider on a Lipp mare who was quite lovely. When they were done, Herr vN got on the girl’s case a bit, particularly about her too-harsh hands, calling them Pfoten (paws) and telling her again and again to be soft with them. I felt a bit sorry for her, to tell you the truth, because every time she let the horse have an inch, he was off to the races again. I was just glad it wasn’t me; I’d have been in the dirt.

When those two were done riding we bade Herr vN goodnight, and he asked us when we were riding tomorrow. I said that we were to ride with Melissa at 9 a.m. and then to have longe lesson afterwards, but Herr vN insisted they didn’t start until 10 a.m., and we could ride then, and then be longed at 11:00. Hmmmm. A bit of confusion. We decided we would show up in time for a 9 a.m. lesson, just in case.

We had a 15-minute wait in the cold and wind for the streetcar back to the Mühlburger Tor, which made us really look forward to a nice hot bowl of soup for our supper. Imagine our dismay when we couldn’t find a can-opener! All the shops being closed by then, we crossed our fingers and called up Reception to ask whether they had one they could spare. Bless them, they sent a man around with one. My second bowl of lentil soup with little sausages (delicious!) is growing cold as I sit typing.

**********

Lynne returns to Reitinstitut von Neindorff in 2017.

Not a naturally gifted rider, Lynne Echols has had to work hard for every bit of progress in her riding journey, so she knows how to teach others to achieve a Good Seat as well. Coming late to horse ownership, like many of her students, her journey has been rife with detours and delays, but her abiding love and respect for horses as God’s most magnificent creation has kept her on the path to true horsemanship.

Along the way she sought out the best true horsemen as teachers: Walter Zettl (for whom she has also translated many letters, articles, and a book, “Ask Walter”), Erik Herberman, author of Dressage Formula, now in its third edition, and his long-time student, Susan Terrall of Rutherfordton, NC. Over the course of almost a decade, they sculpted and molded her riding.

Eventually, in 2003 Lynne’s path led her to the renowned Reitinstitut von Neindorff in Karlsruhe, Germany, where she spent three months on the longe and in lessons under the eagle eye of Riding Master Egon von Neindorff, who passed away the following year.

A professional writer in a previous life, Lynne’s journal from that time immerses the reader in the process of earning a Good Seat – the daily challenges and epiphanies of the Reitinstitut and of living abroad, the variety of equine and human personalities, and the gradual transformation of the conscientious rider.

For more information, go to http://www.woodridgefarmonline.com/lynne-sprinsky-echols.html

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