“A Good Seat: Three Months at the Riding Institute Von Neindorff” by Lynne Sprinsky Echols, Part III, Final in the Series

“A Good Seat: Three Months at the Riding Institute Von Neindorff” by Lynne Sprinsky Echols, Part III, Final in the Series

(@ 2003-2018 Lynne Sprinsky Echols. This excerpt from Chapter One is used with the author’s permission and is the final segment in the 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 by Johann Elias Ridinger, from “The New Riding School” titled The Pirouette.) Please see Part I here: https://www.kipmistral.com/a-good-seat-three-months-at-the-riding-institute-von-neindorff-by-lynne-sprinsky-echols-part-i-in-the-series/ and Part II here: https://www.kipmistral.com/a-good-seat-three-months-at-the-riding-institute-von-neindorff-by-lynne-sprinsky-echols-part-ii-in-the-series/.  For a tribute to Melissa Simms, who is featured in this segment as heir to Herr Neindorff’s work and who passed away early this year, see https://www.kipmistral.com/tressa-boulden-linsley-in-tribute-to-melissa-simms-11-19-52-2-14-18/.

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

We met Melissa at 9:00 a.m. but the longe lesson on Monteaura had to be postponed briefly because the indoor had just been dragged. It was full of diesel fumes and settling tanbark particles, and neither Melissa nor Meredith could breathe! So we sat and chewed the fat for 15 minutes or so, and enticed Melissa into telling us some of the story of how she came to be at RvN for 23 years. I wish I’d had my tape recorder so I could get all the names straight, but in essence, the story is this: she was a young student of a older German man who was teaching in the Seattle area and who had known Herr vN before the war. This man recommended her highly to Herr vN, saying he had a student that he thought Herr vN might want to keep. She came over at age 16 as a working student. It was very rough back then, she said: things would start up at 5:30 a.m. and she had to clean 15 stalls and also groom horses and ride, and that often the days did not end until 11 or 12 p.m. After nine months of this she left, telling Herr vN that she needed to make some money, and after a short time he called her up and asked her to come back, saying he would give her a paying job. She stayed for 23 years, but left about a year ago to set up her own training practice in northern California. She still returns from time to time when Herr vN requests it.

“I come when I’m called,” she said.

We learned that it was she who trained the horses and their riders for the annual presentations or “Vorführungen” that the RvN has put on for years, but that last year’s performance was the last one. There is no one who is capable of doing it now, she said, so this will be the end of that tradition. When I asked her what would become of the school when Herr vN is gone, she said that it will go, too.”Is there no Keeper of the Flame?” I asked.

“Well, there was,” she replied, “but he doesn’t want it kept.” At which point she got up and started towards the door that separates the tack room portion where we were sitting from the part where the stalls are, which we took to mean that we should get going with the lesson.

As she was headed through the door, Meredith asked, “Would that [the Keeper of the Flame] have been you?”

“Well, a lot of people said that was the case,” replied Melissa.

We sensed that this is a sore topic… and probably Melissa doesn’t want to say anything impolitic to people she has, after all, just met and doesn’t know anything about. There’s probably a lot more to the story, though.

So… we went and got Monteaura back out of her stall and Meredith went first on the longe while I manned the video camera. I could see Melissa directing Meredith to take up the reins quite short, and to keep her hands low with her arms out in front of her somewhat, elbows not quite straight. I heard the word “pressure” several times, but had to wait for it to be my turn before I could put the whole picture together.

After 30 minutes of mostly rising trot, Melissa brought Meredith and Monteaura to a halt and indicated that I should get on. Heretofore we’ve used different horses for each lesson, so I had to go get my helmet and gloves from the locker where I’d left them, thinking I would pick them up on the way to prepare the next horse. After retrieving them, I clambered aboard with the help of the mounting block and we began with a couple of minutes’ walk in the opposite direction from Meredith’s ride.

Just as she had done with Meredith, Melissa directed me to shorten the reins so that my arms were in front of my trunk with the hands parted on either side of the withers. There was still no one else in the ring so I took the occasion to ask her about this issue of arm carriage since it differs significantly from what I have been taught to do by Susan Terrall and Erik Herbermann. Melissa’s opinion is that perhaps Erik’s approach is something he does with his students to teach them not to pull, but she said that the arm should never be “anchored” at all, it should go with the horse. I am sure this is a matter of semantics because Erik’s technique is not stiff or locked in any way, but in the time available I couldn’t enter into a long discourse about it with Melissa.

Monteaura didn’t need a lot of urging to go forward, although once or twice she did break to a walk without my intending her to do so. I learned to feel her beginning to lose energy and give her a bit of a nudge with my calf to keep her going. The amount of weight in my hand, when doing things Melissa’s way, was more than I would really have liked in a fully schooled horse, but Monteaura was also not put very much together yet, so we focused on getting a good, consistent working trot tempo. After only a short time I managed to get her on the bit and keep her there most of the time. I must confess, however, that I could only tell that she had come above the bit by looking at her head and neck and not by feeling. I did learn that the amount of rein aid that was needed to get her back on the bit was pretty minimal: a squeeze-the-sponge of the reins and a bit more of a driving leg aid did the trick. And when she came above the bit, the deviation was not great. But of course, she was wearing side-reins the whole time… that appears to be de rigueur here at RvN, as all our longe horses have worn them, and they’re used for some of the riding sessions as well (witness Odin).

I wasn’t on very long, but the regular 10 a.m. lesson had started, and Herr vN was giving Kommandos over the loud speaker to the five or six riders in the class. I was somewhat reassured to hear him say pretty much the same things to them as he had said to the class that Meredith and I rode in yesterday. “Pay attention to the orchestra of the aids,” and so forth. So we came away and agreed with Melissa that Meredith will have a riding lesson tonight with her, and that I will sit out this time.

Melissa gave us a padlock for the locker in which she told us on Day One that we could keep our stuff, so we stowed all our gear inside (my camera bag included – it’s a relief not to have to carry that back and forth twice a day. This way, I can now take it home only at night, so we can watch tapes of ourselves in the evenings). No sooner had we had locked up than Herr Smeykal was asking us who had told us we could lock the door. When I said Melissa had given us permission and the lock, he seemed a bit taken aback. Apparently someone was trying to get in to that locker and was unable to do so. I apologized but pointed out that at Melissa’s direction, we had taken out the saddles that were still being used, and had left inside (and inaccessible) only those saddles that fit horses that were no longer at the school. Herr Smeykal harrumphed and then said something that I think meant, “Next time, tell somebody beforehand.”

We get the feeling that Herr Smeykal has a low opinion of Americans in general, and will be a bit on his guard about us until we prove ourselves somehow. Melissa said that Herr Smeykal is “new” at the school and that she doesn’t know him very well. That probably means that he doesn’t know her very well, either, and may not be aware of her position in the hierarchy, since she is no longer there full time.

During the course of the morning, Melissa also said that a woman named Angie, who speaks English, should be at the school on Saturday and that we should meet her because she would be able to longe us a few days a week.

Once we’d put our stuff away, we went to let Herr vN know that we were leaving but would be back in the afternoon for a lesson with Melissa at 5:00 p.m.. I had to repeat myself a couple of times but Herr vN finally nodded, and said, “Gut so!” (“That’s fine.”) Then he told me that he had especially reserved some Zeitschriften (magazines) for me that might be interesting to read. He had left a stack of these horse-oriented publications on the desk in the outer office, and I should take them. When I am done with them I can bring them back or throw them out. I thanked him, bade him a temporary farewell, and retrieved them. Meredith is perusing them as I sit here typing away on the computer.

We stopped off at our rooms and dropped off the magazines, then took the streetcar to Herrenstrasse. Melissa Simms told us this morning about a tack shop there called Reitsport Schill. It’s just down the Kaiserallee, one stop past the Post Gallerie at the Europa Platz where we had just been on Monday. We spent some time looking around; Meredith tried on some breeches and so did I; hers fit well but she wasn’t sure about spending the money, and mine were predictably too tight in the largest size available in stock. Bummer. Oh well, I hadn’t really thought to buy any breeches before the end of my visit, anyway. I still have a considerable way to go to get back to my ‘fighting weight.’ We did each acquire a whip, though, since the ones at RvN are in short supply.

We walked home rather than take the streetcar, stopping along the way to do yet more errands. I tried to get the locker key duplicated so that Meredith will not have to come get me whenever she needs to get something out of the locker, but the one key-duplicating place we passed did not have the right blank. We did get a few more hard rolls and a sweet roll each at a street-side bakery, and I ventured into an Apotheke (pharmacy) to pick up sundries.

Later in the day…

We went back at 5:30 for a 6 p.m. lesson for Meredith on her own. She rode Monteaura again, but off the longe, more of a regular riding lesson under Melissa’s tutelage. Monteaura was wearing side reins, which helped, and Meredith spent her 40 minutes or so trying to recover what she had done during the longe session that morning. She was pressing down on the reins, and hence on Monteaura’s bars, and driving forward, and generally having a pretty unsuccessful time of it.

Melissa kept after her about not breaking her wrist inward, and eventually got really detailed and showed Meredith how she wanted the whip held: namely, the rein runs across the middle joint of the underside of the ring and middle fingers, and then is held fast by the thumb atop the last joint of the index finger (nearest the palm). The whip, according to Melissa, is to be held atop the rein as it crosses the index finger, with the thumb atop the whip. If the arms are held such that the thumb is uppermost, then the shaft of the whip will lie across the rider’s thigh, but closer to the knee than to the crease of the thigh at the hip. The reason for this particular placement of the rein is so that the action of the middle and ring fingers, as the tips of those fingers are intentionally closed or clenched to touch the palm, will convey discrete meaning to the horse.

From my reading and clinic experience, I know that some teachers, Molly Sivewright among them, propose that the reins should be held all the way down the knuckles as close as possible to the palm, and contend that in this way greater finesse may be obtained in the use of the rein aids. Melissa, on the other hand, contends that such a placement will not leave the rein anywhere to go and will not convey a sufficient message to the horse.

Eventually Meredith got three good rounds of the hall with Monteaura more “on the bit” than off, and we called a halt for the day. We had a lively discussion on the way home about Meredith’s perception that what Melissa had Meredith doing had felt to Meredith like pulling, which everyone knows is bad. However, said Meredith, from time to time Monteaura got really light in the hand. That’s usually good. This may have had something to do with how much Meredith had been able to accomplish with the driving aids. We concluded that there is still much we do not understand, and elected to cut ourselves some slack because, after all, it’s still only Day Five.

Thursday, February 6, 2003

Meredith decided to go in really early and help with the mucking out, which Jan had laughingly invited her to do as we were leaving yesterday. She figures diving into the deep end like that is the best way for her to learn more German, and anyway, she feels a bit remote from the horses in comparison to her experience as barn manager at Houghton, where she knows every horse’s individual personality and habits. So she arose at about 6:30 and left about 7:15, whereas I slept in until 7:40 and enjoyed my first cup of coffee in bed, watching the Bloomberg Market Report on the TV in English via satellite from the U.K. In addition to world financial news, there was some international news, including the fact there there is still a lot of saber-rattling going on vis à vis the Iraq situation. I made a second pot of coffee while I showered, and enjoyed it with my bread-and-jam before catching the 9:14 a.m. streetcar.

When I got to the school, Meredith was happily mucking stalls and laughing over the comedy of errors of her exchanges with Jan. Apparently she thought he had asked if she smoked, and she kept saying “No, never.” He was incredulous because what he’d actually asked her was whether she had eaten breakfast. She was able to recite a few words that she had learned: sauber (clean), Heu (hay), Misthaufen (manure pile), Mistforke (manure fork).

We had been assigned our horses last night for our 10 a.m. Reitstunde (riding lesson) under Herr vN’s supervision: I was to have Pamina, a Lipp mare, and Meredith once again had Galant. We tacked up all by ourselves – no more kindly assistance from the staff. We are on our own now. We got into the arena just in time, driven along by Herr Smeykal’s not-so-gentle “Sie sollen sich ein Bisschen beeilen!” (Literally, that translates as “You need to hurry up a bit!” but Herr Smeykal’s tone conveys something more like, “Get the lead out!”)

This lesson went on for an hour and a half. I was feeling quite a bit chafed by the end, but not so much that I couldn’t ride at least half-way decently. I tried Melissa’s technique of pressing down on the reins to get Pamina to come onto the bit, and it still felt an awful lot like the dreaded “hand riding.” Nevertheless, when in Rome, etc., so I persevered.

Enter Erik Herbermann. As we were riding around at what seemed to me a brisk clip at rising trot during the lösende Arbeit (loosening-up work) portion of the lesson, he came up next to me and imparted some rather pointed criticism about my lack of frontline-elbow connection and said that the horse couldn’t come to the bit if I couldn’t keep my hands in the same place all the time.

Well, hell! I thought. Here I’m trying to do what Melissa has told me to do, and the little bugger’s head is down most of the time, and now that’s not right, either. So I reverted to what he and Sue Terrall have taught me over the last half-dozen years, put my shoulders back and down, bent my elbows a bit more, and let that connection steady my hands. After driving forward with the stick I felt Pamina come to the bit, and we had some pretty good moments. Of course I couldn’t keep it, but whenever I lost the feeling, I found that most of the time I was able to regain it with a hearty driving aid (leg and whip) followed by a small sponge-squeeze to the rein.

At the end of session, which included quite a lot of shoulder-fore and shoulder-in work to help connect the hind leg to the rider’s hand, we quit. Not a moment too soon for my money. I am out of shape for this much work all at once, and find myself rather tired at the end of the rides.

Returning Pamina to the barn, I found Erik in the vestibule. He offered a small compliment: “That was better today. You had some good moments there at the end.” So I took advantage of this to ask him if he might, before he leaves, spare me five minutes to clarify some issues that were confusing me. Well, I really need more like an hour, I amended.

“Yes, that could be arranged,” he replied.

“Oh, good,” I said, “because there are some apparent disparities between what Melissa is telling me to do and what I have learned from you.”

“Ah.” replied Erik. “Yes, that could be….”

“An exercise in frustration,” I said, finishing the sentence for him.

“Exactly,” he said.

I took Pamina back to her stall, untacked her, and gave her some more sugar. She schmoozed all over me. I scratched her face and ears and told her what a lovely girl she was, and she seemed to think this was her due.

Then Erik stopped by the stall and we had another brief conversation. The upshot is that there are several ways of doing things, and neither his words nor Melissa’s are the “last word.” Rather, we must look always to what the horses tell us about which approach they prefer.

Meredith and I talked all the way home on the streetcar about this. We much prefer Walter’s and Erik’s softer, slower approach, where we work on the hind end of the horse and capture the energy in the front. However, we resolved to keep an open mind, realizing that we do not know everything there is to know, and that these apparent contradictions may yet be resolved as we learn more.

After a lunch of belegtes Brot (a sandwich) made with my favorite “Bauernschinken” (literally, “farmer’s ham,” a paper-thin, dark red, uncooked smoked ham something like Italian Prosciutto, but with less fat), Meredith and I made another trip to the internet café. We first tried another, more conveniently located internet point but it was locked up tight despite a sign in the window showing that it was supposed to be open. Once again I was frustrated to not be able to send even a two-line e-mail to Bill or anyone else at home. The machine would chew for a while and then spit up a “page not found” message, and the “back” arrow key failed to retrieve the message. What a royal pain in the posterior!

I did manage to check in with the Ultimate Dressage bulletin board and leave an update. I tried one paragraph, and that went through fine, and then I tried a slightly longer post which didn’t. So I broke the longer post into two shorter posts, and they both went through. I still can’t tell if this is “normal” for posting to a U.S.-based website from Europe, or whether something isn’t functioning properly.

Then I managed to pay a bill via the “internet banker” service I had set up before I left home, which was astonishingly gratifying under the circumstances. Afterwards I made another stop by the UDbb and found a private message from a “herd member” who told me that “message units,” whatever those are, add up quickly in Europe and that I should print out a longer write-up, and send it snail-mail for someone else to re-key and post to the UDbb. I wondered briefly whether anyone wanted to hear from me badly enough to make that worth the time, trouble, and Euros.

Speaking of time, we don’t seem to have a lot to spare. That also amazes me since we basically have nothing to do here but ride. But our days seem to fill up rather quickly what with the two trips daily to the school, the almost-daily shopping for groceries and other errands like getting keys made, doing the laundry, sending postcards, getting cash to pay for lessons, and fighting with the internet. I’m finding it quite a challenge to get these journal entries written in a timely manner, but so much happens every day that if I don’t sit down to record events, they soon get confused in my mind.

So, back to the second session for today. I had understood that both Meredith and I were going to have a longe lesson this evening. However, once we arrived at the school, Melissa said No, we were going to have a riding lesson, just the two of us, with her. Hey, we can’t complain about the individual attention, can we?

So once again I rode Pamina, and Meredith was assigned Monteaura. Both were considerably tamer for having been ridden once already that day (Pamina) or the preceding evening (Monteaura).

Oh darn! I just remembered that I haven’t written Pamina’s name down on the dry erase board where you’re supposed to keep track of which horses have been ridden each day. Shoot! I hope I remember in the morning. I have already committed one transgression today by leaving Pamina’s boots on after the ride. Jan called this oversight to my attention, following his remark with, “Dafür bin ich ja da.” (“That’s what I’m here for.”) Of course I told him he was unabdingbar (indispensible) and that the place couldn’t run without him. That seemed to be music to his ears.

There was no one in the arena when we arrived, save Melissa, who put us directly to work, no walk on long rein – or on a short rein either. We were immediately directed to press the horses’ heads down “onto the bit” and then to move immediately into trot. For the whole hour, I really felt as though I were ripping poor Pamina’s face off, for there was a ton of horse in my hand, and I don’t think I could have gotten the reins any shorter unless I had hooked my index fingers in the bit rings. Nevertheless – and this is where things get a bit equivocal – I did feel a few steps from time to time that were much lighter. I was already driving quite actively with my legs and frequently applying my new whip, but Pamina didn’t give me those few light steps until Melissa gave her some additional incentive in the form of the longe whip. I had to anchor my shoulders back and down and open my front line to make the rein contact consistent, and I was still told frequently to exert downward pressure on the reins, but Melissa avowed with increasing frequency that I was getting it right.

We did a lot of sitting trot/rising trot in short spurts, aiming to have the tempo and quality of trot stay the same when we changed from the one to the other. I felt I had rather good success at the assignment, but was not happy with how forced it felt. This may be because I am still not achieving sufficient driving, but honest to God, I am not sure how I could drive any more without removing strips from poor Pamina’s sides. That I am genuinely unwilling to do, Melissa or no.

Meredith had a bit more trouble, and told me afterwards that she really emotionally shut down during the lesson because she knew her seat and legs were not the way they needed to be to get the horse to “come round,” but Melissa kept hammering at her to pull on the horse’s face, or to get after Mara with the driving aids. It was quite obvious that Meredith was unable to do both at the same time, but the instructions given weren’t answering the mail insofar as helping her to overcome that obstacle.

Well, everyone has a bad ride now and again. We chewed it over again on the way home and Meredith agreed that Scarlett O’Hara had the right idea: Tomorrow is another day. And perhaps we can get Erik Herbermann to help clarify some of this in the near future. That’s a plan, anyway.

Friday, February 7, 2003

Well, as luck would have it, we encountered Erik again after our 10 a.m. lesson today. He came into Pamina’s stall and began taking the saddle off as I was removing her bridle and replacing her halter. When he walked out with it, he was interrupted by one of the German women who also had been riding in our lesson, and they stopped to chat a few minutes. Since Erik was still standing there with “my” saddle in his arms, I offered to put it away. Not until he demurred did I realize that he needed to use it and had been waiting for me to finish with it. I apologized, explaining that I had used it last night when Meredith was riding Monteaura, because normally the two of them share the same saddle. Melissa had pointed me towards the saddle in contention, saying that it was at least not the most uncomfortable saddle in the barn. And that turned out to be true – it was only moderately uncomfortable, and my seat, though chafed, withstood an hour’s trot work without further damage.

“Gee,” I joked as Erik strode off towards the far reaches of the barn with the saddle, “and here I thought you were being helpful.”

“What, me?” quipped Erik, smiling. “Helpful? No, no! What a ridiculous idea!”

I finished up with Pamina, who is called meine Freundin (my girlfriend) by Herr vN. Der Chef has nicknames for many of his horses, I’m told. I gave my boots a wiping-off, changed back into my street clothes, and went to see if Erik had arrived in the riding hall. He had, so I sat down to watch for a while. He was still am langen Zügel (on long reins) when I arrived but shortly thereafter picked them up and proceeded into what looked like a leisurely working trot, sometimes sitting, sometimes rising. He was so quiet and regal in his seat that I was mentally complaining that the trouble with watching him ride is that you can’t see him do anything! However, I noticed that after ten minutes or so he took off his beret, pulled out a large handkerchief, and wiped the sweat from his head and face. He was working very hard, but making it look easy.

The horse he was riding, a big gray still with lots of dapples and much black hair in the mane and tail, gave him a few seconds of “rodeo” at one point fairly early on in the session. Erik rode it out easily but then gave the horse a spanking. I think the beginning of the rodeo was a spook, on the far side of the pillars from the Tribüne, but as he rounded the corner, he encountered the other horse being ridden in the arena, and his horse acted out towards the other animal. That was what the spanking was for, I believe; a breach of discipline.

Erik only rode the gray for perhaps 20 minutes. When he dismounted and ran up his stirrups, I took advantage of the lull to go to speak with Herr vN about my evening session; I wasn’t sure that I was eingeschrieben (signed up) but Herr vN assured me that Melissa had put me down for 6 o’clock. So I started back to find Meredith, whom I hadn’t seen since the conclusion of our lesson together. On the way, I encountered Erik, who was rinsing off his horse’s bit in the required fashion. I shared my little joke with him, about watching him being an exercise in futility because there was nothing to see. He replied quite seriously that he had had to use quite strong aids because the horse was running through the soft ones. I think it is amazing that he can ride like that, enough to raise a streaming sweat, and have it look completely effortless. I should live so long…

Now, more about my own lesson this morning. I spent my time trying to figure out a way to get Pamina into the desired outline without using as much force as I used last night in the lesson with Melissa. Here’s what I have so far; driving is definitely the biggest part of what is required.

Pamina is quite inured to a mild tap-tap with the stick and requires a firm whack or two – the German colloquialism for this is “patschel-patschel” – at the outset. Then she knows you mean business, and is more apt to listen better to lighter aids thereafter. A much shorter rein than I would have thought is also a piece of the puzzle – short enough to “set the parameters” for the nose being just slightly in front of the vertical, slightly being fewer than five degrees, I would say.

Another essential element is my own self-carriage. I must have my front line open with my shoulders firmly back and down, and when I was able to sit the trot and also get my seat bones leading by using my abs to flatten my back, it really all came together and I got some very nice, long steps in a much slower tempo. Pamina got much lighter (though not “minnow on the fishing line” quality by any means) and felt much more fluid and harmonious. I found success by alternately closing my lower calf and giving a very small squeeze on the outside rein, which had the result of sustaining that impulsion and softness down the whole long side and through the corner.

Herr vN worked us for an hour and a half again this morning, so I certainly can’t complain about not getting my money’s worth. We did quite a lot of shoulder-fore and shoulder-in walk work, this time also adding half-pass. I got a compliment from him for one of these, when he said over the loudspeaker, “Ja, das ist sehr schön, meine Freudin. Gut gemacht.” (“Yes, that is very good, my [girl]friend. Well done.”) I hasten to point out that he wasn’t calling me his girlfriend, but rather Pamina.

I still have trouble understanding Herr vN when he goes on at length. He speaks in rather complicated, subordinate phrase-laden sentences, which in German have the verbs at the end, making it difficult for me to do a mental translation. Die Orchester der Hilfen (the orchestra of the aids) is a phrase often heard. Also Denken Sie an das Geraderichten, auch an das Biegen, und prüfen Sie sich im Spiegel. (“Think of the straightening [of the horse], even in bending, and check yourself in the mirror.”) Another is Treiben, aufnehmen, leichter werden. (“Drive, receive, light.”) And another: Nützen Sie die Ecke gut aus. (“Make good use of the corners.”) As I hear more of these, I try to make a mental note of them so I can share them with Meredith, who has of course a much more difficult time trying to sift through the extra verbiage in search of the single words and short phrases she has learned to recognize. The rest of the running commentary she is obliged to disregard.

Herr vN doesn’t give individual corrections except in the most egregious cases, so we are left pretty much to our own devices to find what works and what doesn’t within the general guidelines, of which he reminds us in his narrative over the loudspeaker. This is not the easiest way to learn and we are grateful for Erik’s presence. When he is able to ride at the same time, he is wonderful about dropping a few salient comments in our ears as he rides by, and invariably they are spot-on. If we can manage to make the changes he mentions, things always get better.

In our exchange today, Meredith expressed her confusion and frustration at the disparity between what Melissa demands in the lesson versus what she has learned from Walter and from reading Erik’s book. Erik, ever the diplomat, says that at any given moment, everything is right (theoretically correct) and everything is wrong (theoretically incorrect). It’s all in the application and timing. So much of this pursuit is art, despite the fact that correct technicalities are also a sine qua non. Erik promised to get together with us for lunch next week. That will really be something to look forward to.

So, back to the hotel for some lunch. Meredith leaves this afternoon on the train for Freiburg to meet up with some friends there. One of them, a young man named Anders, will return with her Sunday afternoon and then will go on to Prague Sunday night to catch a plane that will take him home to New York for the beginning of his next academic semester.

My own plans for the weekend include figuring out how to get some laundry done. This afternoon before my evening lesson, I’m going to go out and do a laundry reconnaissance mission. Earlier as we were coming back by streetcar from buying Meredith’s ticket at the Hauptbahnhof, we had passed a Waschhaus (laundromat). I made a mental note that it was near the Werderstrasse stop. I’ll go there to find out what kinds of small change I need to operate the machines, and whether I must provide my own detergent, etc.

Later in the Day…

Okay, the laundry situation has been reconnoitered. It costs €3.50 per load for the smaller (6 kg) machine and €7 for the larger one (12 kg), plus €.50 each for detergent and fabric softener, if you buy it there. I think it will make sense to buy a conventionally sized container at the market, given that we will be here for three months.

I’m not sure about the dryers. They only run for ten minutes on the initial payment of €.50, but you can put in more coins to keep them going longer. The change machines will accept €5 and €10 notes, so I don’t have to stockpile € coins the way we have to save up quarters at home.

I stopped on the way back and laid in a supply of Broetchen (rolls) for the weekend, remembering that you can’t get anything fresh on Sundays. We have a few plastic bags that we’ve gathered here and there, and when the rolls are wrapped in those they stay reasonably fresh for several days.

After I saw Meredith out the door to the train station, I lay down for an hour and napped. The alarm awoke me at 5 p.m. and at 5:05 I was out the door to catch the streetcar.

Melissa Simms is leaving in the morning to go back to California, so I thanked her again for all her help to me and to Meredith, and wished her a safe journey home with no flight delays and no misplaced baggage. What a complicated and challenging life that must be, ricocheting back and forth across the Atlantic at Herr vN’s beck and call.

Then it was back to the hotel to another dry noodle mix for dinner, this one with spiral pasta with mushrooms, onions, and Speck (bacon). It’s not bad and fills up the holes but I would surely love a restaurant dinner soon. I just hate eating alone. Maybe I’ll invite Claudio and see what he says.

Oh, wait, I haven’t yet mentioned Claudio. He’s another fellow who rides at RvN. He’s Italian, but grew up bilinqual with German, and also has quite a bit of English. He’s about my age, has long curly grey hair bound up in a ponytail, and told us that he has three jobs: he teaches dance, both modern and jazz; he plays the castanets professionally, and he also teaches riding. He travels all over and comes to the RvN half a dozen times a year for up to a week at a time. When he’s there, he pitches in with the stall cleaning and other general maintenance that often gets overlooked. He also said that he does the decorations for the public performances. I immediately thought of the decorations in the flower boxes that form a barrier between the main riding arena and the Tribüne . When I first saw these boxes, they were filled with some dry, brown pine branches and some very dusty polyester poinsettias. Claudio was quick to say he didn’t do those. Nevertheless, I noticed they had all been tidied away by the time I got back into the hall that evening. Claudio will only be here until Monday, and he says he doesn’t know Karlsruhe very well. He even asked me if I knew of a place where he might make some photocopies. I didn’t. But on the way home this afternoon, I spied a photocopy place at the Mühlburger Tor, on Leopoldstraße between Stephanien Straße and the Kaiserallee. I’ll have to remember to tell Claudio about it.

Now I am off for a hot bath, it being almost 10 p.m. I find it not only helps the sore muscles, but warms me up so I’m not cold when I get under the down comforter. I should have stopped and bought some wine to wash down the Tylenol P.M. (Note to self: Tomorrow, buy wine, noodle mixes, canned soup, laundry detergent and softener.)

Saturday, February 8, 2003

I had a lovely sleep last night, enjoying the opportunity to sprawl all over the king-size bed I normally share with Meredith. I got myself to the school about 9:30 a.m., gave my boots a quick cleaning, and since nothing else much was happening once I’d changed my clothes, I went through to the Tribüne to see whether Angie was there. And she was, riding a young Lipizzaner stallion. We had a quick conversation, wherein she agreed to give me a longe lesson when she finished riding. So I sat back to watch and wait.

Angie, whose last name is Frank, is over six feet tall in her bare feet, a real string bean, with extremely long legs. She rides very elegantly and the young stallion went very sweetly for her, chewing gently on the bit and showing a great deal of activity behind. I was enraptured when suddenly the door at the top of the Tribüne opened and there stood Herr Smeykal.

“Ja, da sind Sie. Kommen Sie! Der Odin ist für Sie bestimmt,” he barked. (“Oh, there you are. Come on! Odin has been selected for you.”

Oh, shoot, I thought. I’d tried to warm him up a little by giving him a key to our locker, so that if the lone saddle remaining inside it was really needed at some point, he’d be able to get to it. And he’d seemed to appreciate that. But now, it seems I’ve blown whatever brownie points I’d earned with the key.

Angie came to my rescue, telling him No, I was to have a longe lesson with her that morning, not a riding lesson.

“Ich gebe nur Führersbefehle weiter,” replied Herr Smeykal. (“I’m only passing along the Führer’s orders.”)

I had a bit of a chuckle at that. Angie explained to him that we’d set all this up yesterday with Herr vN.

Obviously annoyed, Herr Smeykal mumbled“Na, ja!” (“Huh!”) on his way out the door. Perhaps he is not yet quite accustomed to the fact that Herr vN’s hearing is no longer very good, and apparently his retention of stray facts regarding lesson arrangements is occasionally lacking as well.

Meanwhile, Angie continued to work with the young Lipp. She did some lovely short, lively walk-in-place steps, obviously the beginnings of piaffe. The horse showed a lot of talent for it, lifting his feet energetically and rhythmically, without getting overly excited. When Angie stopped asking for it, he went willingly and calmly forward in a working walk.

When she finished with him, I followed her back to dem Stall (the barn) and we got Thais ready for the longe lesson. Angie loaned me one of her own saddles, a Passier, which was a bit more comfortable for me than the school saddles. She told me that Herr vN wanted us to hold the lesson in the main hall, despite the fact that Claudio and another woman were riding there as well. Earlier, Angie had said that perhaps we would use the Quonset hut so that the loudspeaker wouldn’t interfere with my ability to hear her instructions. But as it turned out, Herr vN didn’t have a whole lot to say today, so it wasn’t a problem.

Angie is a very good teacher. After she told me to sit up straight, let my elbows hang from a vertical upper arm, and keep my shoulders back and down, I was emboldened to once again ask for some clarification about the apparent contradictions between that position and what Melissa had been having me do. She said that the more upright position that I was in at that moment was the Basis (base) position, but occasionally if the horse doesn’t yield to the driving aids from that position, it may be necessary to ask the horse to lower its head and neck by lowering the hands on either side of the neck. This necessitates straightening the elbows a bit and bringing the upper arm very slightly forward of the trunk.

Hmmm. I’m reserving judgment on that.

So off we went. She reminded me frequently to grösser werden (grow or become taller) and to sit in the front part of the saddle, with a flat back. My legs need to be turned inward more, with den Fuβspitzen (tips of the feet, or toes) pointed inward so that the end result is a foot that lies parallel to the horse. She had me hook my outside hand under the pommel and hold the inside hand in a normal riding position, as though with the reins. I find that whenever I am concentrating on my leg position – and drat it, my overly round thighs require considerable effort at turning my whole leg inward from the hip – my free hand goes up and my wrist curls inward. So much for truly independent hands and seat!

Angie reminded me frequently not to tense my arm or hand. Then, while I was thinking about relaxing the hand and forearm while keeping the shoulder back and down, my leg crept up and forward, my toes turned out, and I was riding off the back of my calf again. Monitoring both upper and lower body simultaneously seems to be beyond my abilities. For now, anyway.

Back and forth we went, changing directions a couple of times, until the 30 minutes were over. Thais spooked once, curvetting and bucking as another stallion came too close. This prompted a harried “Nicht so nah! Hab’ ich dir schon dreimal gesagt!” (“Not so close! I’ve told you three times already!”) from Angie, directed at the hapless lady rider. I managed to stay on anyway, and the lesson was soon over.

So! I have managed a full week now, and I haven’t come off yet. Well, it’s still early days…

I put Thais away, rinsed his bit and hung up his bridle, and one of the ubiquitous young girls who work and ride around the place took Angie’s saddle and put it away for me. I changed into my street clothes (which consists of hauling on a pair of loose-fitting flannel-lined khaki trousers over my breeches) and stopped back by dem Chef’s window to arrange for a riding lesson for myself and Meredith for tomorrow night. Then I walked back to the Strassenbahn.

Getting off one stop early, at Schillerstrasse, I made a trip to the Intermarché and came away with another €22 worth of groceries: an Indian Eintopf (one pot meal), some more Wein (wine), and of course the laundry detergent and softener. I lugged it all home, made a Bauernschinken sandwich, took an hour’s nap, and then about 3 p.m. loaded the laundry into one of my rolling dufflebags and caught the No. 3 Strassenbahn to the Waschhaus. I filled up three small machines and the lone large-capacity one, and waited about 45 minutes while reading a German magazine that looked like the equivalent of People. German washing machines seem to take much longer than American ones. But when the wash was done, I threw everything in two dryers for 30 minutes each. Most of the stuff was dry by then, and the few damp things I segregated in a plastic bag and hung up in the shower once I got home. The whole operation ran through €20, of which maybe 1/3 was Meredith’s stuff. I’m willing to bet it would have been a lot more through the hotel, but it would probably be smart to find out. It wasn’t perhaps the most scintillating way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but my calendar isn’t exactly full of conflicting appointments.

Home again, I fixed the Indian Eintopf (not bad!), poured a glass of Wein and amused myself with German television for a while. Then, back to work on this opus. It’s working out to about three pages a day. Well, writing short is always more work than writing long. Now that I’ve caught it up to date, I think I’ll pour another glass of wine, take a couple of Tylenol P.M., and call it a night.

Sunday, February 9, 2003

It is now 9:15 p.m. and Meredith is preparing to accompany her friend Anders back to the train station, so I am sitting down to capture today’s events. There hardly were any events to speak of, since I spent the entire morning in bed… such a luxury! and one that I don’t get even when I’m back home.

I awoke at 8 a.m. after a restless night, Tylenol and wine not withstanding. I had coffee and roll with butter-and-jam in bed. I thought about getting up but ultimately decided against it and went back to sleep until noon. Then I got up, showered, dressed, and sat about reading horsey magazines (in German) until Meredith, returning from her train trip to Freiburg, hove into view with Anders. We had some lunch together and then I betook myself to a new internet point – new in the sense that I hadn’t tried it yet.   It was the one that had been closed in the middle of the day.

A woman with red hair in corn-rows welcomed me and sold me an hour’s worth of time for €2.50. I started off by checking my e-mail and there wasn’t much new there, but enough to reassure me that it finally seems to be working properly. The woman at the desk said something about a virus having spread world wide over the last ten days or so, affecting the internet and e-mail everywhere. Perhaps this has been our problem since we arrived?

The question now is, Is it fixed yet? Apparently not. My first message to Bill, two paragraphs long, got lost in cyberspace. I then tried another approach, sending one paragraph at a time marked “Message: Part One,” etc. Part One went through on the third try, Part Two on the second attempt, Part Three on the first attempt (hurrah!) and Part Four as well. Part Five died a slow, lingering death, causing the connection to my ISP to time out. Then its page couldn’t be found! I took the proprietress’ advice and opened a free Yahoo! e-mail account. That let me send Part Five, in which I explained the whole mess to Bill, without further ado.

I returned home and saw Meredith and Anders off for an hour’s Spaziergang (a leisurely walk) in beautiful downtown Karlsruhe, and went back to my horsey-magazine reading, dictionary in hand. When they returned we got dressed for riding and all walked together to the streetcar for the trip to RvN.

Anders filmed our lesson tonight—which we haven’t watched yet and may not do until tomorrow, because it will be 10:30 or so by the time Meredith gets back from seeing Anders off. For starters, we were late because I’d forgotten than halb-fünf (literally, half five) means 4:30, not 5:30… oops! Herr Smeykal was not best pleased when I explained my error, but assigned us horses for the 6:00 lesson anyway. Meredith drew Odin in the lottery and I got my sweet Pamina again. We readied them and were on time for the 6 p.m. start.

Two German women rode with us, but I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself to them. There was also another American, a woman named Kathy, who drives a taxi locally. She volunteered to translate for us and did an excellent job. That allowed me to concentrate on my riding instead of on trying to keep Meredith in the loop as to Kommandos – which is not so terribly taxing, really, as she is getting good at figuring things out, and when she does get confused she just does whatever everyone else is doing.

This evening’s lesson seemed to be geared to a slightly less challenging level. We did a lot of walk and trot, with single and double serpentines, and single and double voltes. At the end, Herr vN had everyone ride on the second track, and then one at a time as he called out our horses’ names, had us ride collected trot sitting through the pillars and up the center line to halt at X; then reins long and walk on. When everyone had done a turn through the pillars we all came onto the center line facing the gate to halt, dismount, run up the stirrups, give the horses some sugar, throw their blankets over their backs, and take them back to their stalls.

When we’d finished putting the horses away, I asked Herr Smeykal if I should arrange tomorrow’s lessons with Herr vN or if I could just talk to Herr S. He made an ambiguous sort of noise, so I opted to continue to explain that we would like to have longe lessons with Angie on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, and with Frau Oehlert on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Herr Smeykal said that Frau Oehlert is only there on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but not on Friday. Okay, I said. On Friday we will do without. No, countered Herr Smeykal, with what might have been a smirk. On Friday he would give us our longe lessons.

Oh, great, I thought. I’m dead meat.

Mom always said you get more flies with honey. So what I said was: “Das wird ja schön sein, weil Sie so nett sind.” (“That will be lovely, because you are so nice.”)

Herr Smeykal’s response came in the form of another ambiguous sound that had a bit of an edge to it. If forced to translate it, I think the meaning that comes closest would be something like, “Think you can put something over on me, lady? Think again.” But maybe I’m being overly sensitive.

I’m running a hot bath while I type this, and will finish off the last of the wine, if there is any, wash down two Tylenol P.M.s and hope for an uninterrupted night’s sleep. My chafed seat was less uncomfortable at the end of tonight’s lesson than after any previous lesson. Nevertheless, I’m heading to Reitsport Schill on the Herrenstrasse tomorrow afternoon to inquire about a gel seat cushion!


Please see the end of this post: https://www.kipmistral.com/a-good-seat-three-months-at-the-riding-institute-von-neindorff-by-lynne-sprinsky-echols-part-i-in-a-series/ for more information about the author.


1 Comment

  1. August 2, 2018 / 4:46 PM

    Well done Lynee! Sounds like you learned a lot. Thanks for getting your story down, and to Kip for posting this chapter. Let me know when the book comes out! looking forward to it.
    Cheers, my friend.
    Hugs too.
    Joan Adler

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