You know you’ve had a worthwhile trip when the most difficult part of it all is trying to limit the number of photos you share on your blog to avoid breaking the internet.
The last time I wrote, I was just departing the beautiful town of Verden after seeing the Hanoverian Auctions to head down to Munster, Germany. Munster is a town of about 300,000 people located about three hours southwest of Hamburg. About 55,000 people are students, so this historic town is also full of life and buzzing with activity.
Honestly, I don’t have enough words to tell you how much I enjoyed the week that I spent in Munster. If I had to pick a place to live in Germany, Munster would be my first choice. Here’s why:
1. I am the kind of person who likes to have the perks of a big city while having easy access to horses. Munster is exactly that. Adorable shops, historic churches, amazing restaurants and beautiful parks are all within walking distance or a short bike ride of the city center. But best of all, my friends: I could literally ride a bike from my favorite ice cream shop in Munster���s city center to Ingrid Klimke’s farm. When I discovered that, I wondered what kind of sweet heaven I found myself in. Better yet, Helen Langehanenberg’s farm is only about a 20-minute drive from the city center, so there is absolutely no shortage of equestrian talent in the area. Need any leather care or grooming products? Not to worry! The headquarters of Effol/Effax are just a short drive from Munster as well!
2. I was amazed at how safe the city was. I asked a number of people about any unsafe areas I should avoid when walking by myself and they all looked at me with confused expressions. The general consensus seems to be that even a woman can walk alone in the city at night without feeling the need to always be checking over her shoulder. As much as I hate to admit it, this was really different from what I am used to back home in the Washington, DC area. How refreshing!
3. This city was founded not in 1793 but 793. That’s right—there are only three digits there. Try wrapping your American brain around that one! So you can imagine how rich the area is in history. This town has so much character that it’s really hard to set your camera down for even a moment. I can only imagine how painfully obvious it was that I was a tourist when I was taking photos of silly things like the trashcans. But it was all so charming that I really just couldn’t help myself.
4. Munster is known as the bicycle capital of Germany—and for good reason. As I was walking around, I learned to keep an ear out for the soft whizzing sound of an approaching bicycle. One of the things that I loved the most about Munster was the promenade—a tree-lined bike and walking path that encircles the entire city. It literally looks like something that sprung to life right off of a Pinterest board.
So, now that you have some background information on the city, let’s get to the good part: The horse stuff! Thanks to my new friends Karoliina and Georg from Schweizer-Effax (home of Effol, Effax and many other brands), I had an equestrian’s dream tour of the Munster area.
Our first stop was the farm of German show-jumping legend, Ludger Beerbaum. Perhaps you are also familiar with his sister-in-law, the American-born show jumper, Meredith Michaels Beerbaum who also competes for Germany. Now, I know that you might be wondering what an editor at a dressage magazine was doing at a show-jumping operation—but if you got the chance to visit Ludger Beerbaum’s farm, would you really say no?
Didn’t think so.
Ludger’s farm is located in the small town of Riesenbeck, which is about 44 minutes from Munster. His farm is huge, with several barns, arenas and a breeding operation as well. They have about 100 horses on the property and roughly one-third of them are stallions. I immediately noticed that the stallions were so friendly and well-behaved. Almuth, who is head of the breeding operation and who was our tour guide, pointed out that all of their stallions are treated just like normal animals who get plenty of turnout and aren’t handled like they are made of glass. She said that treating them like normal horses prevents them from turning into fire-breathing beasts. Makes plenty of sense.
There are several young international show jumpers who are also based at Ludger’s farm, so there is a lot of activity going from the various rings to the barns. I was most envious of their gallop track that is lined by hedges and circles one of their outdoor rings. Not surprisingly, the gallop track also has immaculate footing.
During my visit to Ludger’s I also had the pleasure of meeting his adorable 7-year-old daughter, who first rode by me on a little scooter with streamers on her way to visit her pony. She’s currently riding a 20-year-old “professor pony” who does his job like an old pro. She was a gracious little host and even let me pet her ponies. I also silently noted that the 7-year-old child had clearly already accomplished more in the arena in her short little life than I could ever hope to.
The other half of the Beerbaum empire is located on the other side of Riesenbeck and it is a massive, world-class show facility. As we rode down the tree-lined driveway toward the show grounds, we passed a horse and rider hacking along the roadside. Naturally, we also passed a “small” castle that belongs to a baron. Casual.
Hang a left when you get to the castle and you’ll find a riding club, a hotel and then the actual show facility, complete with a polo field, a cross-country field several dressage rings and two massive indoor rings. Though the facility is still under construction, they currently have 340 box stalls and recently hosted the Riesenbeck International CSI 2*, the German Young Rider Championships and they also had a big party to celebrate Ludger’s last Olympic games.
After I managed to scrape my jaw off of the ground, Karoliina and Georg took me to a local tack shop. Interestingly enough, the tack shop was amazing, but not vastly different from anything I had encountered back home. Many of the brands that they offered are the same as what we have in the states, but I would say that the selection was much better and there was a much larger section for kids. You’re probably wondering about prices. As a whole, I would say things were similarly priced with the exception of a few items. There was a pair of German-brand bell boots that typically sells for about $60 U.S. dollars back home that was only 30 euros in the tack shop. Not a bad deal! They also had a more extensive tall-boot section where prices were significantly more affordable. Boots that would cost $1200 U.S. dollars back in the states were only about 400 euros in the tack shop, which still converts to less than $500 U.S. dollars.
Luckily, I practiced some self-control and managed to leave the tack shop empty-handed. But if I didn’t have to haul over 100 pounds of luggage on public transportation for the majority of my trip, you can bet that my bank account would have been in trouble.
Next, we stopped at a local riding club in the town of Greven. The farm was picturesque, of course, and a lower-level jumping lesson was going on when we arrived. The farrier was also out that day. If it weren’t for the historic-looking buildings, I almost could have convinced myself that we were back home. I asked Georg and Karoliina about the price of board in that particular area and they said that prices start at around 220 euros (care isn’t always included at that price, though) and continue up to about 600 euros as you get closer to Munster. That’s definitely more affordable than what I am used to in the Washington, DC area, as prices for decent full-care board seem to start at around $700 U.S. dollars. However, it is worth noting that the D.C. area prices aren’t necessarily the norm for the rest of the United States.
Lastly, I had the pleasure of visiting the Schweizer-Effax headquarters, which is the home of Effol and Effax, whose grooming and leather-care products you’re probably already familiar with. This company has a rich history that goes back more than a hundred years and they have a real interest in creating innovative products while maintaining tradition. The company actually has its roots in products for caring for cows, but now they have a huge product range that covers everything from human physical therapy products to ski wax to house cleaning products to horse care. It’s a neat facility because all of the offices, science labs, production and warehouse are under the same roof. This means that they have excellent control over development, production and quality, and, of course, their products are 100 percent made in Germany. They’re an incredibly nice group of people and it was comforting to see the amount of care and attention that goes into making the products we use on the horses we love so much.
Stay tuned for my next blog, as I give you a little glimpse into a day at Ingrid Klimke’s training facility. Spoiler alert: Ingrid Klimke and her facility are everything you could dream of and more. Also coming soon is a visit to the German Federation and Olympic team headquarters in Warendorf.