Valerie meeting Balou

Valerie meeting Balou du Rouet.

In the words of the Go-Go’s… “Vacation, all I ever wanted. Vacation, had to get away.”

It’s been a couple of years since I have taken a real vacation. I’m not talking about the odd long weekend to go watch the USHJA International Hunter Derby, or visiting HITS Thermal for the first time. I’m talking take a week to visit a breeding farm or major competition type of vacation.

You didn’t picture me as a beach bum, did you? You probably shouldn’t vacation with me unless you can keep up with the times on some sort of equine topic. Bonus points if it’s breeding.

I am the girl who finds horses wherever I go, usually with a point and a squeal, “Oooooh, horses!” My sister once asked if I wanted to go with her to Sweden when her college roommate got married. Heck yes! So while she consulted Rick Steves, I scoured the internet and discovered Flyinge, the Swedish Stud. There was a lot of eye rolling from Bridget on that trip. She isn’t a horse person.

While in Portugal for work, my coworkers took advantage of free time by trying the port. I found the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre, a royal riding school. I went on a day there was no performance, so I watched the practice. Didn’t bother me, I was around horses.

So, I saved some money and it was time to go on vacation again. It just so happens that the World Equestrian Games were in Normandy, France in 2014, and I went!

I convinced my mom to go with me, and then got to thinking, “Hmmm, I’m going to be so close to Paul Schockemohle’s and the grand sire of my colt, Balou du Rouet.” I’ve got to see him. Thus began the planning for our whirlwind trip the first week in September.

We flew into Frankfurt, rented a car (The autobahn? Driving a stick shift? My own personal level of hell.) and drove to Mühlen, Germany, home of Balou du Rouet and all of Schockemohle’s stallions. I had already emailed the breeding director asking permission to give Balou a carrot and have my picture taken with him. Yes, I am that girl.

When we pulled up to the barn, I was like a kid in a candy store. This was it, the Mecca of horses. However, when we got to the office, that was when I realized that this was a business, not a place for tourists.

Christoph, the breeding director who I had arranged a tour with was in a meeting. Barbara offered to take me to meet Balou, but I was not allowed to pet him, feed him or even take pictures. I was pretty upset. When I told Barbara I had arranged everything in advance she advised me to come back tomorrow. “Well, that’s going to be a problem seeing as how I am off to France for the WEG,” I said, downtrodden.

To her credit, Barbara could see I wasn’t going to go that easy (or maybe it was my mother’s presence, she can be… determined when she has her heart set on something.) So she told me to go get lunch, go visit the tack shop and come back and maybe Christoph will be out his meeting.

So we did, we had a nice lunch and I spent money at Schockemohele’s tack shop (swoon). When we came back, Barbara was on the phone and it was like Custer’s last stand. Who was going to make the first move, me or her? And then I heard my mother outside of the office, “Oh, Valerie will be SO happy to meet you.” And in walked Christoph, a vision in jeans and zip up track jacket. He apologized for being late and took me on a tour and then introduced me to Balou, where not only was I allowed to take pictures and feed him carrots, but I was able to help his exercise rider, Maria, untack him. I was in heaven.

So, lessons learned:

1) Plan ahead. I had begun emailing Christoph in 2011. Mühlen is about a 3.5 hour drive from Frankfurt, there are other ways of transport- trains, etc. There is also another stud farm, so make sure you book a visit to the right one!

2) Check in often- even in the months and days leading up to my trip, I made sure that my visit was still ok and on schedule.

3) Be flexible. Barbara didn’t mean any harm, she had a business to run. She offered suggestions that allowed for my visit to work out- and then Christoph told us about a Bundeschampionate happening in Warendorf on our way back to Frankfurt, so we made a side trip!

4) Be gracious. I said thank you over and over to Christoph, Barbara, Maria and the whole team. I also still keep in touch with Christoph and send him updates of Balou’s grandson.

I’ll have to tell you about my trip to the WEG, it was definitely a bucket list experience. Once again, I was “that girl” who tracked down Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial for a picture. But that’s another blog for another time!