John in Germany

Last summer, our working student of two years, John Mason of San Antonio, joined me and friends in Vienna for a week of watching the training and performances at the Spanish Riding School, a trip to the Lipizzan stud at Piber, and taking in some of the vast cultural riches of the former capitol of the Hapsburg Empire. Then John and I, together with fellow traveler Kathleen Daly, also of San Antonio, hit the road to visit barns of professional contacts so that John might “interview” by riding for them for an apprentice position. John was privileged to audition for a number of very high profile masters, and some who may not be as well known in the United States but who are well-respected in Europe and licensed by their national Federation to accept trainees for their government’s professional trainer examination. At each of our six stops, John rode very well and was offered the opportunity to apprentice, both flattering and humbling at the same time. Ultimately John chose to train with Johan Zagers in Wulfrath near Dusseldorf. We spent two days there, watching Mr. Zagers ride and teach, admiring his beautiful seat and hands, and his engaging way of interacting with his students. After watching John ride, Mr. Zagers said to me: “I can do something with him. I like that he does not try to override , that he rides with feeling and is sensitive to the horses.”

At Dressurstall Zagers, John lives on-site with some of his co-workers and the family Zagers. We keep up with John through the phone (hurray for Skype) and email, and his adventures as reported in his blog, “John in Germany.”

John in Germany
This is a journal of my adventures and daily life living in Wulfrath, Germany. I am doing a three year dressage(equestrian) working-student position for international rider and trainer Johann Zagers.
  • Neglect. Apologies
    So my friends, it has been awhile(yet again) since I have updated my blog. I apologize.
    BUT, there has been A LOT going on since I last filled yall in, so lets get down to it.

    MY PARENTS CAME TO VISIT!(rand too, but.....just kidding, That was fun too!)
    My mom and dad came to visit at the end of February and stayed for 8 days! My brother flew in from Minsk for 3 days. It was so amazing to have the family together again! It has been a while since we were all in one place at one time.
    We did some traveling and a lot of eating, you know us! They got to meet all my friends and co-workers, the horses, and see what my life is like over here. I took them to my favorite places(mostly restaurants) and showed them around Dusseldorf and Köln, my stomping ground! They got to see me ride some horses and filmed some too, sooooo videos coming soon, I promise.
    It was a very exhausting week, I think I slept for 3 or 4 hours the whole time they were here.
    It was hard to say goodbye but was happy they got to come and see how everything is and that everything is going well.
    Can NOT wait for them to come back!

    RAND IS GETTING MARRIED. wait, stop the bus.... WHAT!!!!!! (i know, cra-crazy!!!)
    I am so unbelievably happy and proud of my brother for making this commitment to this beautiful wonderful girl, Alla.
    I LOVE HER! She is so cool and perfect for him. She is the only person I have ever met that can keep Rand Mason on a leash. And trust me, that is one heck of a feat. The wedding is planned for this summer, so I will definitely be coming stateside for a least a few weeks then! I am so excited about everything I can't sit still!

    On a more low-key note, work is going great. Riding some fabulous horses and of course still learning a ton everyday. I started to ride a new horse a few weeks ago and have totally fallen in love with her! She is a HUGE Oldenburg mare, dark livery chestnut(thats a color, not a disgusting food item, for you non-horse people) with huge beautiful movement. She is 5 years old and just wonderful. Liking all the adjectives?!? She is a true pleasure to work with.
    My trainer/boss, Johan, has been doing a lot of showing on his International Grand Prix horse, Question de Liberté. The show season is really starting to begin and I can already tell things are going to get crazy around here! wish me luck.
    I wont be doing any showing in the near future but there is promise for this summer or a little later!

    Move over Apollo Anton Ohno, Brazil is in the house! Brazilian Olympic team rider, and long time student of Mr. Zagers, Luisa Almeida moved into the stable for a week to prepare for the FEI World Cup in 's Hertogenbosch last week. She and her Lusitano stallion Samba are awesome! So friendly and humble. It was great to talk to someone that has already started to live my dreams! I learned a lot about that level of competition.

    So life has been crazy as you can see. We lost a rider here at the stable, so the work has been extra hard and even more tiring. But we are sticking in there! Tonight we are going in to downtown Dusseldorf to go party a little! Dancing it up german style!
    It is refreshing to go out and be normal young people sometimes. We are always working so the break is much enjoyed!

    I can't tell if I'm forgetting something....... If I am, it must not be that important.
    I'll try not to not update my blog for another 3 months again.... I promise!

    Thats all for now folks!

    The future is always beginning now. ~Mark Strand, Reasons for Moving
  • Major Update pt.1 Christmas/Sylvester/KD
    So it has indeed been a long long while since I updated my blog. There is SO much that has been going on I think it might take a few entries to catch up!

    Lets start with Christmas:

    Arnas, Frie, and I had to work over the Christmas holidays. It was not to bad seeing as the horses got all their vaccinations and what not on the 23. We only had to take horses to the walking-machine(an enclosed hotwalker) for the 5 days we had to work. We only had to ride a few horses and clean some of the horses for the few boarders that weren't out of town.

    Arnas and his girlfriend, Julia, invited me over for Christmas eve dinner! It was wonderful. They bought me some really nice(and much needed) snow pants, hand warmers, and GLOVES! Frie came over later and we all talked and played some games. It was a great time.

    Since we worked over christmas time that meant we got to have 5 days for Sylvester(New Years) off. My good friend Kathleen flew over here on her way to England/Ireland to visit family. She spent 5 days here. We had a blast! We drove over to Luxembourg for the day on New Years Eve, such a beautiful city! Then headed over to Ramstein to the Air Force base where my friend Warren's wife is stationed. They were throwing a New Years party and invited us over for the night and New Years Day. The party was awesome! 300+ dollars worth of fireworks that took all night to use up! Met some really nice Air Force people that were great to talk to. Met a really nice german family that lived next door that invited us over for drinks. It was a great night! The next morning we woke up and drove onto the base and got a tour of everything. They took us to the mall where I got to eat some TACO BELL(missed it SO much) and look at some American stores. Bought some Corona for my housemate then loaded back into the car for the drive home!
    There hadn't been any snow on the ground since Kathleen had arrived but drove through several little flurries on the way home. The barn was already covered in a light blanket of snow when we got back. It then continued to snow for the next week(and still is, hasnt really stopped!) Kathleen was super pumped about all the snow so we spent a good deal of time playing! Peter and I took her extreme sledding behind his car! I think she had a good time. I know we had a great time watching from the warm car!

    But, the fun had to come to an end and I had to go back to work and Kathleen had to leave. We had such a blast and it was hard to say good bye.

    Things went back to normal after that. We got a new girl from Belgium to work in the stable. Her name is Maite and she is 20. She lives in the house with us and is pretty fun.

    Well that was the holiday season condensed as much as possible. My head is aching a little bit from trying to remember all the details, even though I'm sure I left a good deal out...
    I think this is enough for one post... I'll catch everyone up on everything else in another one. Still much more to talk about!

    Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man. ~Benjamin Franklin
  • TWO MONTHS! really?
    Wow, its been two months! I cant believe it!

    so much is going on here I don't even know where to start!

    Well I have now been to school 3 times. Once on a Thursday and twice on Tuesdays(which is a different set of kids). And I by far like Tuesdays much better! The teachers are getting a little bit more understanding of my non-German. Except, of course, for that one mean Fraue lady. She still thinks I'm stupid for being there in the first place. I just smile and nod as she yells at me in German. Its actually quite entertaining! I have met some really nice jumper riders that speak a little English. They watch out for me and help me with some of the lessons. They even invited me to go party with them in a couple weeks, I'm not sure about it though, they ARE jumper riders and all. We know how they can be! But all in all its getting better week by week. I'm starting to understand a lot more and participating a little bit in the lessons! We'll see how it goes though.
    thats about all that going on with school........ o yea i met a pretty girl and got her email! her name is Anna!

    Christmas Market:
    Where to start? Starting in late November every(well most I think) town opens its christmas markets! They are usually in the center of town in the old part(altstadt) and are filled with tons of little booths selling food, gifts, little nick-nacks, and of course LIQOUR(gluhwein, hot wine with spices, is the seasonal favorite and quite tasty!) I have been to the very large and very popular Dusseldorf christmas market a few times now. It has been FULL of thousands of people drinking, eating, and shopping. Its pretty fun. My favorite part is the food of course! Currywurst, bratwurst, crepes, waffles, you name it they have it!
    I ate my weight in food the first time i went. I learned to be a little bit more conservative the next time. But what can i say, im a sucker for "crepes mit Nutella"!
    I also went to the one in Wulfrath the other night. Its about 1/8th the size but just as happening. There was live music, great food, and plenty of GLUHWEIN to supply a whole city for a holiday season. Everyone at this christmas market knew everyone else there. Wulfrath is a very small town, so this is like just one big christmas eve party at Grandpa's house that just so happens to go on every weekend for a month! I met the Wulfrath English(as in London, England) population at their booth. They sold whiskey, scotch, and Irish Coffee!( and gave out a free english conversation to any one willing to talk to them!) I was more than willing! With Irish Coffee in hand I told them my whole life story and learned all about them as well! There are about 5 retired couples that moved from England to Wulfrath to live out there lives. They are all super nice, and super old, and very interested in my being here! I hope to run into them the next time i go down for the market!
    I plan on going and doing some christmas shopping next weekend at the Dusseldorf market...We'll see how that goes, I'll most likely end up eating currywurst and crepes all night. did i mention how much i love crepes?!!?

    Well I was going to write about my first german lesson that I had today, but it will have to wait. I'm late for dinner, and since I'm cooking it, it's important that I'm there!
    So I will be writing about that shortly! Much too tell! All is going well and as always I'll end a quote.

    Every day do something that will inch you closer to a better tomorrow.
    Doug Firebaug
  • First day of school...
    So Thursday was my first day of school. I have to go to school once a week(except i must also go every 4th to learn horse knowledge and some other things needed for my bereiter test.

    So I was totally and completely petrified to go to school. Not only did I have to drive by myself to Cologne(about 40 miles away) on the autobahn, park the car, and find the school/classroom, but i also speak NO German. I couldn't sleep at all the night before and ended up just sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and reading. I finally decided to just leave the house(at 5:45am!, school doesn't start until 8am, haha) and drive to Cologne to make sure i find it okay and all. Since there isn't a speed limit on most of the Autobahn i got there at about 6 20am. Found some parking not to far away and walked around for an hour and a half. I found two different bakeries and got some food at both! Had to search far and wide for a bathroom(too much coffee). Finally 7:30 came around so I made my way back to the school, which was basically a community college(i think). I found the classroom and waited for the teacher to come and open it. After being let in and finding a seat that wasn't saved for someone the day got started!
    It took the first teacher, Frau "Mean as Hell", half an hour to take role and get organized. In her 15 minutes left to teach she talked about horse semen and something else i couldn't understand. After that class she took me aside to get my boss's phone number and to ask me(in very broken English) why the heck i was at school if i didn't speak any German. I told her " ummmm i don't know, because my Chef told me to?!?!?" She then preceded to get angry at me for not understanding her and not participating and what not. I just smiled and said sorry and "Isch Sprecken keine deutsche"!
    When she was done a very well dressed professor with came and talked to us about business, taxes, and politics...He was much nicer about the language barrier and said we would figure something out!
    The day went on.... 3 more teachers. 2 nice, 1 not. Didn't really understand anything more than the subject of the lectures and what not. My last class had a test planned for that day. The teacher gave me the test and a textbook to see if i could get anything done on it. I could answer two of the questions(out of ten). And they were both right! But that's all i could get done. So i got to leave early!

    All in all it wasn't to horrible. The other kids weren't very friendly(except for one very homosexual jumper rider), they all laughed at my non-German speaking. Pointed at me and whispered(why whisper?). Lets just say it was nice to come back to the barn and work with my "friends" here. I go on a different day next week so we"ll see if those kids are a little bit more hospitable...

    O yea... That first teacher i had in the morning(the rude one) called my boss's wife who manages the barn and does the office work. She asked her why they sent me there and all. Told her i didn't speak any German(like she didn't know?!?), and that it was stupid of me to go. My boss's wife told her to bug off basically and that i was going to school to learn more German and get better at it. I didn't get to hear all the details of their convo but i think it was pretty hostile! sounds like fun!

    well i think that's about it. I don't want this blog to make me sound like I'm miserable or anything.... It was just one hard day. I know it will get better. I wasn't expecting school to be easy and fun. I knew the language barrier would be a HUGE problem, but it will get better with time! I am very happy over here! I'm learning more than i ever could of imagined, seeing places i never dreamed of seeing, and meeting truly amazing people that I'm making life long friendships with. So all is good, just bumps in the winding road of living in a foreign country trying to live my dreams!!!!
    (did that last paragraph make any sense, I'm not good at being all inspirational or eloquent, but i try anyway!!)

    All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Futbol!
    So last night was my first ever soccer game. Well I think I played as a 5 year old, but lets be real, that doesnt count!

    Most of the workers from the barn, one of the boarders and her boyfriend, and this really nice german couple that were someone's friends all met up this really cool gigantic indoor soccer/tennis/bowling complex. It cost 5euros a person since we had 10 people there. We played an hour of intense non-stop indoor soccer.

    I played goalie to start out with because I was the newbie to the sport. I deflected 6 shots and was on fire. They moved me out of the box to try and score some. I made two goals in 3 minutes. We then took a little bit of a breather. In indoor soccer the field is only like 1/8 the size of a normal soccer field and has a wall surrounding the whole field. This means that there are no outs. The ball is constantly in play until a goal is scored or a foul is made. We could only play about 5 minutes at a time with no breaks. So we took water breaks and breathing breaks constantly. I scored 2 more goals before our hour was up! And also played goalie a few more times keeping the score down to 14-7 our team up!
    the other team scored in the last 5 minutes so the final score ended up being 14-8 our team!

    No one there believed me that i really hadnt played before... i just told them that i just kicked the ball as hard as i could towards the goal and it sometimes worked out for me!
    It was so much fun and we are going to play again next Sunday! It is a good and fun way for us to stay in shape when not riding.

    Another plus was meeting the boarder here at the barn, Yvonne's, boyfriend. He lived in Michigan for a year when he was in Highschool back in the 90s. He is super smart and really really nice. He speaks english perfectly and fluently. We got along really well. Most of the others had to keep telling us to stop talking and play the game. He wants to take me around Dusseldorf some more and to some of the fun local spots that the others here dont know about. After winter he wants to take me to this mall that has a beach on top. YES, a BEACH! complete with sand, water, and cocktails! It is closed now for winter, but when it opens again we are totally hitting it up! It was nice to meet someone that reminded me of my friends back home! We could talk about politics, school, religion, etc... It was a nice feeling!

    Well thats about all I have been up to for the last week or so... Still working a ton and learning even more!
    I think im gunna start doing a weekly german riding tip of the week...good idea? or a waste of time!?! horse poeple-let me know what you think!

    I'm off to go cook some chicken and pasta for the housemates.

    Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.
    Henry David Thoreau
  • 3 weeks into it
    So I have been here a little more than 3 weeks and OH MY has it been crazy.

    I have been working the hardest I have ever had to work and riding more horses than I ever had to ride in my life. The work is exhausting and the riding is difficult, but the knowledge I've already gained in just 3 weeks is incredible.

    My daily Schedule kinda goes as follows:
    6:15am-Wake up
    6:30am-Start work at
    6:30-Clean about 8 stalls, put new straw in stall, and sweep the whole barn
    8am-Break for a 30 minute breakfast with the whole team
    8:30am-Start to ride. Ride usually 3-4 horses. Tack a few. Warm-up/cool down a few horses for the Chef.
    1:30pm-Break for an hour. Eat lunch and usually check Facebook and emails.
    2:30-Clean horses for boarders coming to ride in the afternoon and ride some more(usually 2 horses)
    Until 6:30pm- Feed and hay horses, sweep the barn area, change blankets on horses, and do anything else needed to do.

    (This is only tuesday through Saturday though. Sunday is a half day and Monday is usually a free day. We do have to work ever fourth Monday, but we get a day off during the week.)

    Its a full day. We sometimes work until 7 or 8 at night. Once a week the hay is delivered and all the guys have to unload and put it in the pony barn where its stored. It is probably the work job of everything I've had to do. Its moving about 200-450 bales of hay about 15 meters. In a chain of 3 guys. Doesn't sound horrible, but you have NO idea!

    On a different note, I am making some great friends! One of my housemates, Peter, is from Poland and is newer here than me. He doesn't speak a word of German, but speaks quite a bit of English! We have clicked pretty well being as we are the two foreigners in a barn full of germans! He has a car and a GPS navigation, so we go exploring. We drove to Dusseldorf(only about 30minutes away) one night and had dinner and walked along the beautiful Rhine River. Its a really pretty town! I'll post pictures soon!

    Everything is going well and I'm having a blast. More to come soon, I promise!!
    And i apologize for the grammar and spelling errors, I don't write particularly well. I ride horses instead!!
  • John Mason- Germany 07 October 2009

    I have arrived! My plane landed in Dusseldorf at 2:35pm(14:35). I met up with Johann’s wife, Katja, in the baggage claim area and we set off to the barn. The drive was only about 25 minutes. She then gave me a mini tour of the barn, seeing as I had already been there once before, and introduced me to the other workers there.

    After getting all my bags unpacked and my room organized, I took a long awaited(and I’m sure needed)hot shower. Katja then took me to the local supermarket which was very similar to a Texas Walmart, except for this had a great selection of GOOD food. I stocked up on bread, cheese, and sandwich meats. It was raining when we walked back outside so we had to run to the car and try to unload the cart as fast as possible. The short car ride home was filled with fun little questions about the little tiny differences between Americans and Germans. She helped me unload the groceries in my shared kitchen, which my kitchen mate keeps quite cluttered. After all this hustle and bustle I finally got lay down for a minute.

    Sleep was not in the near forecast though. It might have been late afternoon here, but it was only mid-morning back in Texas. So I thought I would go and meander through the barns and meet some of the horses and people. I watched Johann and Thomas, the assistant trainer, teach some lessons. Thomas rode a very hot and gigantic black gelding that he rode effortlessly, making it look easy. After about a half hour of arena and people watching, I headed back to the room to call my dad and check in. This was the only time today I got really homesick. It finally sunk in that I am on the other side of the world and don’t really know anyone within a 1000 mile radius.

    Then that puts me here. Writing this journal entry on my brand new MacBook Pro(thank you Uncle John). I think I might go for another walk. The sun is going down and the barn is getting quieter... my kind of time!