Aachen, Germany
2006 World Equestrian Games

Debbie Beth-Halachmy

How do you tell a story about something that leaves you speechless? The World Equestrian Games did just that. There are not words to express the event, or at least not words that I can come up with. Things like, great, fabulous, awesome just don’t do measure up. For us it was more like how did it make you “feel.” That is easier for us…words like, humble, spiritual, proud and even tearful come to mind.  The size and spectrum of the WEG is impressive…similar to the Olympic in stature and competition. It has the same events as the Olympics with the addition of Endurance and Para Driving. This year 36 countries were represented in the WEG Equestrian Events. The best of the very best in individual and team competition came to Aachen. The stadium seats 50,000 people and is the size of 3 football fields. The 2 weeks the WEG ran it was estimated that over half a million people attended and the wealth that was left in the community was said to be over 80 million dollars. ( I did my best to make my contribution) Not bad for a horse show! The VIP section was a 2 story “wing” with it’s own stands….the organization and strict security made the event run smoothly from all outward appearances. We did get a glimpse at the inside of this equestrian machine. It is impressive but the teamwork and dedication is what makes it work. Remember these are Germans and they do not do anything half way. They have set a lofty standard.

Our part in all this was going to be 10 minutes during the closing ceremony on Sunday September 3 in the early evening. In comparison it was small to others with Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals on their minds but like the contestants we had been preparing for these few minutes for a long time. I had asked Eitan if he was ready for such an event and he said he had been preparing his whole life and yes, he was very ready and so was his horse.

A drive to Art Perry’s Intrepid Farms was the first leg of our trip. Art had gotten a flight to Germany but unfortunately could not get a hotel room. Germany was booked solid because of the WEG. Art is a wonderful host and a visit to Intrepid is a “destination” in it’s self. He had made the trip to Brazil with us last January so it was hard to leave him behind. Unfortunately when the van came at 6 am to take Santa Fe to the Los Angles Art was only able to take us to the airport. There he had to say good-bye. He would pick us up on our return, eager to hear of our adventures. We did talk on the phone often, keeping him up to date on our activities. First Eitan would talk of Santa Fe and their experiences and then he would tell Art all about the food, a common bond between the two.

Santa Fe made the trip just fine. Not even the slightest problem. He flew in the back of a 747 in the cargo area. He was in a box that fits 3 horses but he had the whole thing to himself. They put the horses in the box (like a straight load trailer) pull it out to the plane, lift it in with a fork lift, a very big fork lift, secure it and the horse is in one giant trailer with his won private living quarters and servants no less. We flew up front with other passengers. There is a door that we could go through in the back of the plane to visit Santa Fe. Flying a horse sounded like such a big deal but we figured out that the trip from LA to Amsterdam took less time than it does for us to drive to our regional show. And the horse trailer does not have the benefit of “air ride.” It is really not as simple as it all sounds as there is a mountain of paper work, lots of hurry up and wait and veterinary tests that must be done. A horse can even have his own passport….Our trip was handled by an agency that does nothing but arrange air travel for animals. They took care of most everything and they earn every penny of their fees. Talk about red tape!!

Once in Amsterdam we were transported to Moers near Düsseldorf. It is about an hour from Aachen. Santa Fe was to stay at Reistportanlage Schloss Lauersfort, owned and managed by Wolfgang and Tina Kun. It was called the “castle” being first built in the 1300’s. It was old-world Germany with a beautiful stable with cobblestone paths and floors, arches, brick courtyards and beautiful landscaping. There was even a bridge and a tower. The people there were as beautiful as the stable and home. Wolf and Tina were gracious hosts, spoke good English so that made it very nice. They specialize in jumping and dressage. There are 80 horses on the place and all 80 are BIG! We thought Santa Fe was big at 15.3. For a Morgan he is but for a Warmblood he is not! Those are some huge horses. Santa Fe was stabled in the stallion barn with 6 Andalusian Stallions. They were all beautiful and trained in Classical Dressage. The owners were so dedicated, they came every day and rode their horses and groomed them. Daily all the studs got a full bucket of cut up carrots and apples…yes, they were spoiled but when asked to do their job they did it so very well. As we have gotten older we have mellowed a bit. Why have these wonderful horses if you can’t spoil them. We easily fell in to the carrot and apple routine and it only took Santa Fe one time to get with the program. We brought back a terribly spoiled horse but he had earned this privilege.

While there the 10 days before Closing Ceremony Eitan and Santa Fe worked, building in a slow methodical order for their “10 minutes” Eitan is always careful not to leave the “show” at home in the arena or at the event in the warm up area. Knowing when to quit and when to push comes from many years in the saddle. He wanted Santa Fe to “peak” at 6 pm on Sunday, Sept 3. Not before, not after. They were on the money.

Each day when he would work Santa Fe many people would stop what they were doing and come watch. They sat transfixed by the ability of the horse to work in self carriage and collection with so little contact. They were overcome by his beauty and disposition and softness. I heard many of these remarks often when Santa Fe was out. After each work out, Eitan would give Santa Fe to someone to cool off for him. Eitan has always done such things. He says that when you have a horse such as Santa Fe or his much loved Holiday Compadre that they do not belong to us, they belong to their fans; we are just their caretakers. It is an obligation as one ride on such a horse can change a person forever.  Seeing their smiles and appreciation is reward enough…some are so moved they cry. If you want people to fall in love with Morgan’s there is no better way than to give them a little part of one to remember always, and they do.

It rained and was windy our whole stay. We worried; I worried, that it may rain “on our parade.” Eitan said, “So we get wet, it is only water.” I must admit that all week I was worried and full of “what ifs” What if Santa Fe spooked, what if he refused to go in, what if he could not perform because of all the excitement going on in the stadium, what if it was too muddy and he slipped . When we all stood in the holding area and I looked at the enormous crowd I was overwhelmed, this was big, very big.

While I was waiting for Eitan and Santa Fe to go in, I took a long look at the two of them, a perfect partnership between man and Morgan. Then I realized why Eitan was not nervous or worried. He knew he had the “partnership”. That partnership was 100%. It is something felt, not said. Often it is private between horse and rider. This partnership is often what makes the difference between a great ride and a legendary ride. I knew then they would be just fine. Morgans, more so than many other breeds, have that ability to partner up. I think it this allows them to excel in so many disciplines as well as a companion and friend.

Eitan and Santa Fe did the United States and Morgans proud. They never missed a step. When I told Eitan I was so impressed that the horse did not spook at the two story Pegasus Balloon with 500 kids running underneath it, Eitan replied, what balloon, when did the kids come in?....A typical response from Eitan. (There was no rehearsal, the first time Santa Fe saw the stadium was the time he entered it.)

Our trip home was good; no glitches except for the 2 hour delay and engine problems. They assured us that it was fixed. I had to say to Eitan, “did you see them take this plane and test fly it? I didn’t. How can they be sure it is fixed with out flying it first.”? I once tried to claw my way out of a private plane that had dead batteries when I arrived to depart.

Art met us at the airport upon our return. We had to leave Santa Fe in quarantine for 2 days and then we returned to LA from Intrepid to pick him up. We spent an extra day at Art’s and let Santa Fe graze out in one of Art’s beautiful green pastures. The horse sure had earned some special privileges. I have a feeling Santa Fe will remain quite spoiled from now on.

What kind of response did we get from the public with this wonderful Morgan Horse? …… a very positive response that makes us understand the special magic that Morgan horses convey where ever they may be in the world.  Much has happened since we returned home. It was worth every minute, every “what if”. Would we do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.

The World Equestrian Games are held every four years. In 2010 it will be held in Lexington, KY. This will be the first time this event has been held outside of Germany. It will be an honor for the United States. Mark your calendars now and plan to attend well ahead of time. Much is being done now to insure a remarkable World Equestrian Games in the United States.

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