Most people have a story about how the fell in love with horses. Mine started when my mother went to the market and picked up a popular horse-themed magazine for young girls named “Wendy”. Each issue features a comic detailing the life of a perpetually-15-year-old of course named Wendy, living on her parents’ stud in the north of Germany. Ask around, anyone horsey woman of my generation in Germany will know Wendy and has probably owned a few copies, even when not wanting to admit to it.
Little did my mother know what she had got herself into. In the years following that fateful visit to the market I only ever missed one copy – I was hospitalised with pneumonia that week but luckily was able to buy a used copy at a flea market. So my collection is actually complete over the course of five or six years starting in the mid-1990s and yes, I still have it.
Of course reading the comics and articles about horses, I dreamed of growing up to be Wendy and begged my parents to let me take riding lessons. I started out riding English in a setting typical at the time. Lessons were mediocre and the experienced schoolmasters knew to tuck their nose into the tail of the horse in front and follow. I loved it at the time though and even my mum took up riding, something she had always wanted to do as a little girl.
As we learned more about horses we realised that this place was not the best to continue our education. Around the same time, my parents decided to leave the small town to live in the countryside. It so happened the was a riding school opening just across the street from our new home. Sounds perfect but there was a catch: This was a pure Western yard!
This was very different from what my idols like Dr Reiner Klimke were doing but 16 years on I can’t picture myself in a dressage arena anymore. The first time I sat in a Western saddle felt like I had come home. Since then I have gone back to English on the odd occasion and I play Polo for my university but it isn’t the same.
When I was eleven my family grew. Our new member was Scooby Doo, a playful, funny-looking skewbald who at four years old was no horse for a child with two beginner parents - yes, even my dad was taking riding lessons by now. The whole Cowboy theme had won him over. My parents bought Scooby anyway, much to the (initial) dismay of our instructor who of course had suggested an older schoolmaster. It didn’t take long for Scooby to win her over, or anyone else for that matter.
I find it cheesy to speak of the “soul horse” because I know that there will be further horses to touch my heart and go through thick and thin with me. However, Scooby was my partner in crime, my best friend and my brother during those difficult teenage years. I owe everything to this horse. Selling him to be able to go to university is a decision I regret every day of my life - even though I of course don’t actually regret it, because I am happy with where I am and with the opportunities my education has given me. I know Scooby is happy, too. Every once in a while, I visit him and we have a catch up.
Nonetheless, it broke my heart. For a while I couldn’t even look at a horse without crying. Needless to say, I gave up on riding. I went to see Scooby occasionally when I was back in Germany for the holidays but it turned me into an emotional wreck every single time. When I started my Master’s degree at Loughborough University, however, I decided to join their Polo team. Polo is anonymous in the way that you get on a prepared horse and drop it with the groom after. This was very different from anything I had ever known but I knew this was perhaps the best opportunity for me to get back into riding without any attachment.
It has been fun, but playing polo ignited a flame that probably had never gone out completely. The desire to again have a horse to bond with grew. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a position to afford a horse of my own and western riding on school horses is scarce in this country. Lucky for me I got my boyfriend hooked on horses last year. Like me he doesn’t do things only halfway. 15 years after my parents bought Scooby – almost to the day – Vanity moved in with us (though really, she moved into a yard nearby obviously).
Whitley Village Vanity, as her passport says, is a cross between a Connemara stallion and an Irish Draught x Thoroughbred mare. We celebrated her second birthday on the 1st of July. When we bought her from a muddy field in March this year, she didn’t even know a headcollar. That means I am starting from scratch using the lessons I have learned from all the wonderful horses that have crossed my path before. She’s also the heart of our little family, the star of this blog and probably the most photographed equine on this planet.