First Australian through the Brandenburg State Stud Rider Licencing Program gets a top RA1.

Stephanie Gillespie ( is a well known Victorian Dressage Rider and recently gained her RA1 Riding Licence in Germany.  We asked her to give us an insight into her experience of the German Riding Licencing system.

Well - After months of planning, in October 2015 I set off across the globe to fulfil a lifelong ambition - to ride in Germany. I had applied for and been accepted to undertake my “Reitabzeichen”, or $iders Licence through the school at the State Stud in Brandenburg, Germany. In Germany (like many countries) riders are required to gain their licence before they are eligible to compete and this is all the way from preliminary through to FEI levels.

Acceptance to the course was gained after supplying evidence of my riding standard and validation of competency by a German Qualified and registered Riding Master – not an easy thing to gain whilst in Australia!    I thought the application process was arduous but what a shock I was in for when I arrived the first day – there is riding and then there is RIDING!!

The complex at Brandenburg is truly amazing. 7 Indoor schools, barn after barn of beautiful horses, manicured outdoor arenas and paddocks full of youngsters playing and growing into sport horses. Each day of the course consisted of morning stable work (the horses are kept mostly inside with turnout each afternoon), two riding lessons, theory session and was finished with afternoon stable work. The whole barn has a pleasant, horse friendly vibe and everyone chips in to help.

Riding lessons were conducted in groups of 4-7 riders at a time and training was undertaken by only the most experienced riding masters. My riding instructor was Hr. Henning Müller - Hauptsattelmeister who is ably assisted by Mariola Mann - Gestütsoberwärterin. Both legends of the German horse industry.

Let the work begin.........

Before I left Australia I had been accepted to prepare for the exam for RA2 class – basically medium level dressage theory and practical. Nothing is set in stone however and you must prove that you are truly capable of gaining a pass mark in your exam. The alternative is a downgrade, or not being nominated to sit. Not why I am here at all and enough to scare me into working harder than I’ve ever worked before! In fact, a high proportion of my classmates across all grades did not get nominated to sit the exam.

In typical German autumn weather of 6 degrees celcius I was wet with sweat after each 45 minute session, only to take that horse back to the stable, cool that one down and then tack up the next one! The training sessions were for me like my session at home but with the most amazing precision and emphasis on quality. I worked my ass off for the first two days and was called into the chief instructor’s office for a German!!!

With my wonderful travel companion as translator Michael – German born and bred, phew! – Herr Muller sat me down to talk about whether I could work even harder, ride an even better (bigger) horse and perhaps ride the test for RA1. It’s not going to be easy, you will ride German S level (advanced/PSG) - oh and by the way you will be riding Herzensfurst, one of our competition horses who was top 7 at the Bundeschampionat as a 4, 5 and 6yo. He’s a young (8yo) Advanced horse who has been in training with Isabell Werth.

Hmm so whilst I pick myself up off the floor the gravity of the situation begins to sink in. No pressure..... NO PRESSURE!!

So I then have 6 days left to prepare myself and my 18hh Bundes-horse to gain a high enough percentage in a PSG level test to pass and that I have to ride in front of German FN examiners. At this point I let the pressure get to me. I rode the next day terribly. I wobbled around the arena like a drunken sailor trying so hard that it just got worse and worse. I had some serious anxiety setting in. Then Hr Müller stepped in, as all good instructors do, changed a few minute details and off we went. Once again covered in sweat but this time trying in the right direction, rather than working against enormous Hurzi. Just by way of comparison – Hurzi is 18hh can really move. I am 165cm. Yep perfect match......

In the second week of the course I began to really hit my straps. My body was coping better with the demands of perfect riding for extended periods of time and the work on both horses just got better and better. Both horses now have good tempis (uphill, straight, same rhythm, same quality of canter, same connection to the bridle throughout the line), better pirouettes (neither horse’s strong point but we used lots of great exercises to improve them) and beautiful (German) half pass in trot and canter. Onward to the exam!

The day of the exam involves all riders preparing their horse in competition garb and presenting to the FN examiners first for practical examination then for the theory examination. My travel companion Mike wasn’t allowed to translate this time so a wonderful student from the stud’s research institute was brought in to help me. At this stage I have picked up a lot more German - I speak a half German half English mish-mash that the examiners find amusing at best. Almost everything was in Germany throughout the training so I just had to!

I rode for my life in the practical and scored a respectable 63% - not bad on a horse I had ridden just 5 times. We had a few communication errors as expected but some serious highlights in the half pass, counter change of hand (not yet confirmed in this horse) and the medium and extended paces. The theory exam involved dissection of my ride. The things that went well and then working through the issues that need to be resolved. And how I would strategically go about training tomorrow and for the next three months to help the horse gain more confidence in the movements he found difficult.

I passed with flying colours! Happy dance J I have a RA1 Riders Licence that allows me to compete in Germany up to FEI level. And they have asked me to come back and attempt to gain my Gold Medal. What an honour! Also the first Australian to go through the program. I could ride in the studs competition team and aim to achieve 10 wins at PSG and above. Decisions, decisions.....a six month stint in German for the summer competition season??? Definitely worth thinking about.

A huge thank you must go to my wonderful travel buddy, chief organiser and super translator Michael Hoffman. And my super supportive family and staff at Kenzie Park who kept everything running smoothly at home while I was away.

And finally to the amazing coaches and instructors who have shaped my riding over many years, well 30 to be exact. Who taught me German words where an English translation wasn’t appropriate, who made me ride without stirrups and reins and girths, made sure I knew the training scale inside out and always insisted that it was the rider who was in error when things went wrong, never the horse. According to the Germans, you have done a great job.

A trip of a lifetime and a life-changing experience I will never forget.

Steph on Hurzi!

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A little about the Stud......

The Brandenburg State Stud at Neustadt (Dosse)

The stud in Neustadt (Dosse) located in the State of Brandenburg in Germany can proudly look back on 225 years of tradition in horse breeding and training. The history of the stud has always been a lively one and is closely connected with the history of the State of Brandenburg.

The stud in Neustadt is one of very few state studs in Germany that features aHauptgestüt (State Breeding Stud – home of the broodmares) in addition to the traditional Landgestüt (State Stallion Depot – home of the breeding stallions).

About 40 elite mares form the foundation for successful breeding of sport horses. In order to be protected from privatisation the stud has become a foundation under public law in 2001.

The Brandenburg State Stud in Neustadt (Dosse) is one of the biggest in Europe and it forms a centre of sustainable rural development with regional and national impact. The cultural and historical heritage of the stud buildings, erected during the reign of Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II in 1788, as well as the high reputation of the stud for horse breeding provide an excellent combination for this

More than horse breeding:

Besides the important impact of breeding, special attention is paid to the performance tests offered for sport horse and pony stallions and mares, preservation of the cultural and historical heritage and tradition and of course preservation of the historic buildings and yards. In addition to horse breeding, activities include the education in the FN-approved riding school, a Riding College offered together with the Neustadt Secondary School, where riding is part of the school curriculum, and tourism as the most important support for rural development.

Located on 400 hectares of pastures, fields and lots of tree-lined avenues with two historic yards (Hauptgestüt and Landgestüt) the stud offers excellent breeding facilities. Horse breeding and the training of the horses have always received a lot of support by the State Government!

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