It all began when I found Mary's page through an equestrian site contest. Phelps Equine World turned out to be the most complete American database with dressage information and equestrian photographs. I was so stunned by this beautiful, professional page that I felt the need to contact the owner. Mary replied with a lot of enthusiasm and we started chatting. From one thing into another I got invited to help her out at the North American Young Riders Championships In Parker, Colorado (4 - 9 August).
In one of her fabulous emails, Mary wrote that she was coming to Holland for one month to make a sale video of some Dutch quality horses (Direct Dutch video). On her stay she would also visit the Canadian Penny Zavitz who lives with her husband Johan Rockx in the Belgian Essen. Since my friend is a groom at Penny's, I saw the wonderful opportunity to meet Mary at Penny's. My parents were also eager to check out my "foster parents" which will take care of me at the NAYRC. I invited Mary over for dinner and then I would also be able to show her my horses. Mary gladly accepted our invitation.
When she arrived in Holland, several faxes were transferred to make the latest arrangements. Finally it turned out the Mary was able to come to Mol (my home town) on Saturday 4th July and spend the day at our stable:). I sent her some clear itinerary instructions and with ease she found the way to Mol. JJ Hathaway and Mary Phelps were the typical American people: incredibly friendly and always laughing :)
I asked Mary if she could photograph my trainer Ludo Verbraeken, since I already assigned Dirk Caremans to shoot my other trainer (Kris Geerts) at the CDI Brussels. When we arrived at De Steppe (my barn), Ludo had already ridden Juturn (Belgian warmblood by Wienergold x Warwick x Lugano) for half an hour (he wanted to warm him up on forehand). Mary took some shots for about 15 minutes.
She said to me: "Ludo must be a special person because it's the first day that the sun shines, since we are in Europe, right now when Ludo is riding". Ludo was pretty tensed because it was the first time a professional photographer came over to take pictures of him. He was quit insure about what to ride and you saw the Juturn was showing some tension in his mouth. Still, the black gelding performed some nice piaffe - passages, great traversal movements and wonderful extensions.
I had a private lesson at 12 am, so I also needed to groom and saddle Grace (Westfalian mare by Grafenfels x Ludendorff). Mary joined me to the stable where we chatted about American Dressage and European horses while I was saddling my chestnut. I wasn't very sure if I should ride with or without draw reins (I only use them once a week and in the picture you will notice that the reins are practically not used at all ;). Grace is in good shape and she started the lesson off with a good feeling. Ludo decided that I had to ride very forward in this lessons so Mary could take pictures of my mare with all her great movements. I think he said a hundred times "active, active". ;) It was fun.
Meanwhile Ludo, Mary and JJ were chatting about American dressage and what Ludo's opinion was about breeding and dressage in general. I think they had a cozy chat during my lesson ;) The first half hour we conditioned Grace in trot, making her suple and forward, the other thirty minutes were spent on learning her to do half passes (she's six years old and now it's time for her to do the serious lateral movements). It was pretty difficult but that's a learning process. Canter is the most difficult pace for me. It's difficult to sit because the strides are so large and Grace wants to go on the forehand. We trained on collecting her more and getting her off the hand. It went pretty well. After the canter we did some extensions and finished the lesson with giving her full rein so she can run deep and low with a total relaxation of the back. Grace did an excellent job and everyday I'm so happy that I waited two and a half year to buy myself a new horse (we had to look so long because all other horses were not good enough or too expensive).
After the lesson I groomed Grace again and took her outside to let her pick some grass (she loves that). Mary was talking with Ludo while JJ was putting the camera back in the car. In the meanwhile Grace was fully enjoying the summer grass. Mary came into the pasture and JJ took a picture of Mary and I with Grace (the one on the top). Grace ate some grass for half an hour and then she was put in her stable where she could enjoy her alfalfa hay. I took my tack together and put it in my tack closet which is near the stable of my wonderful New Forest Pony Didi. I own her for 8 years now and I learnt everything on her. Mary asked me if she needed to take pictures of Didi and I was not sure to say yes; she replied "Now I'm here and I can easily take the camera out of the car". OK, I took Didi outside near the lunge ring where we got this beautiful shot.
After those shots we headed to the photoshop where we made a deal with the owner to develop twenty roles in one hour for a very exclusive rate. At home JJ and Mary could taste the fine Belgian bakery (cherry and rice pie). I also got introduced with the work which I'll need to do at the NAYRC in August, and I was assigned to create the website of the Direct Dutch sales video, which is part of Mary Phelps' Equine world
In the evening we went to Mol center to eat dinner at The Royal. Since the menu was totally Dutch we had to translate everything into English. In the meanwhile JJ told some exciting stories about the Florida prisons, where he was a police officer for ten years, while Mary kept me updated with the Equestrian situation in the U.S.
It was a fine evening and I definitely have the feeling I made friends for life. I can't wait to go to the NAYRC, even though I will have to miss Grace and Didi for about two weeks.