Sunday, October 27, 2013

Making Tracks with Trakehners

Feiner Prinz
(Photo courtesy of Terry Armstrong)

Hi Everyone,

Meet Feiner Prinz, a gorgeous Trakehner stallion! I had the pleasure of meeting Feiner Prinz at the American Trakehner Association Convention in Ohio this month where I was invited to talk about
The Last Daughter of Prussia. Here he is in all his regal beauty! A truly fine prince! (Thank you to his owner Margaret MacGregor for allowing me to stand beside such royalty!) As I held his halter strap, he placed his soft muzzle close to my ear and for a moment, The Great Trek out of East Prussia flashed before my eyes. In the warmth of his breath I thought I heard him whisper, Hey Marina, what if my equine ancestors and your grandparents helped each other on that dangerous journey, that fateful flight across the ice? Maybe we're connected through our families.

Photo Courtesy Terry Armstrong

Yes, I thought, we're e all connected—humans, animals, the whole world and probably all meetings have a reason even though we might not know it. As I held him I wondered how many of his equine ancestors had been touched by my family's human hands—especially my East Prussian grandparents and great-grandparents who loved and bred Trakehners for so many generations. Certainly, we know that after World War II, the re-establishment of this magnificent warmblood breed—and beautiful modern horses like Feiner Prinz — depended on that handful of pure-bred Trakehners that survived the bitter trek. They were the unsung heroes of that journey giving their hearts to pull their human families westward in wagons through snow, artillery zones and finally over a treacherous frozen lagoon where many fell to their icy deaths. I wrote the book for them because the horses could never tell their story and in saving hundreds of thousands of lives, the Trakehners did the impossible.

Photo Courtesy Susan Bertke

Photo courtesy Susan Bertke

Photo Courtesy Susan Bertke
I met such wonderful people at the ATA Convention. Everyone was so down to earth, their dedication and love for the breed visibly palpable in that warm Ohio air. Majestic Farm is a wonderful place with clean, airy stables and riding halls. I loved watching the mare and stallion inspections, seeing their graceful fluid movements and floating trots, assessing their measurements and the ways they conform and are put together. I even got to sit next to Erhard Schulte and ask him questions as a few of the horses were being shown. Meeting Erhard in person was special as he is one of the foremost specialists on Trakehners who freely shared advice with me while I was writing.

 Erhard Schulte and me at the ATA Convention Oct 2013
(Photo Courtesy Ann Dionne)
Thank you Ann Dionne for driving to see me after so many years.
There is no time. Friends forever! Many lifetimes!
At this same exciting event another one of my supporting angels drove to visit me —Donald Bertke. It was our first face-to-face meeting and I was thrilled to be able to personally thank him for his expertise. Without him, my heroes, Manya and Joshi, might never have made it out of East Prussia. He explained barges and loading procedures, broken steam lines and escape routes to me, all via e-mail for a couple of years without even knowing who I was. Some people are just like that.

Donald Bertke and me at the convention
Photo courtesy Susan Bertke
(Thanks Susan for your great pics!)
It really was a fabulous experience, the icing on the cake being that I could talk freely about my book to a captive audience and share my innermost feelings about the East Prussians, Romani Gypsies and brave Trakehner horses during World War II. I only wish my mother could have been with me but perhaps she and my grandparents were watching from the bleachers on high.

That's me telling my story
(photo courtesy Terry Armstrong)
Thanks Terry for your patience with pics
In conclusion, I want to thank everyone who invited me to the convention and helped me while I was there: Karen Stopek, Eileen Krause, Wally Cullen, Margaret MacGregor, Tim Holekamp and Kelly Gulick and so many others. Also thanks to the many who bought books. Never in a million years would I have dreamed that when I started writing The Last Daughter of Prussia I would be presenting the material to such a prestigious, knowledgable group of Trakehner lovers.  I feel a true bond and deep gratitude.

Until next time,

—Marina Gottlieb Sarles