As much as I enjoyed the (one, the only, beware of imitations!) Global Dressage Forum this year, there was one thing that disappointed me: the meager number of North Americans who hopped on a plane to attend it. I was the ONLY Canadian on their registration list, if you don’t count Pia Fortmuller, who has been living in Germany and was on the list as representing that country since she was at the GDF with her mentor Heike Kemmer. And while I did hear a few undeniably American voices in the crowd, the numbers were paltry. The GDF has attracted greater and greater numbers of people from farther and farther afield (they even had head sets for the Russians to hear things in translation this year!), but since the ‘economic crisis’ of 2007, the number of North Americans seems to have migrated in the opposite direction.

I have made it a personal mission, therefore, to encourage more Canadians and Americans to attend next year’s event, and to that end I am offering right here on this blog that I will help make the trip affordable to anyone who wants to go. Some of you have already enjoyed my (free, this is not a business for me) services for accommodations at past WEGs in Spain and Aachen, and you know I’m good at cheap sleeps that still meet even the most germophobic needs.  Going as part of an informal  group means you can share both accommodations and transportation costs, which become so cheap that the only costs you really need to plan for are the flight and entry fee to the GDF itself.

Here is why you should think about attending GDF 2013:

2013 is likely to be the last year, at least for now, that the event will be held at the Academy Bartels in Holland. The Bartels have always put on an outstanding event, and I do mean every one of the 11 letters that spell ‘outstanding’. It’s so much more than an educational forum. The ‘D’ in GDF could easily stand for ‘dialogue’. It has become THE annual gathering for so many of the movers and shakers in  international dressage that first timers are often treated for neck strain upon returning home, as a result of almost constant ‘look, there’s Adelinde! Look, there’s Carl! Look, there’s Stephen Clarke!’, etc etc etc. The GDF is also a very social event, with catered meals where the wine flows like water. The Academy itself is transformed into nothing short of a theatre of dressage, where spectators sit in comfort in tiered rows of seats that guarantee everyone a good view.

I have been to the GDF six times, and the little collection of quaint villages and farms around the Academy Bartels has begun to feel like a second home. It’s also really easy to get to that region for not a lot of money. You can fly to Brussels or Amsterdam (I prefer Brussels – closer and less traffic, as well as a much smaller, easier-to-navigate airport), both of which are pretty cheap European destinations from NA. Even the most basic GPS will get you to the venue and accommodations in a rented car. And I’ve found that car rentals in both Belgium and Holland are really quite cheap.

We named it ‘The Lipstick’: the sparkly pink Fiat Panda that was our steed for the 2010 GDF.

2013 will likely be your last chance for the next couple of years to visit the GDF at the venue where it was born and came of age, because starting in 2014 it will travel from year to year to new venues, returning only occasionally to the Academy Bartels.

The tack shops in that corner of Belgium/Holland are just awesome. Tack and riding clothes are so much cheaper there than here in NA that you could actually write off part of the airfare with the money you will save on whatever you have room for in your bag. On this trip, I picked up a pair of truly sexy brown De Niro boots for a friend who had ordered them semi-custom in the summer (540 Euros) and a super sexy new bridle for my Theo with patent noseband and browband (90 Euros!).

If, like me, your fear of Canada or US Customs is overwhelmed by your love of European cheeses and other delicacies, there are any number of shops that will happily load you up with everything from Sausage of the Pyrenees to Brugger Cheese to chocolate from Neuhaus.

Horses are everywhere in this little corner of the Low Countries. And I do mean EVERYWHERE. The number of equines  in the fields – from tiny ponies to apple bummed Brabant draft horses – is only exceeded in my experience by the numbers of sheep seen in New Zealand’s countryside.

Hooge Mierde, the village the Academy Bartels calls home, is surrounded by extensive parkland, which makes for lovely walking on sunny fall days (I always stay a week when I go to the GDF, with a couple of days on either side for tack shopping and strolling about). On weekends, the trails are frequented by riders and drivers, whose two and four-in-hand teams make my heart flutter every time I see them.  And what’s not to love about an 18th century manor house with a dressage ring built where the front lawn used to be? Coming from the hockey world of Canada (well, maybe not so much this NHL non-season), it’s just so darned cool to be in a place where horses are a big part of the culture.

When I go to the GDF I stay at one of two bungalow parks. These are purpose-built accommodations for the many northern Europeans who like to take a break from the constant hustle and bustle of their urban lives by chilling with some biking or walking close to nature and far from the madding crowds. The one bungalow park boasts lovely bungalows that get you as close to being outside as possible with floor to ceiling windows and nature all around. The other bungalow park is a bit more basic, but almost laughably close to the GDF venue – a five minute drive, and that’s if you get stuck behind a slow moving farm machine.

Five minutes on dappled country roads from the GDF

This year I paid the princely sum of 250 Euros for my week’s stay – yes that was for the WEEK – and it was in a bungalow that sleeps two in roomy comfort (two bedrooms) or four in cozy comfort (two beds in each room). Imagine how cheap that is if you split it even between two people. The bungalows are fully equipped so I do all my own cooking, and enjoy my morning coffee without having to dress and face a dining room full of strangers.

The purpose of today’s post is to find out how much interest there is out there with you readers for next year’s GDF. This is not an ad for commerce, and the GDF people don’t even know I’m doing it – though they do read this blog so I expect they will learn of my scheming shortly.  If you think you might like to join me next year at the GDF, send an email to so that we can talk about it some more. The bungalow parks tend to book up some months in advance, so I decided it’s not too soon to start planning for next year.