How to Ride in Germany
Finding a Horse
I am going to assume that most people planning to ride in Germany probably already have a horse for the journey or know where to find one.
As a general rule, you want a medium-sized, sure footed and traffic safe horse or pony. There are a few options as to where you can buy. If you are planning to keep if afterwards, it can be worth speaking to a horse rescue where they will know, and are most likely to be honest about, the animal's behaviour. I doubt they will give you a horse for the sole purpose of the journey, though. Otherwise there are "horses and ponies for sale"-Facebook groups by region, websites, magazines with adverts and the Pferdemarkt, a magazine dedicated solely to horse sales (although they also have a paid website), breeders, though they may not have horses of the right age with good training due to the nature of their business and, last but not least, dealers. Dealers aren't famous for honesty but they often have a very large selection and will allow you to have a good look and test and also have to offer a guarantee.
Whatever you do, be sure to get to know and test your horse well before buying and setting off in order to avoid unwelcome surprises.
Most horses will not be used to carrying luggage so you'll need to factor in a little training time. German horses may be trained in a variety of styles. English is the most frequent but there is great interest in western riding and more natural horsemanship with training varying accordingly.
How many horses: That mostly depends on how much planning you want to do and whether you are willing to be a slave to an itinerary. I had a 1.57 m riding horse with saddle bags and a 1.35 m pack pony that carried about 34kg in his panniers... and a Shetland pony and a dog, but they didn't carry luggage and didn't cause much extra luggage either. Taking along the pack pony meant I could pack camping gear and had much better chances of finding a good place for the night without doing any pre-planning. If you want to travel light, I would advise organising overnight stays beforehand, which is infinitely possible but more likely to mean you'll have to pay to stay and spend a lot of time planning. Personally, I'd always go for camping and more spontaneous travel.
Planning your route
Germany is fantastically equipped with horse-friendly paths that can also reliably be found on 1:50,000 and 1:25,000 maps so you can mostly avoid roads and shouldn't get lost too often. You want to look for "Topographische Karten" or get a good GPS - or both. I had a general direction set out but planned the actual route every morning before setting off and according to local recommendations but you would do just as well to plan in advance if that's what you prefer.
Many areas of the country are lovely – most of the west below the cities of the industrialised Ruhr area and just about all the south and middle. I'm not very well acquainted with the east and north. The countryside is certainly often less dramatic and instead flat. The Lüneburger Heide is an extremely popular place to go riding in Germany but I would advise caution. Most of the paths in the region are sandy - as in frequently deep sand - and even after living and riding there for almost three years, my otherwise (and ever since) unproblematic horse would still have swollen tendons after any above average length ride.
From April to September, you can expect warmth, heat and fairly regular rain, although you might have a few weeks in the summer without any rain and it might equally be cool, especially in April and September.
Between October and March you should expect cold weather, more rain, occasional snow and ice.
Gear & Tack
|Elizabeth is among the many Long Riders who have used Easy Boots.|
Germany is quite good when it comes to finding gear suitable for riding longer distances, although you will probably want to bring specialist items like pack saddles and bags or source them online.
As regards human equipment, there is lots of excellent quality (though not cheap) stuff available and I tend to go more for hiking gear than equestrian clothing. Military surplus stores (Militärladen) are fairly popular and are a good place to source good quality clothing at a much lower price.
It is well worth getting a saddle that distributes the weight better than a standard English one. And it will do your behind a lot more good, too.
I leave the headcollar on with the lead rope tied to the saddle full-time and use a Colombian Bosal custom-made for my horse's size with a 4 m rope for reins that can be easily hung over the saddle while grazing and comes in handy for other jobs.
I used four rucksacks - two small at the front, two medium at the back - strapped to each other as the saddle bags, which worked a treat. I also used waterproof bag liners. If you don't mind the price tag, maybe consider getting the Ortlieb saddle bags. The pack pony carried Custom Pack Rigging's saddle with small paniers, which served us extremely well.
My own clothing consisted of GORE TEX rain gear (ex navy from the military surplus store) and a poncho to keep the worst of the rain off and the saddle dry, very good quality waterproof hiking boots, high gaiters (the hiking version), a more or less waterproof cap, two pairs of jeans, two long-sleeved and two short-sleeved t-shirts and two fleeces that could be layered depending on the temperature. One fleece together with the GORE TEX coats would probably have been enough.
For the horses: hoof boots, 1 brush, rasp and hoof pick, 1 spare hoof boot each, boot repair kit.
For all: first aid kit and fly/midge spray. High-Viz gear, a knife for emergencies.
For the dog: food, Ruffwear boots (!), bowl, lightweight waterproof coat. The boots were extremely important during the first half of the journey. Despite a lot of training, she was in agony after 3 days on the road. We used the boots for half of most days for about 6 weeks.
Grazing: we carried a mobile fence most of the way, a 15m rope, and hobbles.
Other: GPS, map(s), spare batteries (4 sets seem to be ample when you can charge regularly), head torch...
Water filter! You may well have no trouble finding kind people to fill your bottles but carrying a water filter gives you a lot more freedom. I'd recommend the Sawyer filter that has served me well for a long time and apparently does up to 100,000 gallons.
Reiterplaketten: These are proper little number plates that must be renewed every year for horses that are required in some federal states but not all. It is theoretically a legal requirement to have one on each side of each horse whether you are riding or leading and you can be fined for not having one. Realistically, I was never checked in about 20 years of riding in Germany and a long rider may well be able to play the sympathy card.
In most German countryside, you can expect to do around 20 miles a day, sometimes less and never more than 30. We never did more than 27. But then it's not about the miles anyway. If you see a nice place to stay early on, go for it.
Daytime grazing is relatively easy to find and for the nights you can ask to stay at any horse stable (apart from maybe the big, posh centres that don't tend to have much or any grazing anyway), of which there are lots, or farm. Most people find the idea of what you are doing fascinating and will be happy to hear your stories.
Most open areas are woodlands while grassland tends to be owned by somebody so it's best to stay near the edges and you can't assume it's okay to just camp somewhere. There are quite a few places where you could high-rope for a grazing break, hobbles may be handy at times and a mobile fence may be worth carrying but you will most often end up staying somewhere with a good fence. Tethering isn't popular and again there won't be many places to let your horse free without being on somebody's land anyway. The Germans are very friendly but also stick to their rules and won't necessarily take kindly to people who don't.
Grazing will highly likely be enough but it's certainly worth asking for access to a salt/mineral stone and accepting offers of food.
Hoof care: My horses wear boots (Easyboots) and I trim myself. It's a good way to do a long ride here. If you prefer to have your horse shod, it shouldn't be too difficult to ask at any equestrian place for their farrier's contact details and most do a relatively good job. I find normal farriers aren't always too good with barefoot horses, though. There are quite a few barefoot trimmers (Hufpfleger) that do better with unshod horses and plastic nailed shoes are fairly popular if you prefer them.
Where to stay: I wouldn't often expect to be able to camp wild but there are lots of people with horses and almost as many farms. Ask anywhere that looks friendly and has good grazing and you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a place to stay. If you carry camping equipment, it's rare for you to be sent away. You may then just be left alone to look after yourself but more often than not, you will be allowed to use a socket to charge your gadgets, frequently get invited in for food, can regularly use the shower, sometimes get offered use of the washing machine and fairly frequently can sleep in a comfortable bed in the house. In fact, I think most people who let you use the shower would probably let you use the washing machine if you asked. I normally washed t-shirts and underwear in the shower to keep things simple.
Fly care: Expect to be eaten by horse flies in some areas! Avon's Skin so Soft is great for humans and horses! And for the horses "Butox Protect" is an excellent choice. It's actually for cattle and sheep and can only be bought from a vet but one small dose along the neck and back (10ml, so less than it says on the packet) will keep biting insects at bay for weeks. Autan is also good as a readily available spray and works quite well for humans and horses, doesn’t smell good, though.
Learn from the locals
The horsey locals and the large number of Germans who like their outdoor pursuits can give quite good advice on where to go and what to avoid. But since there aren't really any areas that could be considered unsafe, asking locals is mostly just about finding the most scenic routes and getting to places faster or more easily. They may be able to recommend good places to spend the night but I wouldn't worry too much as you will highly likely find a good place without being sent to a special place.
It's a good idea to know some German but equally lots of Germans are quite good at English and willing to test their knowledge.
This should not be a problem. It's rare to not see shops for a long time and you can just park the horses outside while you get your food. Germans love their meat but there is also a very strong vegan movement so veggie food is readily available, you just might not get much of it in every country home but you won't starve either. If you take cooking equipment along, you can happily cater for yourself.
Criminals are of no concern, the countryside and paths are safe, just take care when you have to use roads.
Be sure to make your horses traffic safe, especially if you have more than one to deal with.
Last but not least: Take care, be really friendly and learn German manners of conversing! If somebody offers you something and you want it, say "Yes, please. (That's very kind of you.) Thank you." immediately. Don't under any circumstances do a British style "Oh, no, I couldn't possibly." and wait to be persuaded before you finally accept. It probably won't happen because Germans are used to saying what they actually mean straight away. Germans are friendly and direct and you can have some fantastic deep conversations with those who accommodate you.
Have a wonderful time!