In December 1997, after a two-year search, her trainer Ludo Verbraeken found the "perfect horse" within the price range her parent had set. The Westphalian mare, Grace (Grafenfels x Ludendorff x Gardehusar), is a large framed mare who is strong but pleasant to ride. Within a year they moved up to third level. "We found her in the most obscure, rural, German village you could imagine," Appels explained. "Sometimes, super horses can be found for cheap prices. You just have to look real hard."
Belgian Grand Prix rider Ludo Verbraeken rides Grace, when Appels is working at the University of Brussels. "I still go to the barn as much as I can on but sometimes my work schedule forces me to part from my horse for four days," Astrid says. When I was a teenager, I spent complete summer vacations at the barn, so that you could reach me better at the stable than at home" she admitted. However, those days of innocent bliss are over and adult life forced Astrid to focus on her college career, cutting back her riding routine from 6 barn-days a week to 3 to 4 days of stable pleasure.
"Grace is such a powerful and necessary addition to my life. All my equestrian journalism would not be true if I hadn't had both Didi and Grace. Dressage is what kindles my flame for writing, dressage is what fuels my inspiration, what learnt me discipline and achievement and what gave me character."
In November 2002, Astrid had a "sublime" experience with Grace, in the literal sense of the word. Grace suffered a colic attack on Sunday November 15, 2002, and was operated on Tuesday night November 17. "She was hanging on this thin thread and almost died on me," Astrid said. Fortunately the operation went fine, as well as the very dangerous post-operation recouperation. "Many horses get infected with salmonella after a colic surgery and don't make it," Astrid explained. "Grace has always been a very strong horse and because she was healthy before the colic attack, she had enough strength to make it through those dangerous 6 days at the vet clinic. The morning after the operation, I stood by her stall from 8 AM till 8 PM (the full allowed visiting hours) and this for six days. I was so restless and couldn't leave her side. This whole colic experience strenghtened the bond between me and my horse so much more. It created a new dimension to our relationship. You can only experience it; telling the story to someone does not make one realise the vast impact of it."