The LSH and I just celebrated a significant wedding anniversary that ends with a zero. We wanted to do something special to mark the event.
Well, why not take the horses away and go trekking somewhere? We’ve only been talking about doing this since we came back to France! So that’s what we did. Originally, we planned a one week trek right after the anniversary. Then the LSH was asked to attend a trade show that week, so we changed it to a one week trek right before the anniversary. Then I realised that if we went away for a full week, I would miss the Joucas Equifeel competition. I’ve already missed one (thanks to me, Aero and the trailer all being ill last February) and this one was the Départemental Championship… I really didn’t want to miss it! So we agreed to cut the trek short. We would leave on Monday, the day after the competition, stay away for three nights, ride every day for four days and then come home.
But where would we go?
Les Bayles was our very first stop on Le Big Trek and our very first taste of the French Gîte Equestre. We were impressed – you can read all about it here.
It’s not very far from us at all, so we decided it was our first choice.
We still had a transport issue – the jeep would not be repaired until late in the week – but fortunately the nice people who loaned us their truck for the Equifeel competition said we could also take it up into the mountains for our trip. That’s why the picture I used in my last blog post shows Flurry in the truck –
It took us just over an hour to drive from the horse farm to Les Bayles, which is on the Plateau d’Albion, right beside Mont Ventoux.
We settled the horses into their paddock, put our bags into our room and headed off for lunch in nearby Sault.
Lunch was just a salad, because we’ve been at Les Bayles before and we knew what to expect food wise that evening!
Then it was back to base, tack up the horses and out for a short-ish ride. A mere 13km, as it turned out.
We were aiming to make our way to a little church, Notre Dame de l’Ortiguière, about six kilometres away.
The trails were a real mix – grassy, gravelled, very stony and roads, but both horses were great, striding out happily all the time.
Flurry was barefoot and Aero just had his front boots on, but they both felt perfectly at home on the varied ground. We made a point of dismounting and walking every hour – this helps both horse and rider ease their muscles into the rigours of day-long treks, and it really worked. The LSH hadn’t ridden for ages, but he had no ill effects at all after the three days of riding.
Flurry is pretty good at standing still while large pieces of paper are rustled around behind his ears, so the LSH was the designated map reader. I just went where I was told. It wasn’t my fault that we didn’t find the church – or that we got a bit lost when we tried to find a different route back to Les Bayles.
Aero felt like a seasoned trekker throughout – unperturbed by almost everything, apart from hysterically barking dogs locked up in cages, a flapping tarpaulin and a very scary unidentified rustling noise deep in the woods (that one scared me, too). He also had a hissy fit caused by some Mouches Plates at one stage. Horrible, horrible things. I ripped their heads off with gusto.
Oh yes, and the scenery was good, too.
Dinner that night was as substantial as expected. An aperitif of pickled mushrooms with grapefruit wine, an amazing mushroom omelette as a starter, beef stew and apple tart to finish. Our horses would have some extra weight to carry next day…
What a week it’s been – and there’s more to come.
It’ll take a while to catch up, but I’ll start with the Equifeel competition at Joucas last Sunday.
Once again, I had transport issues. My trailer has a nice new floor, complete with rubber goop poured on top (yes, there will be a blog post some day) but my jeep broke down the day after the LSH drove it back from Ireland. We were convinced it just needed a jump start, so it sat there for a week until our friend with a van came by to try to jump it. No go. There was something more serious going on. Then I went off to London and the LSH booked it in with the local Jeep dealer, but the earliest appointment we could get was ten days later. After that, we phoned our insurance company to arrange for it to be picked up on the appropriate day – all French insurance policies seem to include breakdown pick-up as standard.
Of course, we did things the wrong way around. We should have rung our insurer first…
The jeep was picked up and taken away. I called the garage that evening. “We haven’t had time to look at it,” I was told. “But it had an appointment,” I replied. “No it hadn’t, it was an emergency pick up,” I was told. “My husband made an appointment for it, we’ve already waited ten days, this is crazy,” I argued (I was pretty furious but I’m not very good at being furious in French). The person on the other end of the phone went away to ‘check’ and came back still denying all existence of an appointment for a Jeep Cherokee made by anyone whose name was Greenlee…. GRRRRR.
Long story short, I had a trailer but no jeep to tow it with. Then some lovely kind people who keep their horses at GAEC de Pimayon offered me the use of their little truck, if I would take it for its Contrôle Technique.
And that’s what happened.
Now we can get on to the serious business of what happened at Joucas…
People competing at Club level (me) are told beforehand what tasks they will have to do. I knew we would have :
Licol – Headcollar; Va et Vient – Reverse and return; Cercle – Work the horse at liberty on a circle; Essui-glace – literally, windshield wiper, but it involves going back and forth over a jump; Compas – Turn on the forehand; Embûches – three little tasks to do set up in a small space : a jump, three ground poles and pass through a narrow gap; Deplacement Lateral – move sideways.
All of these are very familiar to me and Aero; some of them I would even go so far as to say we are quite good at. The plan was to go for a few twenty pointers…
We started with the Circle, set up in a round pen. I needed to choose between fifteen points and twenty points. For fifteen points, the horse must do two circles in one direction and then two circles in the other, with the handler staying inside a large circle which was maybe 3 metres in from the rails of the round pen. For twenty points, the horse must do two circles in one direction, two circles in the other, then two circles in the first direction again, with the handler staying inside a ring, maybe 1 metre in diameter, in the middle of the round pen. In all cases, the horse must finish, immobile, just outside the large circle. You’ve got two minutes to do it, whichever you go for.
I didn’t need think very long. There was a donkey in a paddock just beside the round pen. Aero still doesn’t like donkeys, so I figured he might get ‘stuck’ when asked to pass that point. It’s all to easy to eat into two minutes if you have any problems, especially if you’re aiming to send your horse around six times.
Fifteen points, I said.
I don’t think he saw the donkey at all. Our problem was quite simply getting started – I wanted to send him off on the right, because it’s really easy to turn him from the right to the left – his preferred side. Trouble was, he didn’t want to go off to the right at all!
Eventually, he got going, but we had eaten into our time allowed. Then of course I had some trouble turning him from left to right, but I succeeded eventually and sent him off in canter, trying to make up for lost time – literally. One circle, two circles, finished… “And whoa” I called, dropping my shoulder and inviting him in to me. What a star – he stopped and turned towards me, I held my hands up to ask him to stand still and he stood like a rock.
We moved on to Reverse and Return. This is his party-piece. Twenty points, no question. My only little worry was that the poles marking out the reversing ‘lane’ were actually puny little laths, the same colour as the sand. Would he be aware of them, or would he back up crooked and step out of the ‘lane’, thereby incurring elimination?
Bish bash bosh, job done, to quote Jamie Oliver.
Next was the Head Collar. I was going for twenty points, I knew it was feasible. But I’ve never done it for twenty points in competition before, so I was actually a little fuzzy about what we needed to do. There’s a start/finish box and a ‘holding’ box, with a line drawn on the ground in between them. You lead the horse from the start/finish to the holding box – with the head collar on? I asked. Yes, I was told. Ok… then you take the head collar off and pass it all over the horse’s body. For twenty points, the horse must stay in the holding box while the handler walks back to the line drawn on the ground. Then you call the horse, he comes to you and you both walk back to the start/finish. Whereupon you go down on one knee and put the head collar back on the horse. Yes, we can actually do this, it just all felt a bit weird and unfamiliar.
After the our two twenty point triumphs, I was feeling good. The next exercise was the Turn on the Forehand. This is dodgy enough. To date, I’ve just gone for the ten point option here, where you can hold the lead rope and the horse must execute just a quarter of a turn. I was feeling brave, though, and I opted for fifteen points. The lead rope must be draped across my arm (i.e. I couldn’t use it to restrain him in any way) and he had to execute a half a turn.
It’s worth noting at this point that you are not allowed to touch the horse with the whip or the hand when you’ve opted for fifteen or twenty points. I have perfected ‘The Boob Push’ as you can see.
I wasn’t happy, I’m sure you can see by my face at the end. I felt his hind legs had come inside our circle, but the girls marking it said it was ok. Who am I to argue…
Next up was Move Sideways. Again, we are very confident about this. Twenty points, I said. But again, I was 100% sure how it worked. Is the horse at liberty when I start lining him up on the poles? No, no, I was told. The horse is not at liberty, you just hold the lunge draped over your arm again.
Okaaay. Must re-read the rules…
I lined him up and off we went.
He crept forward a little and I had to send him back a step, but he did it perfectly. Another twenty points! Hooray!
The next task was the Windshield Wiper. There’s a ‘Zone’ marked out for the handler to stay inside and for the horse to stay outide. The horse must go over the jump, turn, and go over it in the other direction. This should be no problem – Aero really understands this game. BUT, it was set up in a rectangular space, with the handler’s zone marked out as an oval in the middle – normally, this is done in a circle. I was dithering over whether I should go for fifteen or twenty points. For fifteen points, the lunge rope is attached via a light elastic. For twenty points, the horse is at liberty. Regular readers will (possibly) remember that I went for fifteen points on our last outing and the elastic broke without me being aware of the slightest tension on the rope. I opted for twenty…
He set off and popped over the jump happily.
Then he made a beeline for the farthest corner. The one with the gate, where the fan club were watching. And he got completely and utterly stuck there. I only had a normal dressage whip – I should have taken the orange ‘stick’ with the long cord; I might have been able to get him out without leaving my ‘zone’ if I’d had that. Eventually, thanks to Alexandrine shaking the white wire beside him, he shifted and went over the jump again but our time was well up at that stage. Zero points scored :-(
The last exercise was the Embûches. Something we’re usually good at, but I think I had lost our connection a bit during the previous task.
He went through everything on the second attempt, but we are SO capable of doing everything first try!
I knew for sure we had picked up a couple of -2s there (for ‘refusals’), so I really had no idea where we would finish. There were thirteen in the Club section, and some of them are very strong indeed!
We left as soon as our class was over – Granny and the BFF were visiting and we wanted to get home to them as soon as possible. We were taking two other peoples’ horses in the truck, so we loaded up and left Aero in the tender care of one of our friends. I knew he would be safe :-)
Second place! Only four points behind our best buddies MC and Quieto!
What a great start to an exciting week…
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