Some days, you shouldn’t even bother getting out of bed…

I’m talking about last Monday.  A pretty crap day, by any standard.  I won’t drone on too much (that’s not my style, now is it?) but here’s the lowdown…

The day started off well enough.  Pauline Beulze was staying with Alexandrine (they’re long-time friends) and had offered to give her a hand backing the two breakers she has at the moment.  Of course I wanted to watch!  I find the Equitation Ethologique approach to breaking fascinating, none of this tying down of heads and lunging horses until they’re exhausted before they’re sat on for the first time!

I’d seen the grey mare in action already.  Argumentative, assertive, stubborn, dominant – Alexandrine actually described her as aggressive, which I’ve never heard her say of a horse before, but she’s done a lot of work with her on the ground and the mare’s manners have improved enormously.  They started with Alexandrine working the mare on a circle with saddle, bridle and bit.  After that, she did some work running beside the mare while holding the reins at the withers – like in this picture with Tilou, taken last May.


Then Pauline took over.  The first thing of note was that she prefers to use just the rope halter and a single rein at this stage.  She did some hopping up and down beside the mare from both sides, stepped up an down on the stirrup from both sides a few times and then lay across her for a couple of seconds from each side.  All this with no-one holding the horse.  Like I said, it’s a different approach.  The mare was less comfortable with everything from the right hand side, so she worked on the right an extra bit.  And then she mounted.

DSCF1702 DSCF1703 Easy as pie.  No bother.  Same thing from the right, sure the mare was a little more tense but it was all good.  Then there was lots of mounting and dismounting, from both sides, followed by a little bit of circling in each direction.  This is another difference from the approach I was familiar with in Ireland – get up on their back and stay there for 10 minutes or so; then finish the session.  I guess this way teaches the horse that mounting and dismounting is not a big deal at all.  Here’s a short video :

Note how she disengages the horse before mounting or dismounting.  This is so that if the horse flips out, it’s unlikely to involve the rider in its shenanigans.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Pauline had finished.  The mare is by far the more difficult of the two breakers – the other guy is a sweet little chap who had not given Alexandrine a moment’s trouble to date.  Which is why I stopped taking photos and videoing – after all, I have the full record of an ‘easy’ breaker with Tilou last May.  But I’m actually glad I don’t have a video, and if I had made one, I would have erased it.  The sweet little chap EXPLODED the very first time that Pauline put the least bit of pressure in the stirrup, during one of her preliminary ‘hops’.  He caught Pauline in the stomach with his hind feet as she flew through the air and she landed in a heap on the ground.  Unconscious.  When she came round, she had no memory of where she was, why she was there or what had happened in the last 24 hours.  Well, the only thing for it was to call an ambulance and head to Urgences, where she was thoroughly checked out.  Her memory started to come back as we waited for the ambulance and, at the hospital, nothing was found.  No internal injuries, no head injury, nothing.  Phew.

Three hours later, I drove Pauline and Alexandrine back from Manosque, just in time to go to my very first French funeral.  Which was a sad and beautiful affair, with an accordion playing as the remains of our Dutch friend’s mother were carried into the little graveyard on the hillside, while an eagle soared overhead.  Tansy, the LSH and I were all there to pay our respects and we all left feeling deeply moved by the love with which the family spoke of their mum.

Tansy and I decided to take the dogs for a quiet little walk afterwards.  Just to unwind and lose the stresses of the day.  Which was a great idea, until Rosie ran at top speed into Cookie’s retractable leash, sending not just the two dogs flying, but me as well.  I was whipped forward by the left arm (which was holding the lash handle) and whacked full-length into the ground.  I think I probably looked something like this as I fell :

(Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure that ‘old lady’ is actually a stunt woman)

Luckily I was wearing a thick woolly hat, because my forehead broke the fall, closely followed by my left hip.  I was pretty stunned afterwards and, four days later, I’m still sore.

And THAT, my friends, is why I should have stayed in bed on Monday.

PS  The little horse was seen by an osteopath the next day and it turned out that he was very sore just in front of his withers – not surprising.  His reaction was so violent and so unexpected that it had to be pain related.  Alexandrine will continue with his education in a couple of days.



Tails from Chamonix

Our youngest daughter, Tansy, and her boyfriend Rowan, who lived with us for the summer two years ago, have been ‘of no fixed abode’ since August.  By choice, mind you.  First they went to the European Juggling Convention in Bruneck, Italy.  Then they spent almost three months travelling south through the Balkans, visiting Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece.  They travelled by thumb, bus, train, BlaBlaCar, camping or staying in hostels as they went.  There was a certain irony in the fact that, as they travelled south, there was a steady stream of people on the other side of the Balkans travelling north, but apart from more rigorous border checks in one or two places, they were unaffected by the refugee crisis.

Finally, their money was beginning to run low and it was time to think about the future, which involves spending a year at one of France’s best-known ski resorts, Chamonix.  First they hopped on a Ryanair flight from Athens to Milan, spent the night in Milan and caught a bus to France early the next morning.  Much later that day, I went to Aix-en-Provence to pick up two very brown, very fit, very tired and very hungry young people, carrying two VERY large rucksacks.  It was wonderful to see them again, and it’s been great having them here with us.  But, to quote George RR Martin, Winter is coming.DSCF1620

Shortly after arriving in Provence, they visited the Chamonix valley to look for jobs and a places to stay.  Tansy found work easily enough in the neighbouring village of Les Houches, and there seems to be a good possibility of work in the same place for Rowan, so things look ok on the employment front.


Les Houches main street, with Mont Blanc in the background

Accommodation is a different matter.  It’s very difficult to find an affordable apartment in the valley, as so much of the accommodation is used for tourists.  Not only are prices high, but many landlords demand the full rent for the winter season in advance – up to €5000.  Not many people would have that kind of cash after four months travelling, and Tansy and Rowan are no exceptions.

They’ve been scouring the internet for weeks now, with no success.  Finally, Tansy and I decided to go to Les Houches for a couple of days (Rowan has picked up some work locally and couldn’t go).  We won’t come back until we find a place and failure is not an option we said.  But we also said Yay! Mother and daughter road trip! and We’ll have fun!


Driving into the Chamonix valley

I had never been to Chamonix before, so as we started to enter the valley I was ooh-ing and aah-ing at the beautiful scenery and the snow-topped mountains.  We were staying in a small chalet, with a guy who had responded to a plea for somewhere to stay on the Chamsocial website.  He had three enormous cats, the one in the photo below is the biggest.  The camera was kind to him, though.  None of my photos managed to show just how fat he is!


The view from the chalet :


Imagine waking up to this every morning!

We had an appointment with an estate agent to see a couple of places as soon as we arrived.  The first place was… well, it was perfect.  A one-bedroomed ground floor apartment, right in the middle of Les Houches, with a large private garden area.  The second place was a studio apartment.  As a studio, it was fine, but it was also small enough to make Tansy realise that living in one room for a year was not something that she wanted to do.  We saw one more place that day; a room in a large four bedroomed apartment in a huge chalet.  This was one of those rentals where the landlord wanted all the money up front.  It was cosy and comfortable, but there would be six people living there.  It’s a couple of years since Tansy and Rowan did the whole ‘house-share’ thing, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to go back to that.  Photos were sent to Rowan and they decided to go for the very first place we had seen.  We had a meeting with the estate agent the next day to find out what documentation would be needed – a lot!  This is France, after all, the paperwork capital of the world!  We set the wheels in motion to accumulate everything that was needed, made an appointment for first thing on Friday morning to sign the lease, and then we essentially had a day off.

So on Thurday, we went for a hike, from Les Houches to Chamonix itself, a distance of about 10km.  Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 09.05.06

It was a cold and frosty morning, and we were walking in the shadow on Mont Blanc for most of the hike, but we soon warmed up.  We had to go for 2.5km in the wrong direction initially, to get to a point where we could cross the river l’Arve and join a trail that goes through the woods on the other side.


Where we crossed the river, at the sluice gates to this reservoir

See what I mean about the shadow of Mont Blanc? My poor little camera was struggling with the contrasts, but I got a couple of nice photos all the same.


The sun trying to climb over Mont Blanc

What you can’t see in the above photo is that there is an enormous quarry between the river and Les Houches.  It kinda mars the landscape, which is a shame.


I switched to B&W and the camera coped better with the contrasts as a result

I found myself quite out of breath at one point, I think the altitude (1,000M) was affecting me.  Thankfully, the trail through the woods stays mostly just above the river, so there wasn’t too much climbing to do and, once we neared Chamonix, it levelled off completely.


Back to colour for this pretty little spot, a ruined church by a pond

An arty shot through the arched window.


On Friday morning, bright and early, we met the estate agent and signed multiple forms.  In triplicate.  In blood.  (I may be exaggerating, but only slightly).  Tansy and Rowan will be moving in at the end of the month.


Part of their garden area. This is going to be FAB in the Spring and Summer!


The living /kitchen area. I’m in the kitchenette and the estate agent is in the bedroom on the right.

It’s been lovely having them here, but I know they are going to have a wonderful time in the Chamonix valley.


And we’re all going to be there for the New Year!  In addition to finding Tansy and Rowan’s home for the next year, we also found a place to rent for the week of New Years Day.  Our other daughter, Aideen, and her boyfriend Ben will be joining us.  I can’t wait!

November 14th

I’m usually behind the camera, so when I dragged the LSH along for a hack on Saturday, I handed him the camera and asked him to take a few pictures.

We went through the woods towards Reillanne, to meet MC, who was riding up to the farm.  We have a particular spot where we usually meet, roughly halfway along the trail.


Waiting for our friends

Um, yes.  I’m riding Aero in the halter.  He prefers it.  I’m a mug.

MC, Quieto and Doug the dog turned up a few minutes after us and we continued on our way back towards the farm.  There were hunters in the woods on the other side of the road, hence the Hi-Viz vests.  I really should invest in a proper ‘Hunting Orange’ vest.  Frankly, it’s dangerous out there.  There has already been one fatality in the area, in the department d’Isère, not far from us, when a hiker was killed by a hunter.


Quieto, Aero and Flurry are all good buddies and now expect to meet up at the halfway spot every time we go there.


It’s nice to have a couple of photos of MC and I together!  MC then offered to take a photo of the LSH and I.  But of course we had to clown around – “Kiss! Kiss!” she said…


The horses were very obliging…


…but a little bemused at the same time!


When we got back to the farm, I wanted to take advantage of my cameraman again.  I asked him to take photos of Aero’s new tricks.

He’s been standing on the ‘pedestal’ (also known as the mounting block) for some time now, in-hand and mounted.

Standing on his pedestal

Standing on his pedestal – Flurry does this too

I didn’t know how to get started with Jambette or Spanish Walk, so I asked Alexandrine for advice a while back.  She suggested standing him some distance from the ‘pedestal’ and ask him to step onto it, but not allow him to move forward.  It only took a couple of sessions for him to get the idea of throwing out his front feet, and he will now Jambette in-hand anytime, anyplace.  Sometimes unasked (not a good thing!).  Now he can chain together a sequence of 4 – 8 steps while moving forward in-hand – yes! Spanish Walk!  Flurry has also been learning this, but he’s not as far along as Aero.  Yet.

This was my third session asking for Jambette mounted.  I think I can say he’s got it.

Jambette - the beginning of Spanish walk

Jambette – the beginning of Spanish walk

I have a notion of having Aero standing on the pedestal and Jambette-ing while up there, so we had a go.  This was our first attempt ever, and I was very pleased when he gave me a good ‘try.’  I think he is not fully confident in the stability of the stone, so I am going to work on making a better (and moveable) pedestal.

Looking for jambette on the pedestal

This is the first time he’s ever done this!

I felt that the mounted Jambette he had already given me and this effort on the pedestal were enough for one session, and I rewarded him with a piece of carrot and finished up.

This is the first time he's ever done this, so he deserves a reward!

Yes, this was one day after the Paris attacks.  Yes, we were having fun.  But, yes, our thoughts were with the victims and their families throughout the day.

Life goes on.  Otherwise, evil wins.


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