In which I allow someone to ride Aero…

Aero is precious to me.  I was there when he slid out of his mother and I hope to be there when he draws his last breath.  He has been a true and loyal friend to us all his life, doing everything we asked of him willingly and with a smile on his face (well, happy ears, anyway).  I am VERY VERY fussy about who I will allow on his back.

They must be lightweight.

They must be capable riders.  He is extremely well-behaved, but he’s also extremely bouncy when he trots.  Anyone who can’t stay balanced on him is going to spiral into an ever-increasing circle of tension and bounciness.  I am NOT going to have someone bouncing all over his ageing back.

They must accept that he’s not going to have a bit in his mouth.  I’ve made him a promise, you see.  He had been trying to tell us for years that he doesn’t like bits.  This was the only naughty thing he ever consistently did – clamped his mouth shut when the bridle approached his head.  Once I started riding him in a halter, I could feel the relief in him – and a developing confidence that I would listen to him and heed his opinions on certain subjects.

A friend spoke to me ages ago about a horsey Englishwoman who had a house in Reillanne.  “I think she does racing, or something like that,” she told me.  Ah, the non-horsey friend.  So cute.   “Endurance riding?” I suggested.  “Yes, that’s probably it.  Something like that anyway.  I must introduce you.”

Several months later, she invited us both to a dinner party at her house, where I met l’Anglaise for the first time.  We got into horse-talk straight away and blabbered away for the evening.  As you do, when you meet a fellow horse nut.

It turns out that she’s not an endurance rider.  She’s done eventing, dressage and retrained racehorses (maybe that’s where the “does racing” notion came from?).  She was keen to come up and meet my guys, see the farm and meet Alexandrine and her family, but she wasn’t pushing to ride.

She came up a couple of times, helped me with feeding and stable duties, watched while Aero and Flurry did some of their Equifeel stuff.  She has two horses in the UK and is thinking about bringing them down here, so she was really happy to see how my guys have adapted.  She was also curious about the trails for riding.  The easiest thing to do was take her out for a hack, but…

Normally, I put ‘visiting riders’ on Flurry.  He’s wide and comfortable, and usually 100% laid back.  But it’s acorn season right now, and he’s not dependable.  Too much energy.  L’Anglaise is a wee bit older than me, and Aero would be the safer of the two.  But what about my strict criteria?

L’Anglaise is petite and slight.  Definitely not too heavy for Aero.  Having talked to her extensively about her horse experience, I was pretty sure she wasn’t bluffing.  We’ve all met them – “Oh yes, of course I can ride.  Any horse, any speed, any terrain.”  And it turns out they’ve done a week’s trekking in Connemara on a safe-as-houses armchair cob. I came to the conclusion that l’Anglaise is not one of those.

The third criteria – no bit – did not phase her at all.

So l’Anglaise became just the fourth person to ride Aero since he arrived here five years ago.  The others are Alexandrine (once), Tansy and me.

To be honest, I think he’s a bit too placid for her…


In which poor Flurry has to do some work…

Every Autumn, I face the same challenge.  Hundreds and thousands of acorns falling from the tree, and a fat dun cob who likes to eat them.  The theory around here is that, if a horse is eating small amounts of acorns all the time, his system gets used to them.  I’m not convinced, and I have both my horses on Hilton Herb’s detox to try to support their liver and kidneys through this period.

But in addition to the toxicity issue, acorns are full of fats and carbohydrates (almost 50/50, with a small percentage of protein), which blow Flurry’s mind, to the extent that he becomes quite unpredictable at this time of year.  Move your horse away from the acorns, I hear you say?  Where to?  We are surrounded by a huge oak forest, and all of the paddocks have lots of scrub oaks plus a few bigger ones for shade.  And I really, really don’t wish to leave the farm… we are all happy there.

So this year, I have decided to accept the fact that my dodgy back is not capable of working Flurry well enough or hard enough to keep him sane at this time, and I’ve asked Oriane to ride him a couple of times a week.  Today was the first time.

She worked on yielding to the rein… whereas I make excuses like “Poor Flurry is built downhill, of course he’s heavy on the hand,” she just insisted that he yield to her before she softened the rein.

She worked on going forward – not his favourite thing.

She worked on left bend – he loves to block his left shoulder and go “I CAN’T!”, but she insisted.

She did plenty of canter work – the most I can do is a couple of circles on each rein, and it never feels like I’ve worked him in canter.

Poor Flurry worked up a sweat for the first time in ages.

But I think this will do both of us a lot of good.



Sea Dog

My friend MC has a little motor cruiser which she keeps in a place called La Londe les Maures.

Leaving the marina at La Londe les Maures

We’re usually invited down for day trips during the summer and we love to go.  The LSH in particular enjoys it – he grew up beside the sea and he really misses it.

The ice-cream boat, which tours around the bays and inlets, selling ice-cream to boaters

Last year, we only went once, as far as I can remember.  We were reluctant to leave Cinnamon in the care of others – we were always worried about keeping her safe and reasonably happy.  The one time we went, we brought Cookie with us, so that there would be no possibility of her attacking Cinny if the blind, confused small brown dog accidentally bumbled into her.  Cookie was good on the boat, but a little anxious the whole time, and we ourselves were anxious about Cinny the whole time so we didn’t do it again.

When we were invited to visit a couple of weeks ago, we decided it would be best to bring Casey with us.  He’s downright destructive when he’s bored, and he suffers from severe separation anxiety, probably because he was dumped.  For the sake of our walls, doors and skirting boards, it was definitely best not to leave him at home.  Our kind friends offered to let Cookie and Rosie out during the day and they even watered my little vegetable garden!

“What you doing, crazy human?”

That first time, Casey learned all about boats.
He learned that when he needed to pee, he was put in the little inflatable and brought to shore.

Time for pipi!

He learned to swim, and ended up swimming all the way back out to the boat after his first toilet visit.  It wasn’t planned – he was meant to stay in the inflatable, but he jumped out when he saw me in the water.  He was a bit shaken by that – half way back, he began to panic.  The fear was plain to see in his eyes, but MC was lightning fast and as soon as he neared the back of the boat, she scooped him out of the water and onto the safety of the deck.

Later in the day, he actually asked to go back to shore by starting to paw at the inflatable, which was tied to the back of the boat.  He’s a clever dog!

The second trip was last Monday.  I swear he knew where we were going as soon as we got into the car.

“Are we going where I think we’re going?”

He was much more comfortable on the boat, too.  This time, we were anchored closer to shore, so we didn’t bother using the inflatable to go in for doggy toilet trips, the LSH swam him in.

I think if we had this inflatable, it would have been used to take Casey to shore. So cute!

Initially, he was a bit goofy in the water, aiming for other boats and swimming confused circles around the LSH but by the time he came back from his last visit, he literally made a beeline for the correct boat and came back out to us like a little brown and white torpedo.

Tired puppy, homeward bound.

He’s a real sea dog!

Note to self : Take photos of dog swimming next time.  Oops.