– and very conscientious they are. Deceptively clean and butter-wouldn’t-melt (well, the photo was taken in the springtime).
It’s a very different tale today. After a rainy yesterday melted the frost-packed mud there were plenty of opportunities for horses to prove they are related to hippos. And the winner of “Today’s Muddiest Horse” was ….. my old partner, Aly.
Aly came into my life as a green 6 year-old in 1990. We had just finished – and been paid for – our first large renovation project, when I was invited to go riding with a friend who had a holiday home not far away. She let a local farmer graze three horses on their land in exchange for the occasional ride and I was expecting to find some homespun, hairy ponies waiting to cart us unceremoniously around the country lanes. Instead I found this:
Since seeing “Champion the Wonder Horse” on TV as a (very) little girl – you can still see excerpts on YouTube – I had longed for a bright chestnut horse with a wide, white blaze and there he stood. (It was a black-and-white telly, but you could just tell Champion was chestnut!)
We were told that, sadly, he was to be sold. Having just banked enough to afford him and with plenty of land at home, though not what you would actually recognise as grazing, we grasped the opportunity and around a month later he stepped out of the van, our first French horse.
(This is probably the nearest my father-in-law had ever stood to any equine!)
Back then our little backwater seemed so very isolated. I had no-one nearby to ride with, no transport of my own and Aly and I mostly hacked out through the gorgeous countryside that surrounds us. I’ve always been inspired by the classical beauty of dressage so eventually, having spent many years laboriously scything back ever more scrubland to reclaim as pasture, we brought in a bulldozer to accelerate the process and at the same time create a schooling area. I painted my letters on old paint tub tops and I was so proud of my handsome half-Anglo who always seemed to have far more potential than I was able to exploit.
Seven years later the backwater started to be developed. The first signs of change were foundations appearing on plots at the top end of our lane where it joined a busier road. A caravan appeared on one of the plots, with a very pregnant lady, a husband who seemed to be doing most of the building on the weekend and a small, skewbald cob in the garden. Soon the little skewbald was making regular visits to Aly; it seemed that no fence could contain this little horse’s loneliness. Having returned him to his owners several times, we couldn’t help but get to know them. The horse belonged to the Portuguese boyfriend/father of the baby, the mother-to-be being an ex show-jumper whose career to date had been completely horse-orientated.
Our new friends moved into their new house just in time for their little girl to arrive. And Pie moved in with Aly – it seemed perverse to keep them separately – though Aly made it clear that it was His Home, His People and Pie would have to be the Baldrick to his Blackadder. If that was the deal, Pie was up for it – he knew instinctively he would be no competition for the baby up the lane!
A year or so later our friends decided they wanted to raise Connemara ponies. Somewhere in the subsequent maze of decisions, we emerged as owners of the Pie and half-owners of a pretty Connemara filly. And Pie proved to be just the boy to give my husband the confidence to ride. For a few years, horsewise, things ran on an even keel. Then Aly’s emphysema/COPD got worse and triggered off his susceptibility to colic attacks and the Pie’s hips seemed increasingly arthritic so we decided that they could retire around the same time as we did, and live out their lives happily without the burden of us on their backs!
Our focus turned elsewhere at this point. Given more free time we buckled down to finishing off the renovation of our house (a never-ending project, I fear) and developing the garden, a long-time ambition, which will be the subject of other, future blogs…..
But I just couldn’t live happily without riding. Luckily for me, another new arrival in our village was looking for someone to exercise his older horse, a Lusitanian, whilst he was riding his younger, palomino quarter horse. Patrick, rides his palomino bareback, with just a halter, “façon éthologique”, as they call “natural horsemanship” here, and has ridden so since he was a boy. His Portuguese horse, Athos, a handsome, compact grey had, at some point, been classically trained and was an absolute joy for me to ride. He restored my zest for riding, but made me miss that irreplaceable link that you have when the horse you ride is yours to look after, care for and cherish and convinced me that I needed my own horse to ride again.
As a result of which Pom, our “gris pommelé” is the new recruit. I bought him at the end of 2009 after searching for an Andalusian or Lusitanian within my means and readily driveable area – not as easy as you would think. When you look on the net (and I still love to trawl certain websites, just “to keep my eye in”) there are lots of dealers and individuals selling Spanish and, to a lesser extent, Portuguese horses down towards the Pyrenees, the Landes, the Gard and the Hérault. (The links with the Iberian peninsula and the culture of bullfighting and the abrivade are still very strong in those parts.)
Nearer to home and in my price range, horses I liked were few and far between. But after two abortive go-sees, Pom was my third-time-lucky and his arrival brought with it a whole, new, turbulent era in our lives.
And, as my fingers are seizing up, that story will have to wait for next time!