Previously, I wrote about how our two older horses came to live with us. After they both retired, I really missed the physical and emotional closeness of being able to ride them, even though we still loved looking after the “old boys” and keeping them fit and well.
After a few fallow years in which I turned to the garden to get a different sense of being outdoors and connected to the natural world, I was given the chance to ride a friend’s Lusitanian – a wonderful, generous horse who gave me back my riding “mojo” and made that longing for my own riding horse return with an urgent need.
My heart was set on an Iberian, a “Lucy” or “Andy”, but, on a modest budget, and being far from the heart of the Midi where they are easier to find, my choice was limited and I knew I might have to compromise on my ideal; the classic dappled grey with airy paces and a flowing mane. (Still a dreamer, even at my advanced age!)
Pom was the third horse I went to see; a couple of hours’ drive away, but his photo in the ad. looked like I might strike lucky. As he was an eight-year-old Andalusian with full papers, and the owner was a woman of repute in her area, with immaculate stables and her own indoor school, I was reassured even before she led out this rather woolly and chubby but slender-legged vision with rocking-horse dapples and a handsome head. As you can tell, I was really struggling to keep my rational head from being swept away. Even the fact that he had a shortish straggly mane, obvious evidence of sweet-itch, and, as the owner had warned me, a cloudy spot in one eye as the result of an accident, I was pretty sure he was the one.
She was selling him mainly due to lack of time; he hadn’t been ridden for a fortnight, and he was full of fizz, but even so, he was well behaved as I groomed and tacked him up and I felt comfortable and secure riding him in the manège and round the nearby fields. I knew that if I didn’t snap him up quickly, I wouldn’t have time to decide at leisure, so, after the drive home and using force 10 powers of persuasion on my better half, (still not convinced of the need for a third horse,) I rang back the seller to say, “Yes!” – or rather “Oui!”. And we put the usual wheels of purchase in motion.
I’d seen and experienced “New Horse Syndrome” from my first pony at 13 onwards, so I didn’t expect all to go smoothly when we got home. We introduced Pom gradually to his new surroundings and fieldmates, keeping him in an adjacent paddock to the “boys”, bringing them in to their own boxes in the barn at night, (this was late November) and treating him calmly and evenly, but he wasn’t easily accepted by the older horses – understandably threatened by a young usurper – and showed quite alarming signs of aggressivity towards us and them.
Coming from a race bred to fight bulls and be brave in war, as well as proud on the parade ground, they say that the front end of an Iberian horse is often more dangerous than the rear, and, true to type, Pom would do a sort of flamenco stamp and advance towards us with teeth bared. I began to feel my heart pounding for all the wrong reasons whenever I got close to him, but I tried to swallow my trepidation and find ways in which to approach him safely; I had to persevere, because I still felt he was the right horse for me and once mounted he was a lovely ride and I felt safe in the saddle.
One day, however, after he’d been with us about three weeks, he got ahead of me when being led, I lost my footing and he jumped over me, hitting me on the head with a flying hoof as he careered away at speed. I managed to catch him and put him in his box, but I was bleeding from the head and my husband and the other two horses were fearful and panicking.
I was thoroughly shaken and, for a while, worried myself sick that I had taken on more than I could cope with, but over again and again as I continued to care for him daily and tried all sorts of strategies to avoid his teeth, I repeated to myself that it must be insecurity and that, the only way through would be to “out-nice” him. And morning and evening, I persevered with massaging a herbal anti-itching lotion into his mane and tail – a treatment that, in spite of himself, I knew he enjoyed. Sometimes, I could see him weighing up whether he could bear to forgo his special treatment just for the craic of nipping me. I hoped and trusted that, eventually, he would tire of resorting to that inbred machismo and accept kindness as the norm!
And, in case you are wondering why I chose the title, the reason is this. Looking at my new horse’s papers, I was his sixth owner in eight years. He’d been born in Tarragona, sold as a yearling, sold again at five, probably having been broken in in Spain, he was then sold nine months later into a stables in France, where he had the accident that damaged his eye, then another year later to the Frenchwoman I bought him from, who had kept him for under two years before he came to me. No wonder he was insecure……..
Foreigner in French is “étranger”, literally “stranger”. Five times in my life I’ve moved house and been a stranger. Starting new schools, making new friends, wrong accent, wrong way of going about things, especially once I’d moved to France, where everything was strange and different, and even after 25 years and feeling capable in the language and well-versed in the way of life here, I still feel a foreigner and probably always will. And yet I chose this life and feel fortunate that me and my husband and so many incomers into France have been gracefully welcomed and accepted by our French friends and neighbours. As an immigrant to another country you gain a lot of fellow feeling for other immigrants and incomers wherever they have landed, by choice or not, human or animal.
How very difficult it must be for horses, to be bought and sold, losing their friends and familiar places, never knowing if their new owner and situation will be better or worse. A subject on which, I am sure many people have strong views ………..
Fourteen months later, Pom is very much at home, as I hope he will be for the rest of his natural life, and only when really peeved will he nip me, though the Spanish machismo comes out in some boisterous play with the Pie. Even more than all my efforts to make him feel at home, the real breakthrough came with his integration into our herd of three and finding his place in the “pecking order”, then he stopped being the new arrival and just “one of the boys”!
Next time, the other nasty surprise Pom had in store for us and more about riding in France – vive la différence!