In my last post, I was hoping that the local hunting season had come to an end, but no, yesterday (Sunday) I rode past the chasseurs’ cabin in the woods and, judging by the number of camouflage-jacketed men and their dogs, there are, apparently, still wild animals out there in the woods that need murdering. They gave me and my companions a cheery wave and “bonjour”; just regular, jovial serial killers! I do hope they pack away that lethal instinct soon ……
As it happens, yesterday’s ride was rather more dramatic than usual. I don’t have any kids myself and being the only daughter of an only daughter I can be more unnerved by small children than the hunters. However, somewhere deep in the psyche I’m still the same, old horse-mad teenager, so when friends asked me to accompany their 13-year-old girl riding out on her first horse, I was glad to oblige. Mélodie is polite, capable and fun to be with (though I must remind her not to call me “Madame”) and her new horse, Colorado, is a handsome-is-as-handsome-does type who knows his job but is no drone. I enjoyed our first outing together and took it that she had too when she rang me this weekend to arrange another.
I hadn’t seen Patrick, my bareback riding friend (see recent post: Natural and “Unnatural” Horsemanship), for a little while, so I ‘phoned to see if he wanted to join us. Yes, he’d planned to exercise his daughter’s Camargue horse who hadn’t been out for a while. So, under a cerulean blue sky, tempting foretaste of Spring, we went at an easy pace, passing families out on bicycles and walking their dogs, dropping in on a schoolmate of Mélodie’s, even disturbing an English couple, sitting in the sunshine on the pathway sharing a bottle of wine (at four in the afternoon!).
A nice grassy track opened up, and we were all up for a canter; I could see and hear Mélodie behind me so felt sure all would be well. After an exhilarating blast of speed we slowed to a walk as the path started to go more sharply downhill; Patrick wasn’t behind us, but Mistral being smaller and unfit had been puffing along in our wake most of the ride. Mélodie and I stopped and waited; suddenly Mistral cantered into view – alone.
Mélodie dismounted, quick as a flash, and caught Mistral, who she used to ride, whilst I galloped back up the track to find Patrick, some way away, trying, woozily to get up, a dreadful bluish swelling over his left eye. He seemed able to walk, insisted on doing so, but he kept repeating himself, asking where were we, which horse was he riding, saying he couldn’t remember anything.
I was pretty sure he must have lost consciousness in the time between falling off and me getting back to find him. Having had concussion from a fall before, I asked him if he was feeling sick or faint; no, he wasn’t, but then he kept asking the same questions over and over again.
Mélodie had had the presence of mind to lead Colorado and Mistral back towards us. She had her mobile ‘phone, but in a deep valley, between two villages, there was no signal. We all walked toward the nearest road, heading for the closest habitation and, as luck would have it, Mélodie knew the children in the first house we came to and dashed inside to ‘phone. Neither Patrick’s wife, my husband, nor Mélodie’s parents were answering and Patrick definitely needed to be seen by a doctor. I asked them to get hold of the nearest neighbouring adult with a car, and a nice, but rather shell-shocked looking lady, an acquaintance of Patrick’s, appeared moments later. He took some persuading to get into the car, still insisting he could walk home, but our emergency ambulance woman delivered Patrick to safety, and we (that is Mélodie, since Colorado was being more sensible than Pom) took a chastened Mistral home on a lead rein.
The irony of all this is that the most experienced rider of the three of us, riding the most “bombproof” horse took the injury and the youngest was the coolest head. So much for thirteen-year-olds being chaperoned by older riders!
And so to what I’d planned to write about!
I came across a really enjoyable blog which struck a chord; “Life with Archie: midlife with horse” by Meg Robbins (megrobb.typepad.com). Like me, Meg had returned to riding at “un certain âge” and, yes, maybe insisting on buying a new horse, when our two oldies were quietly retired and we were heading the same way too, was a manifestation of something coming slightly un-hinged in middle age. (To me, “middle age” is a sort of open-ended concept, which lasts until you really can’t get away with it any longer.)
Actually, I thought I’d already had my midlife crisis when, in my early forties I gave up building work and became an air hostess. This always raises at least a smirk from anyone who knows me, or has seen me “au naturel”.
Desperate to see something of the world other than deepest France, and to operate in a slightly less muddy workplace, I saw an ad. for flight attendants for a national carrier – upper age limit 49! In a spirit of testing their equal opportunities lip-service, and probably after a glass of wine, I applied. And this required scrubbing up to an acceptable version of presentability for interview. Blow me, they called my bluff and I spent an exhausting two years being Cabin Crew with people whose parents were younger than me. But, travel, I certainly did. Midlife Crisis, No. 1, sadly came to an untimely end with the sudden death of one parent and the acquisition of another, mid-Alzheimer’s, as a lodger.
And so, ten years later, to Midlife Crisis No. 2. Very few women go through what we coyly refer to as “the Change” blithe and unscathed. Wobbly bits appear on the underside of arms, jowls, tums, bums and knees(!), and the southwards pull of gravitation appears also to affect the workings of the brain. Feeling down and derelict creeps up on you, even when, objectively, your life couldn’t be more lovely. I won’t even go into the loss of personal thermostat control and the rest in boring detail, but if you’ve been there, or been married to it, you’ll know what I mean.
We were lucky enough to visit New York for a few days, a few years ago, in October when chill winds whistle through the skyscraper canyons. I wrapped up warm, but every hour or so I had to shed clothes like autumn leaves as I felt like a pan boiling over. Passing a health food store, I sidled in and asked if they could recommend any treatments for hot flushes, remembering to say “flashes” as they do in the US. “ARE YOU SUFFERING FROM VAGINAL DRYNESS?” the huge sales assistant bawled at me, as I tried to pretend I was not the person who had asked for assistance. But I did buy and try the herbal potions she recommended, sadly, without the desired effect.
Many months on, and every kind of herbal treatment, acupuncture, and gym-joining effort having failed to restore me to a semblance of my former self, I went to see the gyne. and, with gratitude, fell upon the recommended pharmaceutical drugs.
The physical symptoms subsided; I was lucky that my prescribed treatment worked for me (so many women are really unlucky in this respect). The blues, however, nagged away in the background.
At this point, riding Patrick’s older horse, Athos, from time to time, gave me such a lift, (to avoid repetition, see earlier posts for details!) and thanks to them both, my new horse, Pom came into my life.
I fully admit there’s no fool like an old fool. Pom was a “coup de coeur ” and, how awful it sounds now, a bargain. (I had such high hopes but a slender purse.) I accepted that this gorgeous, 8 year-old Andalusian with full papers was only within my means as he had a cloudy spot in one eye, and some superficial scars from an accident. He’d also itched away patches of mane and tail – not quite the shampoo ad. vision of a Spanish horse, but his owner seemed very honest in all respects and I trusted her….
I wrote about how Pom’s initial insecurity in his new home translated into quite frighteningly aggressive behaviour towards us and other humans and horses (post: On Being a Foreigner…) but he had another unpleasant surprise for us.
Shortly after getting Pom home he lost a shoe. Fortunately the farrier was due the next day, but his diagnosis was a blow. “This horse has had laminitis – in all four feet”. Panic.
My friend the vet, referred me to a more specialised colleague to get an x-ray done. If the bones in Pom’s feet had skewed downwards due to the layers of horn in his hooves weakening from an overabundance of rich food, he would potentially be unrideable.
I had made the idiot’s mistake of being too trusting; in my own equine experience and in Pom’s owner’s rectitude. I didn’t get him vetted; heart overcame head. The farrier assured me that, unless the horse was unshod, a vet might not have picked up the laminitis, and, had I known about it, I probably wouldn’t have bought him. So really, the wrong thing inadvertantly became the right one.
The x-rays were ok! Pom’s bones were fine, but he would always be susceptible to the condition and his feed and grazing would always need careful supervision. We scoured the internet for hoof remedies and lit eventually on biotine. Reckoning that our oldies could benefit too, I found a reasonable source.
A year down the line and Pom’s feet have been pronounced much better by the farrier, (mane and tail too having improved with treatments so complicated I’ll leave for another time) and Aly, my gorgeous old chestnut has a mane like Robert Plant!
Just a footnote, after a year of Pom; depression, what depression? Extra kilos, worry whittled them away without me noticing, amazing! Mucking out 3 boxes every day – hello “brown gym”. And biotine supplements (along with all the others) are doing us good too!
Sorry for a long one, far too much personal stuff, but if you have been going through any of the same frustrations and have your remedies, please let me have your comments.