Wishing you a Happy New Year! To celebrate this blog lasting into a second year I’ve given the page a slight makeover to feature all three stars of the show in the header; Pom, Aly and the Pie, (known here by their abbreviated French colours, as explained in “about…”) and I found a pic. to inject a little French sunshine!
Personally, I couldn’t wait to see the back of 2011. Two accidents meant two hospital stays, followed by the frustrating limbo of recuperation and uncalled for worry and work for my husband each time. I was really beginning to believe my normal astounding luck had gone into reverse. It also meant I am only recently back in the saddle and won’t be completely back to normal until I have the ironwork extracted from my fractured tibia in Spring – a year after it got broken. And all around, people I know are having horrible times healthwise, or financially or with parents, or children. No, 2011 was a poor vintage hereabouts.
This winter in South West France has been mild, but soggy and mizzly, so I’ve had to make the best of any rare gaps in the cloud to hack out, as my home schooling area is laid to grass and I can’t spare the grazing or afford to convert it to an all-weather surface whilst we have three, greedy mouths to feed. As it happened any schooling plans I had in mind last spring had to be shelved! Generally there are plenty of country pathways we can take so we can work a bit of variety into rides, “we” being me and Pom, now Aly and the Pie are retired.
As today looked promising and Pom seemed in a co-operative frame of mind we set off down the track to the village in the early afternoon, not a soul in sight, most people back at work or tucked inside by the fire. Out the other side we were walking up a lane when we came past a field where there were two horses and a mule that were new to me. They were quite excited, as you’d expect, trotting along beside the fence, then suddenly one, a black Merens (Pyrenean native breed, not unlike a Fell pony or short-legged Friesian) came straight through the insubstantial electric fence and scooted unscathed between two sagging strands of barbed wire and onto the lane to join me and Pom.
Eek! I’m not a panicker, but the first thought that passed through my brain was, “Is this my third time really unlucky?”
Thankfully the mule and the Camargue grey stayed in the field. The Merens was bouncing around Pom and I, and although the archetypal “loose cannon”, didn’t seem too threatening at first. Pom was tense but remained obedient. My first plan was to get calmly to the nearest houses. I had my phone in my pocket but didn’t want to risk taking a hand off the reins. One by one the houses we passed were empty, no one at home, just barking dogs and squawking chickens. The Merens was circling around us, rushing back and forth, trying to get close, excited and exuberant, up for a lark to break the boredom of the day. The houses petered out and there was an open field beside the lane where the Merens took off at a canter.
I spotted a car arriving at a house on the other side of the field and waved. The driver waved a cheery wave back. The next time I made the wave look definitely more urgent! Two people got out of the car. I yelled that the black horse was on the loose – did they know the owner? They shrugged unhelpfully at first, then, as the Merens came tanking back towards their fence they seemed to grasp the urgency of the situation. I called to them to contact the mayor’s office (the “Mairie” is the administrative centre of everything in every French town and village) and they signalled yes.
At this point I could see the Camarguais and the mule approaching on the other side of a fence, as though the top end of their field ran up behind the houses. Knowing there was nothing I could safely do whilst mounted and a couple of miles from home, I walked Pom away from the horses and their field, unable to continue in the direction I’d planned. I stopped two cars which passed as I got further away, to warn them one or more horses were loose and asking them if they could get word to the Mairie or the owner.
When I was finally sure I wasn’t being followed and Pom had calmed, I phoned home and explained to my husband what had happened. He thought he knew who the field belonged to and said he would contact them and get headcollars and drive over there. His main concern was that Pom and I should get home safely by a route which would take us away from the runaway. For all I knew the other two could be on the loose too, but at least they hadn’t followed us further.
By now we were well away from convenient tracks to follow home and the best route unfortunately involved a quarter mile of well-frequented road. Pom was a little joggy – he reverts to his “typically Spanish” mode if nervy – but he went very well on roads and paths he hadn’t seen before. Eventually we had to ride a woodland path I hadn’t used since riding Aly, years ago. It looked open and passable and I sighed with relief when I saw some relatively recent horse droppings. We followed the path downhill for about a mile until I saw houses I recognised and we came to where the track joined a tarmac road. But the track ended abruptly in a four foot sheer drop. Two Doberman type dogs were barking behind the fence opposite. I decided to back-track but the only way was through scrub. We tried a couple of gaps, wildlife paths that dead-ended. Eventually we crashed through a tiny gap onto the edge of someone’s garden!
I wasn’t going to put up with any more false trails or dead ends. No one was at home, so we tiptoed round the edge of the garden and got onto a known track which took us back to our home. Poor Pom, when I untacked him steam was rising off him like a train.
I took him into a small grassy paddock where he could cool down, roll and graze. When he was cooler I showered him and walked him round the garden letting him nibble the lawn. Eventually he was turned back out with Aly and the Pie before they all came into the barn for the night an hour later. My husband had contacted the land-owner who seemed unperturbed about dealing with the other horses. I trust none of them were hurt.
But a Pom who never let me down, even though it was the least pleasant ride I’ve ever taken him on, who kept his head and kept his cool, trusted me to get us back even though the paths seemed impassable; that proves to me that even though I’ve hardly been able to ride at all in the last year, our partnership is now solid as a rock.