Monday, 29 October 2012

The Heap

Meet the Heap.
Our landlady has very kindly given us the use of it while we're here.  It's a Peugeot 205, I think it's sixteen years old (same as Jeepy, funnily enough).  She described it as a "fun little car" and said she loves driving it.
Hmmm.  I have a suspicion she thinks it's "fun" and "loves driving it" because she's high on the fumes which fill the cabin whenever she drives it.

The driver's seat is broken, and is "repaired" with a thick piece of memory foam.  Actually, this works - it feels completely lopsided and weird when I sit on it, but after a few minutes, I find it has moulded to my shape.

The boot (trunk) doesn't close properly, and makes a faint rattling noise whenever the car is moving.  However, any noise generated by the trunk is quickly drowned by the sporadic rumbles coming from the front left wheel, where there is a bearing on the way out.  There's no need to worry, we were told, it'll be fine for another while...

The landlady emphasised that the Heap is only up to short local trips, but it would be ideal for me to get to the local shops and the horses whenever the LSH has used Jeepy to get to the airport.  Ok, so, the first time he was away, I decided to nip over to Manosque and do some grocery shopping.

After about 10km on the twisty, windy, hilly road to Manosque, the rattle of the boot and the rumble of the wheel bearing were being drowned out by a high-pitched screaming noise, emanating from somewhere around the front end of the Heap.  This got louder and louder, so much so that people were turning to look as I drove past on the busy streets of Manosque.  I tried to make myself look like an eccentric French woman, but to no avail, I could only have looked like a very embarrassed and worried foreigner. 

I finally made it to Hyper-U and switched off the ignition, praying it would start again when needed, to find that the engine cooling fan was also roaring - the sound of the fan, rumbling wheel bearing and rattling boot had all been drowned out by the high-pitched scream.

The fan had stopped by the time I got back with the shopping, and the Heap, true to form, roared into life as soon as I turned the key.  The high-pitched scream didn't start again until I was about half-way home, on the country road between Manosque and Les Granons, so thankfully, I wasn't turning heads again.

Don't get me wrong, we are truly grateful to have the use of the Heap, although I'm not convinced it will last for the whole year.  Without it, I would either have to cycle 7km each way to see the horses when the LSH is away, or I would have to drop him to Marseille each time he's going anywhere.  I think I'd rather take my chances with the Heap, thank you.

Every time I drive it, I'm reminded of a song my daughter had on her MP3 player when she was in school (I made her take it off, in case she got into trouble).

If you're someone who is offended by lots of bad language, don't watch this video.  Everyone else : this perfectly describes the Heap.
There is another car lurking in the Bergerie under the house which we have been ASKED to take for a spin every couple of months, but that's another story.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sunday Stills

When I did my first Sunday Stills post last week, Strawberry Lane directed me to where I found that the reason people post Sunday Stills photos is that they're taking part in a Photography Challenge every week - d'oh!

This week's challenge is Hallowe'en - how is Hallowe'en celebrated in your part of the world?

Well, I've never been in France for Hallowe'en before, but it's been abundantly clear over the last couple of weeks that they don't celebrate it at all - or not as we know it, anyway.

No witches or ghouls, no fireworks or bonfires, no peanuts or pumpkin carving (that's actually an Irish tradition, y'know, we used to carve turnips in bygone days).  No kids in fancy dress, no goody bags, no scary skeleton decorations, no Hallowe'en party games like dunking for coins or apples.

None of that stuff.  Instead of that, La Toussaint (All Saints Day) is a holy day and Public Holiday.

The quintessential symbol of this Holiday is the humble Chrysanthemum - so much so, that the big supermarket in Apt, LeClerc, has this announcement on the doors as you go in :
Arrival of the Chrysanthemums                          Your shop will be closed on Thurs Nov 1st
Apt Market, a colourful affair at the best of times, has gone Chrysanthemum Crazy, with brightly coloured blooms everywhere.

Next Thursday, all of these bright displays will be placed on the graves of loved ones and people will pause a while to remember those they've lost.

Yes, it's different here.

Massive Faux Pas to avoid :  If you're visiting a French person and want to bring flowers, don't ever, ever bring Chrystanthemums.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Aero's Diary

Now that I'm getting into a good routine with the horses, I'm going to start keeping track of my progress with Aero again.  I have found it very useful to go back over the earlier "Aero's Diary" posts and see what kind of work I was doing with him and how it worked, right up to when "Aero's Diary" turned into "Diary of a Chronic Abscess," anyway.

I've been bringing both horses back into work slowly since last week.

Flurry is... well Flurry is Flurry, he's the horse I made and I fit on him like a glove.  I've hacked him out on his own and in strange company and he's working well and happily in the arena - in fact I'm pretty sure I could ride a (Prelim!) dressage test on him tomorrow and pull a 60% plus score.  He'll get fitter and stronger, and I hope to improve both him and me as we proceed.

Although I know Aero inside out and am completely and utterly confident in dealing with him on the ground, I didn't "make" him, my daughter did.  He's got a different interface to Flurry, and I'm still figuring it out.  He's also much narrower and much bouncier than Flurry, and right now, I'm finding him difficult and uncomfortable to ride.

When the LSH and I had our first Ballade together on Saturday, Aero and I trotted a couple of times to catch up with Flurry.  My stirrups felt too long, my legs felt wobbly and I felt all over the place.  I'm just not used to him, I thought.

On Sunday, I rode Aero briefly in the arena.  I lunged him first of all, though, with the Chambon, to encourage him to stretch down, round his back and loosen up - one of the things the earlier "Aero's Diary" posts reminded me of was that I found him easier to ride if he was warmed up on the lunge beforehand.  Once I was on his back, I did a lot of work in walk with circles and serpentines, asking him to bend and yield.  We did a little trot too, just a couple of half-circles on each rein.  Everything seemed fine and we finished up.

Monday was a washout, but on Tuesday I decided to ride him in the arena again.  I lunged him for a shorter time and then started to ride him.  We were fine in walk, and repeated the bendy stuff from Sunday, throwing in a bit of leg-yielding as well.  In trot though, I was trying to do some proper "work," keeping him round and soft through turns and circles, but it just didn't work out for me.

I felt like a beginner on him, I would fall behind the movement, or lose the rhythm and struggle to find it again.  Making excuses, the arena footing varies hugely, from firm-ish to quite deep, and that, coupled with his general bounciness, was just too much for me to cope with.  Because of my poor balance, my hands were unsteady and he couldn't trust me to keep a steady contact with his mouth.  His head would come up, and I would be back to square one "inviting" him to work back down into the contact again.  We finished up with some moderately acceptable work, but I wasn't happy.  I'm so much less fit now than I was back in May when I started riding him and I think that's why I'm now struggling to keep my balance - my core muscles have gone all soggy.

Ideally, I should have hacked Aero on Wednesday to vary his work, but here's the issue : I'm not confident on him.  As a riding horse, I don't really know him - I can read Flurry like a book, and I know I can sit pretty much any spook he throws at me.  I'm not sure what Aero would react to, or how violently he will react if he is scared of something and I'm not sure I would be able to stay with him if he did a major spook - he's so flippin' narrow!!   Hacking out along with Flurry the first day was fine - Aero was quite relaxed and happy to follow his buddy's lead, but he's still feeling insecure about his new surroundings and he's going to be a lot more tense on his own.  So, my plan for Wednesday was... um... more arena.

As soon as Aero saw me coming, he turned around and very deliberately walked away from me.  What a clear message : I didn't enjoy yesterday's work at all!  This is the horse that was literally all over me last week, looking for affection!  So I did a quick change of plan.  Lunge session, followed by a few minutes in the arena - even if we just walked around once in each direction, followed by a very brief hack.

The lunging was very, very interesting.  He was ignoring my requests for downward transitions (trot/walk and walk/halt), which is very frustrating coming from a horse which I've lunged a thousand times!  I kept calm and ended up doing a lot of walk work in hand, praising him when he stopped on command and repeating the exercise immediately whenever he ignored me.  Eventually, he got the message, we tried a few trot/walks which were ok and then I hooked up the Chambon.  On the right rein, he worked well, and went around with his nose almost on the ground.  On the left rein, it was a different story, he was stiff and inverted.  After loads of transitions and a few inward/outward spirals, he finally stretched down and snorted a few times, but he didn't release as well as he had on the right.

Enough was enough, because of all the in-hand work at the start we had already done thirty minutes at this stage.  I mounted him and walked around the arena a few times.  He was very bothered by flies, and had been all through the lunging session, too, but I think there was something else going on as well, a stiffness or even pain somewhere.  On a left circle, he was drifting out to the right, and ignoring my outside leg's attempt to block him - in fact, he just pushed through my leg aid.  I corrected him with a sharp tap from my heel, which he obeyed, but mulishly.  After a couple of circles and a couple of goes through a pole-labyrinth (for fun) we left the arena and did a very short hack, just half-way up the lavender field next door - maybe ten minutes, all told.  He was tense, but ok, less distracted by the flies and paying attention to me a bit more.  I hope I can build on that experience and start going further afield with him - he needs positive experiences and so do I.

Thursday was the day I hacked Flurry with Marie-Christine and Alexandrine.  I had to go home after riding Flurry - the hyper-terriers were home alone, and we have to be super-diligent about letting them out to wee, Cookie's bladder control isn't great unless she's in kennels on a ferry!

I came back in the afternoon to work with Aero.  I'd been mulling over the feeling I got from him the previous day - mulish, uninterested, begrudging.  That's not Aero, but there are many possible explanations :
  • He really, really hates flies.  Perhaps, in the arena, with nothing else to worry him (ie, he wasn't being asked to head out into the countryside alone) the flies were the only thing he could think about.  Same thing when I was lunging him, the swarm of flies around his head might have been blocking me out.
  • He's unsettled because of the move.  I think this is partly true, whatever else is going on.  He's a bit nervous and jumpy, unless he's with Flurry.
  • He's testing me.  They do test us from time to time, just to see where the limits are. Maybe the uneasiness caused by the move is making him check if the old limits are still in the same place.
  • He's sore.  The age old issue with Aero - he's inclined to get tight through the back which can then manifest itself in soreness and tightness on one side or the other.
I need more information before I can to come to a conclusion.  Back into the lunge-ring we went, tacked up with the Chambon, complete with the airborne escort buzzing around his face.  The first thing he did was a squeal and a head shake, and cantered off.  I let him go for a few laps, and then asked him to trot, which he did.  After a few more circles, I asked him to walk.  He ignored me.  I don't believe in repeating the request, I think that kind of tells the horse that it's acceptable to ignore the first request, so I gradually spiralled him inwards, which makes him work harder.  My body language kept inviting him to walk, and eventually I could see when he was about to break into a walk and I said "Waaaaalk" just as he did.

Repeat the procedure - same result, he was ignoring me until I insisted.  He didn't want to stay in walk, either, but kept breaking into trot, uninvited.  Was this the flies bugging him, or him testing me?  I went back to work in hand, walk/halt, walk/halt, praising him when he halted quickly, not saying anything when it took more than a stride or two.

Then I graduated to work in walk on a small circle : walk on...... and...whoa.... nothing, no response.  I got him to halt by walking him into the fence, didn't praise him, because, hell, he hadn't been a good boy!

Repeat the exercise... same thing.  And repeat... same thing.  He was so tuned out, I might as well not have been there.  So I decided - rightly or wrongly - that he needed "Consequences" for not paying attention.

Next time he ignored my "whoa" request, I jerked hard on the lunge-line, once (and before the Internet Police come knockin' on my door, No, the lunge line wasn't connected to the bit ring, it was clipped onto the noseband ring on his Micklem bridle).  He was surprised, wheeled around and stopped dead.  Again, I didn't praise him - in my book, he still hadn't been a good boy.  I did this a few times, and eventually, the penny seemed to drop.  He halted immediately when I said "Whoa."  Finally.  I walked up to him, made a big fuss of him and gave him a piece of carrot which I had in my pocket.  We did this a few more times, and Hallelujah! it seems to have been a mini-breakthrough.

I continued then with a normal lunge session.  My goals were obedience and stretching evenly on both reins.  He was obedient, but didn't really relax and stretch through fully on either rein - this horse is capable of trotting and cantering around with his nose on the ground, I'd say he stretched as far as his knees at most, and only for half a circle at a time.

I finished the session after lunging.  I felt that achieving obedience was important and that I should probably quit while I was ahead.  The lack of suppleness is worrying me, but I'll give it a few more days before I think about calling out the Osteopath.  

Friday was a washout again, but on Saturday, I hacked him out with the LSH and Flurry.  It was cold and windy - temperatures have dropped 15C in two days, but at least this meant there were no flies.  Aero felt tense throughout, almost that "unexploded bomb" feeling, but not quite.  In fairness to him, he behaved himself, but I honestly couldn't say the hack was an enjoyable experience for either of us; I kept trying to transmit "relaxed" vibes to him, but they kept being bounced back to me as "I'm really tense" vibes.  I'm putting it down to the cold, the wind and the strangeness of his new environment.  I'm planning to hack him again on Sunday morning and as often as possible during the week - I've got to make this life the new Normal and the only way to make that happen is to go out there and do it.

Keep your fingers crossed for us this week!
Aero and his Fly Fringe (which he wasn't too impressed with)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

I think I can fit in here

Yesterday, I finally managed to clip Flurry.  I rode him in the arena first thing in the morning - he was lovely!  We worked on canter a little bit, so he had sweated up a lot by the time I finished.  I washed him down well and then worked with Aero.  By the time I finished, Flurry was drying out well, so I decided to come back to the farm with my clippers straight after lunch and pray that he wouldn't roll again.

I arrived back to a clean horse - what a miracle - so I brought him down to the stables and got to work.  Two of the other liveries were there, I think they are mother and daughter.  They own a grey mare and her eighteen month old son, who is a very handsome boy indeed.  I'll do a post soon about the farm and all the horses, and you'll see what I mean.

I had met the Mum and Daughter before, but, apart from the "Bonjour" required by politeness, they've pretty much ignored me - I am the outsider here, after all!  This time, though, they were doing some in-hand work with the foal, and came down to the stables.  They wanted to introduce him to puddles - a rarity here - and also let him see a clippers in action.  I had a good chat with the mum, whose name, strangely enough, is Martine.   Horses are a great common ground, and once we got going, we found we had a shared passion for good Dressage - it seems DuJardin, Hester and Munoz Diaz translate into every language!  We ended up with the daughter helping me finish off Flurry's clip, by pulling his front legs forward to so I could clip his "underarms," and also with a promise of hacking companionship - she is getting a Connemara pony to ride for the winter months, and will be delighted to have someone to ride with.
Flurry's very minimal clip
Alexandrine's mother Marie-Christine then arrived, to accompany Alexandrine the first time she rode a young horse out.  More chatting ensued, as she tacked up her horse, Pietro.  She told me that Pietro is supposed to be a Criollo, but doesn't have any papers.  She's only had him since last January, she bought him when her old horse had to be retired.  On his feet, he wore Renegade boots - her old horse was barefoot for seventeen years and Pietro is making the transition to barefoot.  She does her own trimming, but gets the farrier to check her horse every eight weeks or so.  She rides in a rope halter - Alexandrine helped her train Pietro to be rideable in a halter instead of a bridle when he arrived last January.  On his back, was a western type saddle, with a bridle slung over the horn - just in case she needed extra control if Alexandrine's youngster was difficult.  Also slung over the horn was a leather case, containing a large pair of snips and a foldable saw - she told me that, as she rides along the local trails, she cuts down any low branches and helps to keep the trail clear for everyone.  I also noticed that she was wearing a helmet - I was a little surprised, actually, that's quite un-French.  I remarked on it and she said she always wears one, and I nodded, I always wear one too.
Pietro ready for the trail
I ended up thinking, this lady is a serious horsewoman, she's a wee bit older than me but is not only still riding (a lot), she's doing her own horse's feet & she works on keeping the trails clear for the benefit of others.

I was finding it hard to keep up with the four-way chat and my brain was rapidly approaching meltdown,  so I politely excused myself and took Flurry back to his field.  But before I left, Marie-Christine made a hacking "date" with me for the following morning!  Brilliant!  Someone local to show me around!

I was really looking forward to our trek the following morning.  I decided that I would ride Flurry, so I could just relax and enjoy myself - Aero is still a little unsettled and would be something of an unknown quantity (to me) with strange horses.  Marie-Christine watched me tack up and asked if I used the Renegades on Flurry.  When I said no, she nodded and said his feet looked good (go, Flurry's feet!!).

Once we were ready, we walked up to the arena to meet Alexandrine, who was accompanying us with the young filly.  Marie-Christine mounted from a block, and slipped a piece of carrot to Pietro.  Alexandrine asked if I was going to walk for a while, as she was going to walk with the filly until she settled.  I said no, I would mount the same as her mother and pointed at the block.  I mounted, and Flurry turned his head around for his "standing still to be mounted" reward, which I had ready.  When I looked up again, they were both smiling broadly and Marie-Christine said "Your horses are barefoot, you use Renegades and you give them carrots, I think you are the same as us."

"I think I'm in the perfect place" was my reply, as we set off down the drive.

The hack itself was perfect, uneventful.  The young filly settled quickly and Alexandrine mounted.  We were on the road for about 50 meters at the start and at the end, otherwise we were on woodland trails and forestry roads.  Idyllic.
Marie-Christine and Pietro lead the way, with Doug the dog in front
Tree-house.  You can see Pietro's head on the right with his rope halter
In the middle of the woods was this very cool tree-house, where we met some bikers who had stopped for a break.  Alexandrine offered to take a photo of me, which was very nice of her, so here I am grinning like an idiot over my shoulder.

Alexandrine's youngster is a Lusitano, so her mane and the top of her tail have been clipped.  She's just with Alexandrine for breaking, and will be going home in about two weeks.

After about an hour, Marie-Christine asked if Flurry would be ok to give the filly a lead home.  Sure, I said, so she bid us farewell and headed back towards Reillanne where she lives, but not before she offered to meet up with me again to show me around some more - yippee!

Alexandrine and I were continuing through the woods when we came to a cleared area, where there was someone with a tractor and trailer, loading logs.

"C'est mon Papa," said Alexandrine (that's my father).

OH!! Does he sell wood?  We need to buy some for the winter! was my very enthusiastic response.

It turns out he does, so we stopped for a chat and I got my order for winter firewood sorted out.  HAH!  That's one Dreaded Foreign Fonecall I won't have to make!

To finish the morning, I got a spin on the Quad with Alexandrine, just from the horses' field shelter back to the stables.  I've never been on one before, what fun!

To end a great day, our first visitor arrived.  Granny is here for the next two weeks.  She had an uneventful flight from Dublin to Nice but is a bit tired - currently snoozing in the armchair beside me.

All in all, it's been a really good couple of days and I'm beginning to feel like I will fit in well at the farm.  I'm determined to keep speaking my crap French.  Marie-Christine offered to speak English, which was very kind, but I said no, I have to learn.  They were both correcting me as we rode along, which I appreciate, I just hope I can retain some of their corrections, otherwise they will start to think I'm some sort of a dunce!  Later on that day, I met Georges, Alexandrine's Papa, and we chatted for a bit - he was speaking very slowly and clearly, and offered words if I was stuck.  They are all being so kind, and I really appreciate it.

I'm looking forward to seeing what the next few weeks bring.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

After the Storm

After 36 hours of heavy, thundery rain, the morning dawned bright and clear.
There's plenty of Autumnal colour around, now
and everything had a crisp, newly washed appearance.

Everything except a certain dun horse, that is.
Ok, Flurry, I won't clip you today.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Crash! Bang! Boom!

Nature gave a magnificent display of pyrotechnics last night, with lightning flashing and thunder rolling from about 11pm right through to... well, it's mid-morning now and it's still going on.

The magnificence of it all began to pall somewhere around 1am, when we realised that any sort of sleep was unlikely and REM sleep would be impossible.

Somewhere around 2am I began to worry about Flurry and Aero, standing on a hill-top under a shelter with a corrugated iron roof.  What if they got a direct hit and were fried?  There would be two Crispy Critters waiting to meet me in the morning and my dreams of enjoying Provençe with my horses would be shattered.

A less dire scenario which played through my mind involved images of them galloping around in terror, breaking through the electric fence, which would of course be dead because surely the power would be out with all these bolts of lightning flying around.  After breaking through the fence, where would they go?  Not very far, maybe as far as the stables... oh no, there's even more metal on the stable roof to attract lightning... another Crispy Critter outcome... or maybe they'd bolt down the road, they wouldn't know where they were, they might run into a car...

These are the sort of things I worried about every time we had a big storm at home, but at least I could put a coat and wellies on over my pajamas and run out to check on the horses there.  I tried to reassure myself with logic - if they had taken fright and bolted, there was nothing I could do until daylight, anyway.  If they'd received a direct hit... well, again, there was nothing I could do.  Going up to check them was pointless until the morning, and anyway, putting myself at risk by standing on a hill-top in the middle of a thunderstorm was a pretty dumb idea.

I fell into a fitful sleep around 5am and woke with the daylight around eight.  I went up to check them, knowing that my middle-of-the-night imaginings were over-dramatic, but fully expecting to find Aero pacing anxiously up and down, soaked to the skin and shivering.  I was less concerned about Flurry - I tend to think of him as indestructible - but neither of them has ever been through such in intense, continuous electrical storm and I was quite certain they would both be a bit upset by it, and Aero would most likely be the worst of the pair.

I was met by a thoroughly soaked Flurry, who was standing outside the field shelter with a morose expression which would have put Eeyore to shame.
Meanwhile a slightly-wet, but warm and contented Aero was happily tucking into HIS hay in the shelter, making faces every time poor Flurry ventured under the roof.
I gave them both a scratch, informed Flurry that he won't be clipped today and gave him a heap of hay all to himself.  Then I went home for brekkie, much relieved.

☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂ ☂

I've been concerned about how Cinnamon would cope with a serious thunderstorm here since before we moved.  Due to her heart murmur, we can't give her sedatives, but during the first (brief) storm here ten days ago, she worked herself up into quite a state, panting, shaking and trying to dig a safe nest in the floor, with her little heart pounding all the time.  That time, she ended up underneath our bed, and once the storm moved on she calmed down pretty quickly.

This bout of thundery weather has been forecasted by since the beginning of the week, and I decided to try dosing her with this stuff :
We've given it to the dogs for the ferry crossing the last two trips.  They were definitely more relaxed on the boat, especially the last time, but it's hard to know if that was because they were getting used to the journey or if the Kalm Aid was helping.

I gave her two squirts of it in her feed every day this week - it's one of those things that you can build up in their system.  Last night (and this morning) was a big test, and I have to say it has definitely made a difference.  She's not happy, but she's no longer so hysterically distressed that she can't cope with her fear.  There's no panting, no digging, no whimpering, just a little trembling and restlessness, and I'm no longer afraid she'll give herself a heart attack.

Thumbs up to Nutriscience and Kalm Aid.  I hope I can source some more here in France!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sunday Stills

Many of the bloggers I follow do a Sunday Stills post each week which are always very pretty and sometimes thought provoking.  Inspired by this, I've decided to have a go at it myself.

I'm not particularly good at keeping house plants alive, but I have two Christmas Cacti (Schlumbergera to you plant heads) which have been with me for a long time now.  Despite my sporadic watering and non-existent care (I've no idea when I last re-potted them, for example), they reward me with a wonderful display of blooms, usually twice a year.

They were both covered in buds four weeks ago - just as we were packing up all of our possessions for the big move.  I loaded them carefully into the horsebox, well supported, so they wouldn't fall over, and not rubbing off anything, so the buds wouldn't get damaged.  They had three days of "dark" as we loaded in Cork, travelled and unloaded in Provençe.  They also had three days of erratic temperatures, cool in Ireland and Northern France and then extremely warm here.  I was pretty convinced that all of this abuse would be too much for them and that their buds would shrivel up and fall off, but much too my surprise, they didn't and they've provided me with my first Sunday Still subject matter.
The pale peach one, I rescued from a supermarket about ten years ago - it was on "Special" because it was nearly dead.
It's such a delicate colour.
A teeny drop of nectar is making its way down this flower.

The plant with darker flowers is the descendant of a plant which has been in my parents home as long as I remember (it's still there).  This one has been with me for at least twenty years.
It's a little bit behind the pale peach plant and only has two flowers open right now, but I'm pretty sure it's not going to let me down and will have a super display in a few more days.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The First Ballade

Saturday morning, LSH is not working, it's time for our very first French Hack!!

I rode Flurry yesterday (just to make sure he'd behave for the LSH) and I've been walking both horses in hand and doing a little lunge each day, partly to get us all into a routine and partly to help them loosen out after the journey.

Flurry went barefoot, but Aero wore his Renegade boots.  There's good news and bad news there - the good news is that his left front has spread a bit more, so it's almost the same size as the right one, but the bad news is that I now have two size 2 boots too many and one size 2W boot too few.  It's time for some more online shopping, unfortunately.
Fitting Aero's Renegades
The LSH brought his new Little Camera - it's a Sony RX100, which he bought so he'd be able to satisfy his photographic urges on horseback.  The first test was whether Flurry would stand still....
Just sit there, LSH, I want to look at this for a minute
Well of course he would!  This is the horse that loves to admire spectacular views!  Although it was very hazy today, so the views weren't up to the usual standard, but he stood quietly anyway while the LHS took a few like this :
Aero doesn't get this whole "scenery" thing, he was more interested in grazing.  I was happy to let him have a nibble though, it showed me how much more relaxed he is now.
Why are we standing here?
The next test for the Sony RX100 was how would its panorama mode function on a moving horse :
Half a panorama!
Well, it functioned, but I don't think the black bit on the Right hand side should be there!

I took my first official Through the Ears shot on Aero :
although I only had my iPhone, I can't find the strap I used to use to tie the camera case onto the saddle and I didn't want to squish my camera into the small pockets on my gilet.

Still, the iPhone photos aren't too bad...
...pity I chopped Flurry's head off though!

I took a photo of him, he took a photo of me...
...all we need now is someone to take a photo of the two of us as we ride along holding hands, like this :
©The Long Riders' Guild Press
(shall I pass the barf bags?)

The hack was completely uneventful - a forty-five minute stroll through lavender fields and woods, with about five minutes on the road at the end.  Flurry sweated up a lot - it was 20C, hotter than we experienced all summer in Cork, I think!  I will have to get the clippers out and give him a very light clip, he'll have plenty of time to grow more hair between now and January/February when the cold weather usually hits.

The local horse people collect stale baguettes to give to their horses as treats.  Flurry remembers this well from last year and was delighted to see a demi-baguette heading his way.  He kindly showed Aero what to do with it.
Look, Aero, this is what you do
Aero thought it was a great idea!
What - you mean like this?
He loved it, and didn't pull any faces like Flurry did last year!
I asked the LSH to take a photo of me and both the Boyz - up to now, there haven't been any in existence, and I want one for my Facebook page.  This is my favourite :
Shades of Desert Orchid and Red Rum!
 But this is probably the one I'll use, where they are not trying to hide me :

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

La Foire Agricole

Since we got here, we've been seeing signs proclaiming "Foire Agricole à Reillanne, 14 Oct" (Agricultural Fair in Reillanne).  Something like a harvest festival, we surmised.  Keen to experience local culture in all its forms, we resolved to drop into the Foire for a few hours on Sunday morning, before setting off to collect the horses.

A Harvest Festival in Ireland is typically a Protestant tradition, although in some towns, the local Catholic church will get involved, too, giving it an ecumenical, although still religious, flavour.  There'll be a few prayers said at the official opening, giving thanks for the Harvest, then it's time to hit the stalls - cakes and preserves made by the ladies of the Parish, various games of chance, lucky dips and bric-a-brac - then you finish up having a nice cup of tea (but usually not Barrys!!) and a sandwich at the tea-stall.  Funds are typically being raised for the Parish coffers, the school, maybe, or the church roof, or sometimes for a worthy local charity.  All in all, it's not terribly different to what you might see on The Vicar of Dibley.

I can categorically say that the Foire Agricole in Reillanne was nothing like that.  The first thing that caught our eye was a vast array of benches and trestle tables, all covered with snow-white tablecloths.  Lunch was clearly on the agenda.

There were plenty of Provençal costumes around too.  Some of them were "staff" who were helping to set up the food tables, but there were plenty more who just dressed up for the fun of it.

No Fair or Foire is complete without Face-painting for the kiddies and this one was no exception.
I'm not sure that little person really wanted her face painted!

There were all the usual Provencal style food stands - goats cheese, artisanal bread, cakes and some more exotic fare, too.
Squashes - not really exotic, but SO colourful!
Escargots - snails!
Sad to say, I think the cage of rabbits belongs in the food section.  While doing Le Big Trek, Anne and I passed a farm with cages and cages of rabbits at one side, just like these.  Yum.

As well as food, though, there were lots of stalls which gave a little taste of Provençal traditions.

A stand selling painted and unpainted Santons.  These terracotta figurines were traditionally made to be part of a Nativity scene, giving their Christmas nativity displays a very Provençal flavour.  Now, they are mostly made to sell to tourists, but they're still pretty cute!

L'atelier de mon Père.  This was a steam-driven model workshop, complete with accordian music (on an incongruous CD player), steam whistle and French flag.
There were potters, lavender producers and basket weavers

and a large tent, full of blacksmiths (both male and female) working on red-hot metal.

These guys weren't farriers, they were making all sorts of funky metal things, curtain poles, stools, tables etc.  There was a guy further on doing a horse-shoeing display as well.

There were pens of animals, complete with labels identifying whose farm they came from.

I was fascinated with a large pen of mixed poultry.  Our good neighbours, Frank and Margo, who looked after Aero & Flurry for the last two weeks, would have loved this - they've got some fairly interesting poultry themselves.

Handsome geese :
A less handsome turkey :
A very cuddly bantam :
A pair of ducks who seem to be wearing Doris Day wigs :

I think this very large (meaty? sorry Thumper!) rabbit was teasing the drake about his hair-do :
In the middle of the Foire, there was a large fenced off area, which was used for displays.  When we arrived, a rather unfortunate man was trying to demonstrate the abilities of his truffle-hunting dog, a gorgeous hairy creature, who looked just like Benjy.  "Benjy" was having none of it, however, and was much more interested in eating the horse poop which was scattered around the place, so they left the arena without locating any of the hidden truffles.

After Benjy, there was a demonstration with a grey mare, a Mareyeur Boulonnais, a breed of heavy horse reknown for its rôle in transporting fish from the ports of Normandy to Paris.  This mare, though, was trained for forestry, and the commentator made sure we all knew that she and her handler were available for work, should we need any trees felled and hauled.

The Forestier drove the mare around the arena, stopping, starting, circling and turning.
Then he left the arena.  Ho-hum, I thought, that was a bit tame.  However, he quickly attached the mare to a large log and returned, and went through the same movements.  I've never seen a horse hauling a dead weight like this before, and I was interested to see that it was all very fast - in my head, I had imagined a slow steady pull, but this pair worked in jerky, rapid movements.  Perhaps that's necessary to break the inertia of the log and get it moving?

There were loads of horses around the place, in fact the Foire had a very equine flavour altogether.  Loads of local horsey people just turned up for a day out with their horses, riding casually through the crowds and the stands to the pens and picket lines at the back, where they left their horses while they wandered off to see the sights.  There were few helmets in evidence and fewer still Safety Officers, in fact, make that "a few" helmets and "no" Safety Officers!  Still, most of the horses took it all in their stride, as if they do this sort of thing every week, and maybe they do.

After the Forestier, a few young horses were introduced.  Their owners were hoping to find a buyer in Reillanne - an unlikely outcome, to be honest.  This colourful chap was trying to sell a couple of mules :
This grey yearling almost demolished the fence and then made a good attempt at getting away from his owner - just after the owner had finished telling the world how docile he is!  Animals will always let you down at the wrong moment - just as the "Benjy" dog had done earlier!
After the sales pitch, a familiar face entered the arena - Alexandrine d'Arnaud did a demonstration with a "cheval récalcitrant" - no translation necessary, I think!  

Alexandrine follows the "natural" horse training method.  This was my first time seeing her working with a horse and I was happy to see her patient, gentle but insistent approach.  Her ultimate goal was to load the grey mare into a trailer, and she built up to it by asking the horse to walk through or over an assortment of objects first.
This was all very easy, but unfortunately when she asked the mare to walk into the trailer, the mare said "What? NO!" several times.  We had to leave before the end of the demo, but she told me the next day that the mare did go in.... eventually.

There were more and more colourful Provençal costumes in evidence as we left and still more on the approach road to the Foire.  
Some people were carrying instruments - I guess there was music planned for later in the day.

We would have loved to have stayed on and had lunch sitting at the trestle tables in the sun, while a local band played traditional music, but unfortunately we had to go. 

Maybe next year.