Friday, 30 November 2012

Thank Friday it's Lunchtime - Auberge Pierry, Reillanne

We have pledged to visit a different hostelry in the locale every Friday for the next year and bring to you, our passionately interested readers, our rating and assessment of each and every one.

Yes.  It's a restaurant review.

We have two rules :
1. If there is a Plat du Jour (special of the day) one of us must order it
2. Rule one does not apply if the Plat du Jour is Andouillette.

(Andouillette is basically intestines wrapped up in a sausage skin.  I've never eaten it, but the LSH has resolutely tried it a couple of times, trying to figure out what the French see in it.  The last time, I sat in between the LSH and the ED as they both sampled andouillette in the Café du Cours in Reillanne.  The waiter had extolled its virtues, and convinced them that it was "very, very special."  I might as well have been sitting in a cowhouse - that's what it smelt like.  Both of them tried hard to like it, that day, and both agreed it was in a lovely sauce, but it still tasted like it smelled.)

So, no, thank you France, you make great food, but we're steering clear of the andouillette from now on.


Auberge Pierry is very close to our home base.  It's located right on the N100, so it's very handy for anyone who's travelling from Avignon to Forcalquier, say.  We had heard that it had a solid lunch trade, so we were expecting quite a few other diners and were a bit disappointed to find that there was only one other table occupied the day we visited.

I opted for the €14.50 Menu du Midi (lunch time special) : Salade de Crudites, Rôti de Porcelet and a choice of desserts.  The LSH went for the Menu Provençal, at €18.50, which gave a few more options, but he chose Tartare de Chèvre, Lapin à la Provençale and the same dessert options.

We've eaten in Auberge Pierry before, when it was under different management, and felt that while the food was good, the whole place had a very bare feel.  The new management have tried to address this, with curtains hung over doorways, a grey decor throughout, a cosy fire blazing away on one side of the room and a couch, coffe table and a couple of arm-chairs beside the fire.  It needs a little more colour, in my opinion, the grey is a bit bland, but it does feel less cathedral-like.

The starters arrived quickly, along with a small basket of bread.  The Tartare de Chèvre was basically a wodge of goats cheese, nicely presented on a bed of salad, garnished with a couple of pieces of crispy pancetta.
Tartare de Chèvre
The Salade of Crudites was a fairly similar salad, with a few hard-boiled eggs and some grated carrot added.  Both came with a nice, light dressing, and both were excellent.  The endive (chicory) arranged around the outside of the plates was particularly nice - it's in season at the moment and had none of the bitterness it can have when it starts to get old.
Salade de Crudites
My Rôti de Porcelet (roast piglet!) came in a red wine sauce and was served with Tagliatelle.  I seem to be destined to eat pasta at our lunches!  In this case, there was less pasta on the plate than last week, which suited me fine but might not suit a big MAN appetite quite so well!  This was really tasty, possibly a little on the salty side, but that's a personal taste thing, I suppose.
Rôti de Porcelet
The Lapin Provençal (Provençal style Rabbit) was a bit lighter than my main course and came with jumbo potato wedges.  This was also delicious, in fact it was possibly a little more delicious than the Porcelet.
Hmm, I think the LSH chose the better starter AND main course!
Lapin Provençale
Finally, dessert.  The LSH ordered Tuile à Lavande, served with ice-cream.  The Tuile is the biscuity thing.  It was beautifully presented, we both agreed it looked like a sail-boat with its spinnaker up, cruising along!  It tasted as good as it looked, too, and the ice-cream was yummy too - a nice grown-up kind of flavour (but neither of us can remember what it actually was, oops).
Tuiles à Lavande
I went for a light dessert (I'm still trying to shake off a few more kgs) of Faisselle with honey.  Faisselle is a fresh cheese - I think it's best described as being half-way between yoghurt and cream cheese, it's really light to eat, with a yoghurty tang to it.  They were very different desserts, both were excellent, but I think I preferred mine, it was just a bit lighter.
Faisselle & Coffee
Two coffees and a glass of white wine each brought the total bill up to €40.  I have to say that the Menu du Midi is excellent value.  Although we didn't get as much food as we did at the Buffet de la Gare, what we were served was much better quality - top class food at a bargain price, if you stick to the set meal.

Star Rating (out of 5) :

Service : ✮✮✮✮✮
Food : ✮✮✮✮✮
Value : ✮✮✮✮
Ambiance : ✮✮✮✮ Unfortunately with only one other table occupied, it felt a little bare.  It must be lovely in the summer, though, there is a very large terrace with plenty of shade where one can relax out of the sun.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Christmas Plans

Christmas is all about family time, to me.  The best Christmas we ever had was in 2001, when my whole family plus a few extras came together at my house.  We had literally just completed building an extension.  Two weeks before Christmas, we still had nothing in the kitchen, not even a level concrete floor, but it all worked out in time for the big day, apart from the floor - the bare concrete was covered with various bits of carpets to try to conceal it and warm the place up.  Fifteen of us sat down to Christmas dinner that day, and I think it was one we'll all remember.

Last Christmas, all of my immediate family once again joined us for the festivities, with my sister-in-law joining us the next day.  Of course, things were complicated this time by the fact that the LSH and I were abandoning our guests on the 27th, but we had a good time nonetheless.  So good, in fact, that we agreed it was our turn to travel for Christmas next time, and that we'd all go to California - me, the LSH, the daughters & Granny.

We booked our flights way back in June.  At that stage, we thought we'd be starting our Year in Provençe in January, so we intended to arrive back in Ireland on the 31st and travel to France via the UK a couple of days later.  Plans changed, we're already in Provençe, so we've arranged to fly from Nice to Dublin on the 14th to meet up with the rest of the gang (and there's the small detail of a family wedding to attend on the 15th, too!) and continue from there to San Francisco on the 16th.

I know that the horses will be well looked after at the Farm, but I was worried about kenneling Cinnamon - she is so stressed out by thunderstorms that I was afraid she might give herself a heart attack if she's in a kennel environment.  Some kind English friends have said they'll look after her (Phew!) so that just leaves Cookie...

Some internet research turned up a place about 15km away, in between Vachères and Banon.  I went and checked it out today.  The owner seems ok, and is a real "Dog" man - he trains dogs for hunting and his own dogs were very well behaved and well fed.  The facilities are pretty minimal, though - Cookie will have a kennel and a small run.  There's no heating in the kennel, so if it's cold, she will feel it.  Dogs are let out for a run in a large exercise area, which is fenced, but not terribly well, although the owner assured me that he's never had a dog escape in twenty years!  All I want is that she will be kept safe, and will still be there when we get back on Dec 31st, so I think we will ask that she is not let out into the exercise area, and we'll leave plenty of warm bedding with her.

We can't do much else, with her "cat" and "escaping" issues it is very difficult to ask friends to look after her, but I know I will be in tears when we leave her there in two weeks time.

Yes, two weeks time.   Maybe it's time to start Christmas shopping!

Here's a video I'd forgotten about to start setting the Christmas mood - this is Roxy at our house last Christmas, discovering the singing penguins :
By the way, Roxy has just graduated from her training and is now an Assistance Dog with a family in Co Meath who have a son with Autism.  I could not be happier - it just seems so right that she has ended up as an Assistance Dog!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Sunday Stills - Animals in Black and White

This was a great challenge, it made me play with my camera and learn more about it!  I didn't even know I had a Monochrome setting on my camera, let alone two settings, one for sepia tones and one for high-contrast black and white.

So here's a sepia toned one, this is Quieto the horse, with Doug the dog in the background, waiting to go for a trek.
I'm not that crazy about the sepia mode, to be honest, the softness of the images irritates me.  However, I do think that this guy all tacked up in his Western gear is the perfect subject for sepia.

After that, I focussed on one of my dogs (pun intended!), Cookie.  Cookie is a hyper-terrier - she's a Jack Russell/Whippet cross.  Yes, her ears really are THAT big!
She's the ultimate wannabe hunter.  There are free-range chickens and cats roaming around the area where our house is, and she spends her day sitting at the window, watching them and, presumably, plotting schemes whereby she might manage to catch one, a bit like Wile E. Coyote.
I was trying to get her to pose, and she starting practising her killing skills on my hand.
My, what big teeth, you have, Cookie!

Sunday Stills is a place to hone your photography skills. Each Week Ed issues a new “Challenge” that gives us the opportunity to pick up what ever kind of camera we own and try and meet it. Sometimes we’ll look forward to it because it might seem fun and easy and sometimes we might have to rack our brain to get the appropriate shot to meet the assignment requirements. The purpose is to get out there and use our cameras.  Drop over to Sunday Stills and have a look!

Aero's Diary - The Osteopath's Visit

I had my first riding lesson in French!  It worked out ok... I learned a few new phrases and promptly forgot most of them, but I'm sure some of them will eventually sink in and lodge in my brain.

I did my usual cautious thing of leading Aero around once in each direction, but he was very calm and placid - tired after all his trekking over the weekend, I'd say.  I mounted and then we stood for a while, as I went over the things we are struggling with with Alexandrine.  It was interesting, that at the end of the lesson she remarked that he was tense as soon as I sat on him, but as we stood there and talked, he relaxed more and more... a point to remember, perhaps.

Before we got moving, we practised flexion to each side, with Alexandrine reminding me to release the rein when I get a response.  Once we started walking around the arena, I continued flexing him, to the inside down the long side as we went straight, and then turning a 10M circle at the corner.  The next step was to turn a 10M circle using just the outside leg to move the shoulders, and use rein only if I needed to.  All of this went well, and we progressed to leg yielding, so Alexandrine could see the issues I was having.

The first issue was that Aero's rider was a bit thick - I made a stupid approach to the long side which started us off crooked before we ever tried to go sideways.  Once she corrected my approach, we did a sort of jerky, stop/start leg yield from the quarter line outwards.  To improve things, we started leg-yielding along the fence-line, with a stop half-way along and a reward if he gave a couple of good steps.  We also started throwing in a bit of trot work from time to time, just to keep Aero thinking "forwards."  The fence-line leg yielding got quite good, and we finished up with a lovely, stretchy, over-the-back trot - best I've felt from him yet!  I think that the leg-yielding (when properly performed!) had loosened up his hocks & hips, resulting in the much freer movement.

Points I have to remember : RELEASE when I get a response.  Can I please have it engraved on my corneas so I can see it all the time?  No?

Tuesday & Wednesday
Aero had a day off on Tuesday, while I rode Flurry to Reillanne and back, then on Wednesday we had our big, long, exciting picnic ride to the river - but there's no point in rehashing that!

I gave Aero another day off (he deserved it) and rode Flurry in the arena, trying out the Micklem bridle in its "Bitless" configuration for the first time.  I think the Bitless progression will merit a post of its own, so more on that later.

This was the day the Osteopath was coming to see Aero.  I rode Flurry part of the way down to Reillanne with MC, she was taking Quieto home for a couple of days.  I did a nice loop, going down one way and back another - it took a little over an hour and was very pleasant.  Flurry was in lazy mode.

The Osteopath duly arrived.  She was young, petite and slim - she reminded me of the YD a bit - and she was accompanied by two cute and well-behaved Jack Russell terriers!  They busied themselves checking everything out while she and checked Aero over.  Sure enough, he had some stuff going on.  Now I'm feeling guilty I didn't get her out sooner.

His sacrum was tilted, up on the left and down on the right, we are assuming this was caused by leaning against the ramp of the truck for hours and hours while travelling from Ireland to France.  This crookedness in his sacrum was causing him to over-push with the left hind, and compensate for this by throwing out his right shoulder, which manifested itself as the reluctance to bend right that I could feel.  Everything else she found was linked to the sacral issue.  There were three lumbar vertebrae out of line - this was the warm and slightly tender spot I could feel behind the saddle.  His withers was also "stuck," three cervical vertebrae were out of line and he had a lot of tension around his poll, which was caused by the other misalignments.

He has to have two days off, followed by a gentle lunge (that might turn out to be a walk in hand!) followed by a day when he's only ridden in walk and trot, on the arena or out on the trail.  After that, it's back to normal work, but I am to let her know how he's getting on and he may need another visit.

Poor Aero!  I hope this treatment makes him feel better and better!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Thank Friday it's Lunchtime - Le Cigaloun, Manosque

We have pledged to visit a different hostelry in the locale every Friday for the next year and bring to you, our passionately interested readers, our rating and assessment of each and every one.

Yes.  It's a restaurant review.

We have two rules :
1. If there is a Plat du Jour (special of the day) one of us must order it
2. Rule one does not apply if the Plat du Jour is Andouillette.

(Andouillette is basically intestines wrapped up in a sausage skin.  I've never eaten it, but the LSH has resolutely tried it a couple of times, trying to figure out what the French see in it.  The last time, I sat in between the LSH and the ED as they both sampled andouillette in the Café du Cours in Reillanne.  The waiter had extolled its virtues, and convinced them that it was "very, very special."  I might as well have been sitting in a cowhouse - that's what it smelt like.  Both of them tried hard to like it, that day, and both agreed it was in a lovely sauce, but it still tasted like it smelled.)

So, no, thank you France, you make great food, but we're steering clear of the andouillette from now on.


This week, we headed towards the nearby town of Manosque.  Our destination was Le Cigaloun, in the Old Town part of Manosque.   I've never been to the old part of Manosque before, although the LSH has spent some time there, wandering around with his camera, taking some shots.  Me, I tend to just drive through the town on the way to the Autoroute or on the way to the supermarket, and have never particularly liked the place.

Having seen the Old Town, though, I've been doing Manosque an injustice.  It's very quaint and inviting, with lots of narrow winding streets and interesting looking shops.  Le Cigaloun is a café located in the main square, with plenty of tables outside for the sunny days, and plenty of trees, too - so essential for shade during the hot summer months.

The inside is bright, clean and modern.  We settled ourselves at a table for two and looked at the menu.  The LSH decided to opt for the Plat du Jour - Rôti de Porc, served with a salad and braised endives (chicory) on the side, while I was tempted by the idea of tagliatelle with cèpes (boletus mushroom).  We also ordered a glass of wine each, white for the LSH and rosé for me, which we sipped while we waited.
The Rôti de Porc was totally not what we expected - it was more like ham, but served cold, with a strong, garlicky sauce.
Rôti de porc
Lost in translation, or a regional difference?  Whatever, it was very tasty, if a little strange to be eating cold meat with a warm sauce.  The endive was excellent - I do a variation of this dish, but it's very different, and it's nice to try another version.  The salad was good, and the chips (which were extra) were ok.

The tagliatelle looked like... well it looked like...
Tagliatelle au cèpes
...well never mind what it looked like, it tasted delicious!  I loooove my mushrooms!

Dessert was next - I ordered Tarte au Framboises (Raspberry Tart) and the LSH ordered Tiramisu.  Both were great, they had it all - eye appeal and flavour!
Tarte au Framboise

Two coffees finished off the meal, and we left just about an hour after we arrived, pleasantly stuffed.  The cost for the meal was just under €38, or €19 each - not cheap, but I suppose you pay for the surroundings and the food itself was good.

Star Rating (out of 5) :

Service : ✮✮✮✮✮
Food : ✮✮✮✮ (The food tasted very good - I'm not sure you can make a plate of pasta look more interesting!)
Value : ✮✮✮ 
Ambiance : ✮✮✮✮ (More sophisticated than your typical little Provençal Café)

All in all, a very pleasant little café where you can enjoy good food and good service, although it's not one of those places you will walk away from saying "I can't believe it was so cheap!!"

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

My Superstar Trekker!

On Tuesday, I had a very nice and completely uneventful trek with Flurry.  I rode down to Reillanne, met up with MC, Quieto and Doug the Dog and we rode back to the Farm via a different route.  Oh, wait, I saw my first sanglier(wild boar) - that was an event!  Doug chased it through the woods beside us.  All I saw was a large, dark creature running ahead of Doug - Flurry was mildly curious but not particularly alarmed and we continued on our merry way.

MC suggested a picnic trek for Wednesday - about one and a half hours each way plus picnic time at a nearby river.  I thought for a while... would I bring Flurry and have a nice, relaxed ride, or bring Aero and face the unknown?  

Flurry had done a good three hours on Tuesday on top of three hours on Sunday, I felt he deserved an easy day after that, and Aero had had Tuesday off and really needs to be exposed to as much trekking as possible, so the decision was pretty straightforward - Aero it was.

We both arrived at the farm at about ten, tacked up and set off, leading the horses, as is now the norm.  After a short distance, we mounted and continued.  Guess who led the way?
Happy Ears, leading the way!
Apologies for the blurry photo, but I had to share the "Aero's Happy Ears" picture!  He was calm, attentive, not at all jumpy, and what is most important to me, he was happy, striding out confidently and enjoying the scenery.  He led the way until we turned off the trail he knew and headed into unknown territory.  After that, he wasn't balky or spooky, but he was a little more tense, so Quieto took over the lead and he followed along easily.

After a very pleasant trek through the ubiquitous oakwoods, we finally arrived at the  river Largue, let the horses have a paddle and then settled down to eat our picnic.
The river Largue
MC tied Quieto up, but I wasn't confident enough in Aero to tie him up - I held him the whole time. 
MC, Doug and Quieto
He didn't really "get" the whole picnic idea, and never settled to graze contentedly like Flurry would have - he was constantly on the move, circling around me at the end of the lead rope, picking at the grass for a moment or two and then wandering off again in a new circle.
Ok, I'll graze for five seconds before I wander again...
I gave him the pieces of chopped carrot I'd brought him, but he still wanted my water, my sandwich, my cereal bar... I kept telling him that his picnic food was all around but he didn't really believe me!

When the time came to tack up again for the return journey, I tied him up to a tree so I would have both hands free.  He stood absolutely fine as I went to and fro picking up his gear - next time I will tie him up but stay nearby while I eat.
We came home via a different route, and this was where it got interesting.  The first issue was three baying hounds as we rode through a farmyard - Aero looked, but, actually, the hounds were no problem.

Then we met a tractor, carrying a load of wood down from the forest on the narrow pathway.  Again, no problem, we ducked into the trees and avoided it.

The path got fainter and fainter, until it became clear that we were following a sheep trail through the forest.  Ok, MC had gone slightly off course, but we could see the proper trail beneath us.  We were on a steep hillside, covered in stunted oak trees, far too low for us to duck under on horse-back, so dismounting and leading the horses back down to the trail was the obvious thing to do.  MC went first, with a slightly heart stopping moment as Quieto half-slid, half-fell down the slope behind her.  Aero and I descended by a different route - we had the advantage of MC being able to spot an easier way down for us!  A slight scramble/slide/jump later, with Aero popping down neatly slightly behind/beside me, and we were back on the trail again... or were we?

The trail once again became fainter and fainter, and eventually gave way completely at a point where there had been a bit of a landslide.  MC thought she could see the trail above us, so we headed back into the oak-woods, this time scrambling UP the steep slope. Up and up, eventually we faced into an almost vertical ascent, where Quieto had a major slip and ended up scrambling up the ascent with difficulty.  I went left of where he had his slip, and tackled the ascent, praying that Aero wouldn't launch himself after me and knock me over.  I needn't have worried, he completely understood what he had to do, I climbed slightly above him, got onto a level-ish bit, clucked at him and he popped up beside me, and then continued to climb while I hung onto the lead-rope that was still tied around his neck.  What a little star!

We had to have a brief stop because Quieto had pulled off both hind boots, leaving one behind where he had had his bad slip.  MC held both horses, who stood like angels while I went back and fortunately found the boot very quickly.

We consulted "maps" on my iPhone, which gave MC a good idea of where we were, so we continued upwards and upwards towards where the trail should be.  It was less steep, but still very over grown - both saddles were being scraped by low branches nearly every step of the way.  Aero at this stage was walking behind me, it was way too narrow for him to walk alongside, but he really seems to be getting the idea and wasn't treading on my heels at all.

Eventually, huffing and puffing (the two mature ladies, not the horses!) we reached the trail and remounted.  We had one final bit of excitement, though.  As we went through the grounds of Le Couvent de Notre Dame (we shouldn't have been there, shhh!) two sheep ran across in front of us.  The temptation was too much for Doug, and he gave chase enthusiastically.  Aero wasn't bothered, either by the appearance of the sheep or the dog chasing them, but unfortunately Doug didn't reappear, despite calls of "Au pied!" from MC.  We had to turn back and tiptoe past the priest's house once again, hoping that Doug wasn't tucking into fresh, juicy sheep as we went.

He reappeared, looking slightly guilty but fortunately not blood-stained, and we all carried on towards home.

Guess who led on and off for the rest of the way home?  Yes, my formerly anxious and unsettled little ex-dressage horse!  Himself and Quieto took it in turn, sometimes walking alongside each other, sometimes Aero in front, sometimes Quieto.  Yeah, Aero rushed a little from time to time, but not in a worried sort of way, more in a "I know we're heading home and I'm hungry and Flurry's all on his own" sort of way.
Superstar Aero!
I could not be happier with this little horse!  This is the sensible, reliable Aero who has lived with us for twelve years, and today he proved himself sure-footed and intelligent as well.  He is finally settling into his new rôle and learning that it's FUN!

This trek would have been a disaster if we had attempted it two weeks ago, I'm pretty sure he would have freaked out climbing through the thick woodlands, but he has now de-stressed to the extent that he can analyse what's going on, figure out how to handle it and learn from his experiences.
Happy me and happy Aero!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

'Twas a Grand Weekend - Part 2

Saturday was a rough night.  We had friends staying overnight - they weren't the problem!  We had a lovely evening, sitting by the fire and chatting, while sampling my pickled garlic - no, the pickled garlic wasn't the problem!  Then we went out to the Carluc restaurant in Céreste and had a lovely meal - but, no, indigestion was not the problem, either!

No, the problem was that our neighbours were having a party.  Now, they had very cleverly invited us and apologised for the noise in advance, but at 2am, I was thinking that I'd definitely have gone around to ask that the music be turned down if I was at home in Cork, and I quite possibly would have called the Gardai when the thumping rhythms were still pounding through the walls at 3.30am.  I had ear-plugs in, and I did sleep on and off, but it was not a restful night, and I was worrying about our friends, who had driven from Belgium on Saturday - an eleven hour road-trip - and were facing another eleven hours as they continued on their way to Spain on Sunday.

I needn't have worried, they said that they slept fine.  I hope they weren't just being polite, but I do think that their room was better insulated from the noise than ours.
Quieto waiting for "Mum"
Undaunted, we headed up to the horses shortly after nine.  They're horsey folk, too, I got to know them through Dressage Ireland, and they were keen to see our set-up here in Provence.  They Ooh'd and Aah'd over the incredible view from the arena, they liked the herd-living aspect of the Farm, they especially liked the sturdy field-shelters in every paddock, but most of all they were blown away by the beautiful, green, crisp, sweet-smelling hay!  There's none of the mouldy, dusty crap we get in Ireland here!

We said our goodbyes (and thanks for the Barry's Tea, guys!) and started to get ready.  The horses were reasonably clean, so grooming and tacking up went quickly, with the LSH paying particular attention to Flurry's Renegades, making sure they were good and tight.

We set off, leading the horses once again, and headed into the woods on the other side of the road from the Farm.  This time, there were two dogs coming with us - Doug and Chips, who is a wiry, energetic spaniel type.  We mounted after a few minutes, but, literally within seconds, Flurry had broken his boot again - both he and Aero spooked at the dogs, and I guess he trod on it and pulled it off, with the cables once again being pulled out of their tracks.  

We decided to try him without his hind boots, and agreed that if he was uncomfortable, the LSH and I would head back home.  So the LSH took off the other hind boot and tied both boots onto his saddle, remounted and we carried on.  After about twenty minutes of following a track through the woods, we joined a marked walking trail which leads all the way down to Reillanne.
Aero was very good - mostly!  He spooked at the dogs a couple of times, particularly Chips, she is smaller and more active than Doug, and would suddenly shoot out from behind trees or bushes, intent on her hunting games, but frightening the living daylights out of Aero in the process.
I noticed that the times when he relaxed and settled the most were the times when we were riding along roads or particularly wide tracks.  Going through the thick woods or the scrubland we crossed, he gets more nervous and jumpy.  This makes perfect sense - to date, any hacking he has done has been has been on country roads and through stubble fields.  In his eventing days, open fields and moors would have meant a cross-country gallop with his blood up, but he has never come across this kind of heavily wooded, rocky terrain before - it's all really new to him and he's trying to figure out what he's meant to do here.  I've noticed him eyeing up heaps of stacked logs in the forest - perhaps he's wondering if they are cross-country jumps?

I did my level best to just sit in a relaxed manner all the time and keep the reins loose, but occasionally, I would have to pick them up and tell him to slow down, as he attempted to power-walk down steep slopes, or if his tension escalated into trotting sideways behind Quieto - not fun on a narrow, tree-lined trail, but to be fair, he wasn't bad at all!

We got off and led them once, because we had to pass along a section of broken trail with a drop to one side and low trees overhead - the sort of situation where you're definitely better off on the ground.
The couple of times we trotted, Aero was still rushing and I felt terribly uncomfortable on him.  I ended up going into the forward seat, which felt a little better, but goodness me, I felt insecure doing it in a dressage saddle!
It really was a lovely trek, as you can see from the photos.  I had forgotten my camera (but I remembered the boot repair kit!) so the LSH snapped away with his iPhone as we went along.  Of course he was on super-safe Flurry, so he had no worries about his horse spooking or getting silly and making him drop it!
After about an hour and a half, we arrived at MC's house.  We offered the horses water, which they declined, MC offered us Diet Coke, which we accepted, we chatted a while and then we turned around and headed back the way we came.

Aero was better on the way home.  Chips came back with us, and although he spooked at her once or twice, I think he's getting used to our canine companions.  He came close to a meltdown at one point, though.  As we approached the point where we would have to lead the horses over the broken trail, we had to pass through a narrow, trappy thicket of trees.  The LSH said he thought maybe we should dismount, but had a go at it anyway, but part of the way in, he said, no, we definitely need to be on foot for this.  I stopped Aero before he went into the thicket, but he wanted to follow his dun friend no matter what and wasn't impressed at being stopped.  Flurry then went out of view, and he started to get really upset, spinning and dancing on the spot - so much so that I couldn't dismount.  Come back, I yelled, I'm in trouble, and a couple of seconds later the LSH appeared leading Flurry - they had gone a little deeper into the thicket where there was enough space to dismount, and then turned back to us.

Aero calmed down enough for me to get off, but he was still quite tense, and was inclined to rush and step on my heels as we walked along.  Eventually, I got cross with him and gave him a sharp tug on the reins and a slap across his chest.  You know what?  It worked.  He behaved much better, and in fact once we remounted and finished the trek, he was calm, attentive and walking along at the buckle end of the reins, even as we approached the Farm!

Definite Progress!
I only "tracked" the trip on the outward journey, which measured 6.3km, giving us a total of 12.6.  It says it took two hours to cover the 6.3km, but I think we were only riding for three hours all told... not too sure about that.

Equipment assessment : 
Flurry's left hind boot (Renegade) came off with cables pulled loose once again.  I am taking it home to disassemble, clean and reassemble
Flurry managed fine without his hind boots, although there were a handful of "ouch" moments when a rock pinched him somehow
Cavallo Sport boots were excellent, although Flurry's heels were "shiny" afterwards, they did not seem to be painful
Aero's Renegades once again were fine, although he does seem to feel some of the sharper stones through them, on his front feet.
Aero's numnah slipped badly once again.  I will definitely have to use an alternative when trekking
I need a new saddle (Did you hear that, Santa?)

Monday, 19 November 2012

'Twas a Grand Weekend - Part 1

The first "serious" trek was planned for Saturday - MC wanted to take us on a route which was about two and a half hours long.  We were aiming to be mounted and ready to leave at about 10am, so the LSH and I headed up to the Farm a little after nine.  MC was there ahead of us, but hadn't caught Pietro yet.  A big revelation was that it turns out he's not called Pietro, he's called Quieto, which is very appropriate, given his even temperament!

The three of us caught our horses and settled down to groom, tack up and boot up.  MC was laughing at the fact that this is the first time she's ever gone out with two other boot users - no-one has to feel guilty for slowing everyone else up while fitting boots.  Hmm, I'm not sure how she felt as events unfolded...

Flurry was wearing his saddlebags again, for the first time since we finished Le Big Trek.  Today, they contained only water, but I had intended to bring along the Renegade Emergency Repair kit, containing the tiny allan key for adjusting boots, a spare cable and a spare strap, and a mini First-Aid kit, both of which I forgot.  Oops.

We headed off, leading the horses.  This is something I've noticed Serious French Trekkers do, and it's probably a good idea - I assume it's to allow the horse's back to warm up before we plonk our weight upon them.  Is this just a French thing or does everyone do it?

We agreed to mount up about five minutes out, and I was first in the saddle.  Aero was very calm and relaxed, and stood like a little gent beside a rock while I hauled myself up.  As I turned to follow the LSH and MC, who were aiming for a rock further down the lane, MC spotted that Flurry had pulled off a boot, so I quickly jumped off again and held Flurry while the LSH investigated.

It was more serious than it appeared - both cables had been pulled out completely.  At this point, I was deeply regretting not remembering the Renegade Emergency Repair kit, but lo and behold, MC pulled a teeny allen key out of her saddlebags, and herself and the LSH started repairs while I held Aero and Flurry.
Attempted Boot repair, with Doug the Dog looking on
All was going well until they dropped the allen key and failed to find it in the grass.

Enough was enough, the LSH said "This is crazy, go on without me" and we agreed, it seemed the only solution, we had already been delayed a good ten minutes by the broken boot.

My heart beat a little faster though - Aero would surely get a bit wound up once Flurry left, was I setting myself up for a disastrous ride?  What if we put Aero's front boots on Flurry's hind feet, then I could relax and enjoy myself on Flurry!

Great idea, but no go - after another bit of boot juggling, we determined that Flurry has definitely outgrown the size 2W boots.

Ok, I said, trying hard to be positive, I'll go with Aero, he really needs the trekking experience anyway.  I'll be cautious and stay on foot for the first while, in case he's silly about Flurry leaving.

MC took photos
Well, he could have cared less about Flurry leaving.  There was no drama, no calling, just a little generic anxiety from time to time.  Eventually, we mounted and carried on, Quieto striding along calmly in front, Aero walking behind, a little tense and anxious at first, but he soon settled, and settled really well, too.

He was excellent - I was really pleased with him.  The scariest thing we met while we were in the woods was a hunting dog with a loud bell hanging from its collar - both horses were slightly alarmed, until they saw that it was just a dog.
We had a slight climb at first, then went along the top of the ridge for a while, and then had a long, steep, tricky descent, for which we dismounted.  Poor Aero has been taught for the last twelve years that he should follow "BHS style," walking shoulder to shoulder with his leader.  He is struggling to learn how to follow like a trekker  - walking behind, but not too close, because in many places it just wasn't wide enough for him to be alongside me.  He was reasonably careful not to trample me as we went through particularly steep and slippery places, but apart from that I felt I had to keep nagging him to slow down and stay behind me.  He'll learn...

We remounted after the steep descent and rode along the valley floor, somewhere near Aubenas, I think.
MC and Quieto through Aero's ears
We trotted a couple of times, and although he was power-trotting, I didn't feel out of control.  I did, however, feel incredibly uncomfortable and unbalanced in his saddle.  I think there will have to be a new saddle on the horizon, but that won't be until January at the very earliest.

We tried Aero in front for a while, but he but got progressively more nervous and jumpy, so we came to the conclusion that his little brain was not yet ready for the responsibility of leading, so Quieto took up the lead again.

Numnah readjustment after the rolling incident

We gave the horses a short break just before we tackled the last ascent.  I'm pretty sure Aero knew he was near home, because he was reluctant to settle and graze, but I was surprised and horrified when he sank to his knees and started rolling - I was looking at his Isabelle Werth saddle and thinking, don't go over on it, you idiot!  It may be incredibly uncomfortable, but it's still the most expensive saddle I have ever bought and I'm planning on trading it in!  Thankfully I got him back on his feet before he tried to turn himself over - Phew!

We remounted and set off up the rocky trail, which led to the woods and the fields just at the back of the Farm.  Both horses knew they were near home, and both were rushing, but again, I didn't feel out of control.  However, once we got to the top of the hill and turned onto the trail home, Aero got silly.  All of a sudden, Doug the Dog, who had been just another companion up to now, became the Vampire Attack Dog Who Lurks in the Woods.  I had a short spell of spooking and cantering sideways, which wasn't very nice, but we got ourselves sorted out and carried on.
Quieto trying to get into the picture

Coming through the woods back into the Farm, though, he got silly again.  After sitting another spook and sideways cantering spell, I decided to dismount once he had settled and lead him the last bit.  He was still quite jumpy, but we made it back in one piece.  Although I didn't come close to falling off either time he spooked, I did lose my balance a wee bit, that Isabelle Werth saddle was definitely not designed for trekking!  A nasty horse would have sent me flying as soon he felt my lack of balance, but thankfully, Aero didn't, he just carried on going sideways/rushing after Quieto.

I'm putting this bit of silliness down to a form of nappiness.  He's still very insecure in his new rôle as Trekking Horse in France for the Elderly, but the Farm is now a place of security to him, which is why he's rushing to get back there every time.  I know this will improve, as we never had this issue with him before, it's just a matter of him becoming familiar with all these new things I'm asking him to do.

A grand ballade at EveryTrail

All in all, a great ride, 8.4km in two hours (not counting the faffing around with boots time).  On Sunday, the plan is for the three of us to ride down to Reillanne with MC, then the LSH and I will make our way back to the farm on our own.

No Problem.

But I'd better bring the Renegade Emergency Repair Kit, this time.

Equipment assessment : 
Flurry's left hind boot (Renegade) came off with cables pulled loose.
Cavallo Sport boots were not on long enough to make any judgement about them.
Aero's Renegades stayed on and did not rub for the whole trip - this is by far the longest ride he has done with them.
Aero's breast-plate is essential, I could actually see it holding the saddle in place any time we were climbing, we should probably use one on Flurry, too.
Aero's numnah slipped right back twice and had to be reseated.  I may have to swap it for one with loops when trekking.
I've stopped using the YD's old GPA helmet, because every time I duck under a branch it "falls off" until the chin-strap stops it.  This was my first day riding with the YD's Champion Skull Cap, and it sits much more securely on my head.  When I think about it, the GPA is about ten years old and the padding is well packed down with years of sweat and grime - ick.  Definitely time to retire it.

Remember to pack emergency kits into the saddlebags in future.

(Thanks to MC for the photos!)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sunday Stills - Snacks

Some time ago, I mentioned that I was pickling my home-grown shallots and garlic.  This weeks theme for Sunday Stills is "Snacks," so it seemed like a perfect excuse to check how my pickles are maturing.

Visiting friends gave us a reason to enjoy an aperitif before heading out for dinner.  I find whole idea of "an aperitif" (a little snack before dinner!) very pleasant, and one can go to great lengths to produce a table full of nibbles, but I restrained myself admirably.  We served a plate of charcuterie - cured meats with a little goats cheese on the side.  My two types of pickled garlic were retrieved from the store-room so that we could test them on our friends.

The garlic in the clear liquid is pickled in white wine vinegar with various herbs and spices, following a recipe I found on  The garlic which you can't see in the black liquid has been pickled in Balsamic vinegar, mostly following this recipe, at the suggestion of the LSH and against my better judgement.
My better judgement was wrong, the Balsamic pickled garlic is superb - sweet, sour, a little spicy and crunchy, all at the same time.  The other garlic is fine, but the Balsamic version is head and shoulders above it.
However, I think this is my best photo of the night - cropped in to remove my knees from the foreground, but these are two wannabe snackers.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Aero's Diary

I'm starting to get caught in the evenings with the light fading (there's no floodlights in the arena).  Sunset happens really fast here, compared to at home where the sun lingers on the horizon for ages.  I think it's a combination of being closer to the equator and also the mountainous landscape around us - the sun slips behind the Lubéron Massif just before 5pm, at the moment, and darkness settles in very quickly.

With this in mind, I decided to limit myself to a strict thirty minutes with Flurry, so that I'd have plenty of daylight to work with Aero.

Flurry is definitely improving!  Anyone who's seen me riding him knows that our canter transition is weak - his head invariably comes up and his back hollows, but on Monday we did a couple of transitions where he stayed round and I could actually feel his back come up and his hind leg stepping underneath him.

We also did a teeny bit of counter-canter, I think that's something else we can work on by ourselves, and some leg-yielding.  I need eyes on the ground for the lateral work, because my sense of feel is pretty rubbish, but I might set up my camera and video our leg-yielding and shoulder-in next time.

I stuck to the thirty minute deadline, finished up and caught Aero.  I was trying to "read" him as I tacked up him - was he anxious? fresh? grumpy?  I thought maybe a little anxious, or maybe that was anxiety being reflected from me...

Anyway, being super-cautious, I led him around the arena twice on each rein before mounting.  He seemed ok, alert but not jumpy... I mounted and we walked around a few more times, he was very settled, lazy, even!

We proceeded to work... and it got better and better.  I was trying to remember what I had learned with Frank in Skevanish back in June - ask him to go forward and keep offering little alternate gives on the reins, which encourages him to soften and work into the contact.  Apart from losing my balance once or twice early on, I was able to stay with his bouncy trot and offer him a contact he could trust.  We did walk/trot circles, serpentines, leg-yielding, shoulder-in (not sure I had the angle right, sigh...), then a couple of canters, with circles and transitions.

Good points : we finished off as good as I've felt on him, he was working into a steady contact, upward transitions were seamless, leg-yielding was all good, shoulder-in to the left was good.  A couple of times, the trot work felt so fluid, I was tempted to try sitting trot, but I didn't.  He concentrated throughout and felt really willing!

Bad points : every so often we did a really crap, abrupt downward transition.  That's something I need to figure out - using more leg on downward transitions, especially trot/walk.  Similarly, sometimes we did a transition instead of a half-halt - again, probably because I wasn't using enough leg.  I let my reins get to long from time to time - I do this on both horses, and it's something I keep nagging myself about.  Shoulder-in to the right wasn't great and occasionally he lost inside bend on a right-hand circle, although that's something that had improved by the end.

Believe me, I was a happy camper when we finished!  We did about forty-five minutes and he was just breaking sweat, so I think I had the level of work about right.

I met Alexandrine as I was leaving and had a chat.  She's going to get the Ostéopath to call and check him out - I'm quite sure he/she will find a few things wrong - and we've also tentatively arranged a lesson for next Monday.

I needed to have an easy day on Tuesday, as I wasn't feeling great - another migraine (can't figure out what's causing them, usually I can identify a trigger).  I decided to give Flurry a day off, and I think Flurry actually wanted a day off, too!  Normally, he's waiting at the gate as soon as he sees me coming, but on Tuesday, he kept his distance, and Aero was the one who was waiting at the gate.

My plan for Aero was a walk in hand, around the short, half-hour loop.  He was tense leaving the farm, and stopped a couple of times, staring anxiously into the distance.  I let him look for a moment each time, and then asked him to walk on again, which he did.  Half-way through the spooky forest - I'm quite certain there are deer and wild boar living there, there are lots of tracks in the mud - he settled, his head came down, he stretched out his neck and he strode along beside/behind me, depending on how wide the trail was.  He stayed like that, relaxed but energetic, eyes soft and ears attentive, for the rest of the walk, even as we walked along the road beside his paddock, where Flurry neighed at him and came trotting down to the fence.

This was a huge improvement on the last time we walked that route, where he behaved himself but was tense throughout, with his head up, eyes and ears ever alert, and walking so fast that he took a good five minutes off Flurry's time for the same route!

In general I think he is starting to feel more at home here, perhaps the daily routine is helping to relax him, too.

Aero had a day off and I hacked out on Flurry

This time, I decided to ride Aero first so I wouldn't feel under pressure to finish up before evening fell.  I scraped off all the mud that he had coated himself with the previous day...
...which took ages!

He was a bit of a prat while I was grooming him, he kept turning around and was quite bargey about it, so I ended up giving him a sharp thump and growling at him the next time he tried it.  It worked, but he seemed a bit worried in general - the only thing I could see that might be bothering him was a van parked down by the house - not much of an excuse, really, for a horse that's been there, done that and got all the personalised numnahs.

Being the cautious soul I am, I decided that I'd walk him around the arena twice in each direction before mounting - with the thought in my head that if he was really fresh I could free-lunge him again!

He seemed quite normal, though, so I set up my camera and mounted.  Unfortunately, though, the card was almost full, so it only recorded for nine minutes - two of these minutes involved mounting and faffing around, for at least three minutes all you can see is an empty arena because we're out of range of the camera and finally, we're walking for most of the time we're on-screen.  It did record our first couple of trots, here's a still :
He improved throughout the session, and I'm actually quite disappointed that I didn't get more of it on the video.  I was expecting the bits I could see from the first nine minutes to be pretty crap, but I was pleasantly surprised, we didn't look half as bad as I feared.

There's hope for us yet...

MC rang me to say that she could hack with us over the weekend.  This gave me the incentive to sort out Flurry's boots.  After all the rain and the mud, his feet have softened somewhat, and I'm quite certain he needs his front boots at the moment, although I was hoping we would get away without hind boots.  He was sliding a lot in his Renegades the last time, which I put down to their very worn treads, so I felt I really had to give the Cavallo Sportboots a good test.

I cleaned his feet really well and then trimmed the shaggy hair from his coronets, so that it would be easier to clean them before putting the Cavallo boots on.  These boots fit really tightly on his heels, so we need to have his feet scrupulously clean to reduce the possibility of rubbing.  Once the boots were on, we set off on a short hack to check if they would stay on.

They seemed to be fine, he felt pretty confident and sure-footed in them and they didn't shift or rotate on his hooves at all.  The only problem was that he had a couple of "ouch" moments with his hind feet - enough to make me decide that he needs hind boots as well, at the moment, which could be problematic - he used to be a size 2W behind, and I don't have a spare pair that size.

I tried his very worn Renegade size 2WW front boots on his hind feet when we got back.  His feet must have grown and spread quite a bit, because the size 2WW fit just fine - Yippee!  I had to adjust the cables a little, but that only took a few minutes.  While I was doing that, I thought back to the first time I tried to adjust the cables on a Renegade boot - it took me ages!  I'm a whizz at it now!

Just as I was finishing up, MC arrived with Pietro, having ridden up from Reillanne.  We chatted a while, then I said I would put Flurry out and give Aero a quick lunge - it was well after 4pm by now, and it gets dark at five.

Aero was quite relaxed, and I started free-lunging him in the round pen.  He was attentive and obedient - until MC led Pietro past and then came over to watch for a few minutes.  He got more and more wound up, as did Pietro and indeed the four horses in the paddock across the laneway.

Pietro was dancing around at the end of the lead-rope, tail up, head up, blowing out explosive snorts.

Aero was prancing around the round pen, head up, tail up, blowing out explosive snorts, trotting with the highest knee action I've ever seen and not paying the slightest bit of attention to me.

The four horses across the lane were galumphing around, happily stirring things up for everyone.

MC decided that the wise thing to do was take Pietro away.  Yes.  It was the right thing to do.

However, my formerly-sensible horse decided that no, it was not the right thing to do.  He broke into a brisk canter, cut across the round pen, barging right in front of me as he did so, and approached the 2 metre (over 6 foot) fence, which is made of wide electric fencing tape.

I watched in open-mouthed disbelief as he launched himself into the air.  No, he didn't clear it, he broke the top strand, pecked as he landed on the stony surface outside the round pen and galloped back to Flurry and safety.

It's probably four years since this horse jumped anything, but you wouldn't think that to watch him take on the fence, and the second highest strand, which he left undamaged, is probably close on 1.2 metres - almost four feet.

MC was aghast and apologised profusely.  How do you say it's not your fault my horse is an idiot?  I found him standing outside the gate to his paddock, nose to nose with Flurry, who I have to say was exuding nothing but calmness and mild curiosity.  I caught him easily and told him he had to go back to the round pen for another five minutes.  On the way, we stopped and he and Pietro introduced themselves - all very calm, no squealing or hysteria.

Back in the round pen, he was sound (thankfully!) and a bit more attentive.  He did make one more approach to the fence - my heart nearly stopped - but chickened out (I had re-tied the top strand, fortunately).

After a couple of obedient transitions, I turned him out again.  He had another chat with Pietro over the fence, and peace reigned.

We are going on a two-and-a-half hour trek on Saturday with MC & Pietro.  I hope peace will reign then, too.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Thank Friday it's Lunchtime - Buffet de la Gare, Manosque

We have pledged to visit a different hostelry in the locale every Friday for the next year and bring to you, our passionately interested readers, our rating and assessment of each and every one.

Yes.  It's a restaurant review.

We have two rules :
1. If there is a Plat du Jour (special of the day) one of us must order it
2. Rule one does not apply if the Plat du Jour is Andouillette.

(Andouillette is basically intestines wrapped up in a sausage skin.  I've never eaten it, but the LSH has resolutely tried it a couple of times, trying to figure out what the French see in it.  The last time, I sat in between the LSH and the ED as they both sampled andouillette in the Café du Cours in Reillanne.  The waiter had extolled its virtues, and convinced them that it was "very, very special."  I might as well have been sitting in a cowhouse - that's what it smelt like.  Both of them tried hard to like it, that day, and both agreed it was in a lovely sauce, but it still tasted like it smelled.)

So, no, thank you France, you make great food, but we're steering clear of the andouillette from now on.


So far, we've found excellent food at Chez Eric in Montfuron and excellent value at the Café de France in Céreste.  Now we just have to find a place that combines the two...

On the recommendation of a friend, our next destination was the Buffet de la Gare in Manosque.

It's located literally straight across the road from the Gare de Manosque - Gréoux-les-bains, which is also a stop for many regional and inter-regional buses.
We sat under the awning at the front of the building, and there was a steady stream of heavy vehicles the whole time we were there.  So, not an idyllic or picturesque Provençal location, no.

However, they offer a lunch menu for €14... for starter, main course, cheese, dessert and coffee... 5 COURSES!
Oh yes, and there's a half bottle of wine per person thrown in as well!
Let's just go over that again... starter, main course, cheese, dessert, coffee and wine - for €14!  Well, you can't go wrong, can you?  We both ordered the "menu," sat back and waited to be fed.
NB in France, if you ask for the Menu, you will be given the "Meal of the Day."  If you want the menu, ask for the Carte.

The starter was Tomato á la Russe, which turned out to be half a beef tomato, covered with peas and haricots in mayonnaise (this is the "á la Russe" bit), sitting on a bed of lettuce and grated carrot, served with a sliced up baguette.  Ok, they were prepared some time beforehand and I'm guessing that the "á la Russe" bit came out of a tin and, but it was perfectly edible.
The main course was braised pork, served with gnocchi and mediterranean vegetables (tomato and aubergine).  I liked the fact that the bread was not whisked away after the starter, and it was useful to mop up some of the juice from the meat.  The meat was well cooked and tasty, but very plain.  The gnocchi tasted fine but were a bit rubbery in texture and almost certainly came out of a packet, but at €14 for the meal, who's complaining?
So that's two courses down, now let's see what the cheese course is...
Oh.  Well.  Ok, it was cheese - a foil wrapped triangle of brie.  The bread was still on the table, and it came in handy once again as a vehicle for the cheese.
Again, nothing special, and we're not going to be extolling the virtues of the cheeseboard at the Buffet de la Gare, but there was nothing wrong with it, either.
Next up was Dessert!  I ordered panacotta with fruit and the LSH ordered apple pie.  There was also an ice-cream option.
Well, the panacotta was clearly out of a packet and didn't have the best eye appeal, but, actually, it tasted pretty good.  The apple pie looked a bit more attractive and also tasted pretty good.
We finished up with two coffees (no confusion about double espressos here) and left, full and happy, just fifty minutes after we sat down.

Is this the definition of French Fast Food?

Star Rating (out of 5) :

Service : ✮✮✮✮✮ (prompt and efficient)
Food : ✮✮✮ (The food was basic but well-prepared)
Value : ✮✮✮✮✮ (Outstanding.  I would give six stars if I could!)
Ambiance : ✮✮ (The interior was nice, toilets were clean etc, but it's not a great location, I'd imagine it's pretty hectic in the summer)

You won't get Haute Cuisine at the Buffet de la Gare, but you will get a hearty meal, served quickly, in relaxed surroundings.  If you're a back-packing student, or you're simply touring Provençe on a budget and want to get stuffed (and nicely mellow thanks to the wine) at lunchtime in Manosque, look up the Buffet de la Gare.  If you've just arrived into Manosque on a bus or a train at lunchtime and need to grab a bite to eat, walk across the road to the Buffet de la Gare and get your meal PLUS your half bottle of wine for €14.  I don't think you will do better than this!