Thursday, 31 January 2013

Doggy Tales

Last year in Poppy's house

Our old friend Poppy has come to stay with us for a week.

Cookie greeted her with a most unfriendly snarl, but within minutes they were playing rough and tumble around the house like they'd never been apart, while Cinnamon watched from a distance and gave grown-up growly warnings every so often : "Someone's going to get hurt"  "It'll end in tears"  "Don't come crying to me when you get hurt"

Poppy settled in quickly, even though I don't think she's ever been here before.  She slept in Cookie & Cinny's little bedroom last night and came for a 5km walk with us in the woods this morning, which she thoroughly enjoyed.  She loves the big picture window, and when she wasn't wrestling with Cookie today, she sat and looked out at the wolrd going by.  Evenings are sprawl-on-the-couch-watching-telly time...
although she does tend to hog the TV remote!

Cinnamon had her vet appointment this afternoon.  It's not awful news but it's not great news either.
On full alert in the waiting room
First of all, there's the little lump on her side.
It's grown a bit since I first noticed it in early December.  I was hoping it was something trivial like a blocked pore, but unfortunately the Vet thinks it's some sort of tumour.  The only thing to do is to remove it, do a biopsy to see what it is and then see what course of treatment is best (hopefully no treatment!)  She's booked in for Feb 14th - Valentine's day - and he will scale her teeth while she is anaesthetised too.

What I found worrying, though, was what he had to say about her heart murmur.  I've been a bit concerned about her because she's been wheezing and coughing every so often in the evenings.  When the heart isn't functioning properly, the lungs also don't work efficiently and can fill up with fluid, causing wheezing and a chronic cough - I was worried that what we were seeing was an indication that her heart was getting weaker.

I came away reassured on that front - he said the sort of wheezing and coughing we're looking out for is something that happens every day and goes on for ages - so we're definitely not there yet, and if/when we get there, we can adjust her medication to help.  Well, that much was good.

The rest of what he had to say was not so good.  He advised me to take the following precautions with her :

No big long hikes - five hours was the number he picked (does that mean 4.5 hours is ok?)

Don't take her hiking in the mountains - he specifically mentioned Mont Ventoux, but also said nothing over 2,000 metres

Be very careful with her in the summer, keep her indoors and cool, and only exercise her early in the morning or late in the evening when it's cool

In the winter, don't exercise her when it's very cold (she's kinda told us that herself, actually!)

Don't let her get hyper and excited - he told me a cautionary tale of a dog with a similar heart murmur who died after playing happily in its owners garden for the afternoon.

Which begs the question - is it better to mind her carefully and restrict what she does or should we allow her to enjoy a full, active life and die a little younger?
I think I could not, with a clear conscience, take her on long treks with the horses, which is something we've been hoping to do.  This is quite a blow - of the two dogs we have, she is the one who I know will follow faithfully beside us, no matter what we meet, whereas there is a good chance that Cookie will someday disappear in the wake of a cat/rabbit/goat/sheep on the side of a mountain.

We are going to have to rethink our plans and shape our treks to suit our dogs as well as our horses.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Big Day

Today was a Big Day for me.

I'm sure there's lots of people out there who will go "Huh?" and plenty more who will go "What a wuss!" but for me, it was a milestone.

See that?

Dark bay ears... hacking out alone... with me on top!

Chips (pronounced Sheeps, not Tchips) came with us, which I wasn't to happy about initially, but it turned out Aero looked on her as a companion, not a predator.
We had a mostly uneventful forty minute hack.  The bit that was not Mostly Uneventful was when two big black dogs came charging at us, barking ferociously.  Fortunately, Chips turned out to be a useful decoy and she distracted them while Aero and I made our escape.  We were both a bit worried about her for a while, but she reappeared eventually (unscathed).

Aero was a bit lazy heading out and a bit turbo-charged heading home, but the feeling of tension throughout his body that was apparent even when walking in hand three months ago is gone.

This week has been great with both horses, I had a really good arena session with Aero on Monday where I felt like I was actually getting somewhere with him, followed by another good session with Flurry on Tuesday (after I chipped all the muck off him!)

I'm not sure if I'll get to ride on Thursday (Cinny has to go to the Vet) or Friday (the farrier is coming) but even if I don't, it's been a good week.

Go Aero!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

How to Carve a Horse out of a Large Heap of Muck

(which may or may not be roughly horse shaped initially)

First haul your heap of muck from the paddock to the yard.  Tie it up - those heaps of muck like to wander if not restrained.
A well-secured heap of muck.  Attached oak leaves add to the charm.
Next, get your pneumatic drill.  What, you don't have one?  Ok, get the chisel and lump hammer from your grooming kit.  Don't have those either?  Fear not.  Get your metal curry comb and use it to shape the muck instead, but it will take a lot longer this way.

Set to work.  I find it helps to work on just one area at a time.  You can set yourself little goals as you go along : "I will have this section of neck fully exposed in ten minutes."  "I should be able to carve out the tendons on this leg with another five minutes of work."  It's fun and there's a great feeling of accomplishment when you reach each little target.  Honestly.
Front section chipped out
Use the metal curry comb to break up the concrete-like chunks of muck.  If that doesn't work, try using your fingers first to break the chunks up a bit before tackling them with the metal curry comb.  If THAT doesn't work, you have no choice but to use scissors to cut the stubborn chunks out (before you ask, yes I did - behind his ears).  After the first pass, go back over each section a few more times to chip away at the stubborn bits, then, to finish it off, use a dandy brush to put a nice nap on the coat.

Finally, it will look like this :
but don't get excited, you're only half-way...
and you undoubtedly started on the easy side.
so have a little rest, you will need plenty of energy to tackle this :
Follow the same procedure, even though both of your wrists which you broke in various horse related incidents feel like they're going to fall apart and your hands have turned into frozen claws, incapable of doing anything but clutching the metal curry comb.
Finally, after about an hour and a half, you will have a beautiful horse standing in front of you.
Now it's time to ride.  Enjoy.  Alternatively, you can collapse in a soggy heap in the corner.  It's up to you.

Points to note :

Safety goggles are a good idea, to keep the dust, crap, hay, oak leaves, twigs and bits of stone and grit out of your eyes.

Remember to bring water with you - it's important to rinse the muck dust from your mouth every so often.  Who knows what's in it.  Actually, you can probably make a fair guess as to what's in it from the flavour.  It tastes like digested hay - yum.

Also remember to bring a few tissues.  It's going to be interesting when you blow your nose.  You can always conserve the output and try growing roses in it.

Remember that your face is now covered in muck-dust and you look like someone from the Black & White Minstrel show, so don't call into the shop for milk on the way home.

Plan on a shower as soon as you get home, and it's probably a good idea to brush your teeth too.

Your clothes (yes, all of them) need to go into the washing machine just as soon as possible.  (How on earth did that leaf get in there?)

It's really helpful if you have a tube of that numbing stuff (Fastum, Volterol etc) for your aching wrists afterwards.

Seriously, can someone remind me why exactly it's better for the horses to be kept "naturally?"

Monday, 28 January 2013

A Little Horse Update

I have a confession to make.

Between the weather being less than ideal, a host of deadly sheep surrounding the arena, and the threat of marauding wolves in the forest, I've been a bit of a wimp for the last two weeks.  Call it SAD, January Blues, Le Cafard, missing my buddy MC, or whatever you like, but I've been in a bit of a funk, finding it hard even to get the dogs out for a decent walk.  I did manage to take Flurry out for a hack the week before last but it was bluddy freezing and my hands and feet were completely numb by the time I got back. Not to say I didn't enjoy it - it's always nice tramping through the woods with my little Flurry, but it just didn't leave me champing at the bit to get out again any time soon.

After the heavy rain last weekend, everything was plastered in mud for the first half of this week (including the horses!) and it was still c-o-o-o-o-l-d!
Muddy Ponies!

But by last Thursday, I'd given myself a figurative kick up the bum and convinced myself to get back in the saddle.  I took Flurry into the arena for half an hour, he was lazy but obedient, and I felt a bit better for doing it.

On Friday, I did the same with Aero, with my usual caution when dealing with him!  I tacked him up, took him up to the arena and led him around on either rein.  The sheep seemed to be gone and he was quite relaxed, but just as I was leading him towards the mounting block, his head shot up, ears pricked.  I looked back towards the gate, and there was one of the other liveries, with her horse on a lead.

I've met her a few times, but she doesn't seem to ride - she turns the horse out in the arena, he rolls and goes ballistic for ten minutes or so and then she take him back to his paddock.  We talked for a moment, and she asked if it would disturb me if she let the horse loose in the round pen.  I told her to go ahead, and I'd mount Aero if he was calm once her boy had blown off steam...

Well, Aero could have cared less!  He completely ignored the other horse's antics, so I mounted and we worked away.  He was calm, attentive, obedient - what more could I want?

Very happy (possibly even ecstatic), I finished up after about forty minutes and had a nice chat with the other lady who was now giving her Boy a pick of grass.  We swapped numbers and she is hoping to hack out with me & Mr Safety Flurry in the next week or two (her Boy is a bit of a scaredy cat and doesn't like to go out on his own).

Buoyed up by Thursday & Friday's rides, the plan for Saturday was to walk the dogs in the morning and go for a trek with the LSH in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, the dog walk turned out to be twice as long as planned and I was wrecked afterwards - in no shape to ride!  So on Sunday, we made sure the dogs only got a short walk and took the boys out for a hack in the early afternoon.

It was one of those uneventful hacks - we were out for an hour, the weather was ok, Aero led, Flurry led, we walked, we trotted, we weaved in and out of trees, they were both great, there's not much more to say, really.

I am, however, going to order a pair of hind boots for Flurry.  Both horses are suffering with the wet conditions (it is MUCH MUCH wetter than it was here last year), their frogs seem to be shrinking before my eyes and becoming more tatty looking every day.  Flurry seems just a little tender on his hind feet, and I think in order for us to be able to tackle 3 hour+ treks with a clear conscience, I will have to boot him on all four feet, for the moment anyway.

Off to the on-line boot shop I go!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Sunday Stills - The Letter F

I almost didn't take part in this challenge, as I hadn't set out to photograph something suitable.  Then I was looking through my shots from the week and I came across this one from last Monday.
It's Flurry, Filling the Frame!  But not only that, can you see the letter F to the right of his left eye?  It's caused by light shining into the field shelter (another F, clever me!!).  Well, I had to participate when I saw that!

Off to see everyone else's Fs.  Visit Sunday Stills for Fire Engines, Fruit Bowls and other F words...

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Leap of Faith

Today we went for a hike to the Saut du Moine (the Monk's Leap).

Between 1385 and 1395 there was a bad guy, Raimond de Turrenne, who earned himself the nickname of The Scourge of Provence.  Basically he went around with his armies, generally trashing the place (he's responsible for the first vandalism of the Tour d'Aigues, when the original building, the central keep was seriously damaged) and trying to force the decent, law-abiding Provençal folk to pay homage to someone other than their rightful liege, the Comtesse de Provençe, Marie de Blois.

One day, his forces were attacking the abbey at Valsaintes, about 10km from here as the crow flies.  One of the monks fled in terror, with the attackers in hot pursuit.  Believing his God would protect him, the monk faced his horse at a waterfall on the Calavon river and jumped off the edge into the water below - a true leap of faith.  History does not record whether he survived or not - at least, I can't find out for sure if he did!  But the waterfall has been know as Le Saut du Moine ever since.

I've been looking at trekking routes, one of which would bring us past Le Saut de Moine, and I wanted to check how horse-friendly the terrain was.  We parked the jeep 2km away from Valsainte and set off on foot, Cinnamon running along off-leash, Cookie on the leash trotting beside the LSH.

Following on from the OOPS post, let me just clarify this - Cookie is never intentionally off-leash.  She is just too unpredictable, too disobedient and too easily distracted to trust.  So what on earth are we going to do when we start long-distance trekking?  Leave her in kennels every time?  Well, we don't want to do that.  Attach her to a lunge line and lead her along while we ride?  Somehow, I don't think that's a safe option, and I think Aero and Flurry would take a dim view of it.  We've been talking about trying her off-leash for a long time now, so that we can start to develop some trust in her, and so that she learns to follow us as we hike along.  Once we can trust her while we're on foot, then we start introducing the horses into the picture... that's the plan, anyway.

Anyway, we decided that today was the day.  Like the monk from Valsainte, we had to take a leap of faith and just give Cookie her freedom.  We unclipped the leash and kept her attention focussed on us by throwing the ball a couple of times.  I had two tennis-balls with me, every time she came back with one, I would give her a little treat and throw the other while I picked up the first one.  It was going great - and then, BAM, a scent distracted her, she spat the ball out as she ran along and disappeared into the bushes, oblivious to our calls and oblivious to her abandoned toy.

What should we do? we wondered.  Let's just keep walking, she'll either follow or she won't, we have to trust her sometime, we said...

And she followed!  She spent the whole three hour walk off-leash apart from two occasions - once when we were passing through Valsaintes and once when we met some other dogs - Jack Russell Terriers, as it happened!  Our walk was about 12km, but between all the back & forth and side to side exploring she did I reckon she covered the best part of 18km, most of it at a run.  We called her back every so often and gave her a little treat each time.  By the time we were nearly back at the jeep, it was just like walking with a normal dog - she was pretty tired, and happily trotting along, just ahead of us.  She was exhausted afterwards, and actually lay down, asleep, under my chair when we stopped into a Café - unheard of behaviour, normally she stands on full alert the whole time!

Leaps of Faith aside, Le Saut du Moine is a stunningly beautiful spot.  There will be a mounted, picnic expedition there in the not too distant future...
And yes, the waterfall has a lot of ice in it.


It was nearly midnight.  The LSH was taking the dogs out for their final wee while I gathered bit and pieces from the living room and brought them into the kitchen.  I walked into the kitchen just as the LSH came in from outside, looking vaguely stunned.

"You won't believe what I've just done," he said.

I looked.  He didn't have to tell me.

Cinnamon, the quiet, well behaved, sensible and generally obedient dog was standing by his side - on the leash.  Cookie, the rambunctious, disobedient wannabe-cat, chicken and mole-killer was presumably running riot outside somewhere, free.

Yes, he'd clipped the leash onto the wrong dog.

I put on hat, coat and scarf (it was -3 outside) and picked up a torch, while he got the squeaker from an old dog toy, hoping it would attract Cookie.  We went outside and listened - nothing.  Of course, she wasn't wearing her harness with the bell attached.  How on earth were we going to find her in the dark?

Next thing I saw her eyes glowing in the light of the torch as she whizzed towards us... and past us, intent on following all the delectable scents left by chooks and cats.  She zipped backwards and forwards for a few minutes, ignoring the squeaker and the treats we were waving at her (and feeding to Cinnamon).

Then, a miracle, and a big mistake on her part - she headed into the garage.  We legged it after her and pulled the double doors shut.  She still didn't want to be caught, though, and ran around investigating all the smells in the garage, until she disappeared into the back left corner and stayed there.  I followed her, wondering what was keeping her occupied.

Ugh.  Our neighbourhood cats have made that corner of the garage into a toilet and she was busy stuffing her face.  Yeuk.

I caught her easily while she was distracted.  No, Cookie, you're not kissing my face again for a while!

Note to Self : There's a very good reason for keeping the garage doors shut.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Thank Friday it's Lunchtime - L'École Buissonière, Montjustin

This is a slightly different Thank Friday it's Lunchtime post - you'll see why in a moment!

This week, we decided to visit L'École Buissonière (the School of Drinking, forgive me if I have spelt it wrong) in Montjustin.  Montjustin is a tiny village, perched on top of a ridge on the Eastern edge of the Lubèron.  It's most famous for having been the long-term home of Henri Cartier-Bresson, an iconic French photographer, who has been one of the LSH's heroes for a long, long time.  It is a wonderfully picturesque village, and we have walked there many times from Céreste and even ridden there a couple of times, too.  The one thing it's been lacking for many years, though, is a Café - do the 5km (uphill) hike from Céreste without bringing something to drink, and yes, you will bemoan the lack of shops or café too!

Not any more, though, this winter L'École Buissonière opened its doors to the public!  Business is slow, given that it's mid-winter, and lunch is by appointment only, so we booked in a week in advance.  We mentioned it to a couple of English friends who have lived here for many years, and they said they'd love to come along too - so that's the first Thank Friday it's Lunchtime difference - there were four of us out for lunch.

L'École Buissonière is a very typical French small café in that it serves a set menu only.  We could have asked beforehand what it was, but we decided that we'd just be surprised (and oh yes, we PRAYED it wasn't Andouillette!)

We arrived a little after 12.30.  The first thing that strikes you is that it's tiny.  There's a small bar area and a small dining area, which had a single long table, set for seven.  I'm sure that in the summer, in the height of the tourist season, they will also use the spacious terrace outside, but for our visit, it was like eating in someone's dining room.

The other three guests - well I won't go into details, but it turned out they were local dignitaries.  They were occupying the bar area when we arrived, chowing down on bruschetta, but they greeted our friends warmly and shook hands with the LSH and I  - our friends have lived in the area for many years and they know a lot of people around here!  They moved on to the dining area, while we ordered drinks and sampled the bruschetta (nice!)

Not sure of the protocol (should we have sat down at the same time as the others?) we lingered at the bar while they were served their starter.  We may have goofed there...

The waitress/maître D/possibly chef as well called us à table eventually and we sat down to our starter as the other guests were getting stuck into their main course.  We chitchatted about this n' that, admired their main course and looked forward eagerly to our starters... which were AMAZING!  It sounds very simple, but it was soooo tasty!  It was a chicken samosa with a green salad, served with that lovely dressing the French do, oil, vinegar and a hint of mustard.  The samosa was all chicken - no veggie fillers added!  The chicken had been shredded and marinaded in ginger and lemon... oh it was yummy!  And not at all what I was expecting, it was not French country cuisine, it was French country cuisine meets the Orient halfway.

And here's where we come to the second Thank Friday it's Lunchtime difference.

Ummm, sorry, but we were having such fun, I forgot to take any photographs.  You are just going to have to take my word for it, the food looked as good as it tasted.

The main course was no longer a surprise, because we saw the other guests eating it - it was Moules - Mussels!  Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I don't do seafood, but in the spirit of Thank Friday it's Lunchtime, I tucked in gamely.  The mussels were served in a light curry sauce, with pommes frites (chips/French fries) on the side.  Well, they were ok.  But then I'm a really bad judge of seafood.  Everyone else said they were great.  Fair enough, they were great.

Time for dessert and coffee?  Bien sûr!  Oh no, dessert was chocolate mousse cake!  Well, I'll eat seafood if I have to, but sadly (tragically, in fact) I cannot eat chocolate - I will, without a doubt, get a migraine if I do.  So everyone else had the chocolate mousse cake and said it was yummy.

I had coffee.

Yes, I know you all feel bad for me now.  Don't.  I'm tough.  I can take it.

I'm not sure how it came up, but over the course of lunch, we learned that in the Mairie next door, there are two original (signed) Cartier-Bresson photos, which the Great Man Himself donated to the local community.  On seeing our interest, the waitress/maître D/possibly chef as well offered to let us in for a look - she has the key to the Mairie.  We couldn't turn down that offer, so we all trooped in and admired them.  One of them was a well known one of Ile de la Cité in Paris and the other was one which really struck a chord with me - a man holding a young boy in his arms, a wonderfully expressive shot.  Ask to see them if you ever visit Montjustin.

So, digestively and culturally sated, we headed home.

The cost of our lunch?

Including wine (a couple of glasses each except for the poor misfortunate LSH who had to work for the afternoon and therefore drive as well) and tip, the whole lot came €17 per head - pretty ok, really!

Would we go again?  Absolument!  We'll revisit in the summer and try to remember to take photos next time.... sorry about that!

Food - ✮
Service – ✮✮✭
Ambiance – ✮✮✭ (possibly helped by the company we were with...)
Value – ✮✮✭

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Cheval Passion SlideShow Photos

If you were able to view the slideshows in the last two posts, you don't need to look at this post, but a couple of people said that they couldn't see the slideshows at all.  I looked into it - it's an Internet Explorer compatibility issue.  Here's what the people at photosnack had to say :

1. My PhotoSnack doesn’t work on Internet Explorer 8 or older. Why, and what can I do?
The new PhotoSnack is 100% HTML5, so the slideshows will only work on HTML5 compatible browsers. Older versions of Internet Explorer (including Internet Explorer 8) don’t support HTML5, so that’s why it doesn’t work.
We recommend you to update your browser, or use a different one.
2. I have Internet Explorer 9. Why doesn’t PhotoSnack work on it?
You need to make sure you’re using Internet Explorer 9 in standard mode and not in Internet Explorer 8 mode or compatibility view.
Press F12 to open the developer window, from the browser mode combo box and select Internet Explorer 9. This will solve your problem.

Unfortunately, if you're using IE 8 or older, they're saying tough s**t.  I think I will have to find a different slide-show maker because I know for sure that a lot of my friends back in Ireland are using old PCs (and are not tech-savvy!).

While I research this, here's the photos you missed :

Tri de Bétail, from Part 1 

HorseBall, from Part 1 :

Iberian Horses, from Part 2

Out and About, from Part 2 :