Thursday, June 08, 2006
Allez ! Allez ! Allez !
Okay I have blisters on my ASS.
Whose idea was it to herd 15 horses through the Pyrenee mountains with a bunch of strangers ? Oh yeah, mine.
When I have more time I’ll add to this post so keep checking back. It’s
difficult to remember all the details and I didn’t have much time to write
notes. too busy either drinking or eating or trying to find new and
inventive ways of sitting in the saddle which didn’t hurt.
Easiest customs I’ve ever been through. I had to yell for the guard and he just looked at me and said bonjour and pointed up the ramp. When I arrived in Toulouse after a full day on the train, it was a little late and there was nobody there to meet me. I waited for a bit, then started wandering. Of Course the telephone required a special card and wouldn’t take change.
Anyways, after a bit of wandering Christine and I found each other. I was very glad to see her. Immediately upon my arrival we had to go out for a test ride, so they could ensure we were competent enough to take into the mountains. Now I understand why.
A donkey in a field came running out of nowhere to come and say bonjour. If you didn’t know, horses hate donkeys for some reason. So we all had to Allez ! allez ! and gallop past the donkey which was braying and freaking out and trying to jump the fence. we all passed the test and then celebrated with some beer and wine and bread. There was to be a lot of beer and wine and bread the following 3 days.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Pyrenees day 2
Day 2 we got up and had giant cowboy coffees with warm milk, toast, preserves etc. Then it was pack up the horses, the food in the back of the truck and of course the beer machine ! We drove for about an hour up the Pyrenees and through some pretty little towns. JOB cigarette papers are made in a teeny little town there, in the middle of nowhere.
We also drove on a road which is part of the Tour de France. People write on the road... I saw a tribute to lance armstrong in one place.
we unloaded the horses at this lake and for some reason we took off all
their gear and let them go. Then we had to trek up and look for the other
loose horses which had been released the previous week on the first part of the transhumance. the little french dude pointed out a dung beetle to me, rolling up a ball of horse poo. Never knew they lived in France ! When we found the other horses one of the girls put a large bell around the neck of the lead mare then we had to chase the little buggers down towards the lake.
By the way it was scorching hot, 30 degrees. And I was wearing my riding pants and some not terribly suitable boots.
After we successfully walked the horses down to the lake we had some more food ! And beer. and wine. Then we realized that we couldn’t find our ridiing horses amongst the others because the original ones had pissed off ! So then another hour of running around the mountains catching glimpses of them galloping over the next ridge. Luckily Jean Louis caught a horse and jumped on it bareback. I had to stop and watch as he galloped over a ridge with the horse’s mane flying... very impressive sight.
So after we tacked up we set off, with 4 of us behind, and 3 ahead. We
climbed some very steep trails and felt a little bad for the horses, as they
soon got soaked with sweat. But they are incredible little ponies. Very
tough, surefooted, and willing.
We rode in open fields and some trails in the forest on the mountainside.
Very picturesque, but not a lot of time to enjoy the scenery as this was a
working holiday !!
That evening we arrived at a nice little farm with a bunkhouse which we all slept in ! And we shared a giant loaf of bread. Like the size of a Goodyear tire.
In the bunkhouse after dinner Jean Louis came dancing in, stripped down to his knickers and leapt joyously into his bunk. had a terrible sleep as I was all wound up and wasn’t used to sleeping in the same room with 6 other people.
After another sleepness night, on 1/4 inch of foam in a tent shared with 3 strangers, and having to pee in the middle of the night, I arose at the
crack of dawn. Breakfast : more bread, butter, homemade preserves around the charred remains of the campfire. HUGE coffee in a cup the size of a soup bowl. Splashed my face in the stream to try and wake up. Another hot day !
The horses had very politely stuck around for the night so were very easy to catch. The blankets and girths were still soaked with sweat from the night before. The crazy toothless French shepherd was already up and at em. Jean Louis and I spent about half an hour untangling the witch’s knots from Latour’s mane. (I had to switch mounts half way through the second day due to a girth rub). Too bad, Oslo was a cutie pie.
So we set off through a small valley, with some nice green grass which was tempting the horses as we went. So I was brining up the rear and the two naughty horses, Moccha and Rocco were getting yelled at a lot. Rocco less so, as he is a little guy, a bit of a runt. A year old and he looks about 6 months. Hopefully the mountains will do him good.
Through some open fields, then through some trails in the forest. Low
hanging branches, got whipped in the face a few times. Had to duck,
sometimes getting off and climbing over fallen trees.
Went through some back fields, got bitten by some viscious black flies.
Beautiful old stone farm buildings, no roads, slate roofs. Only anxious time was while walking along a very narrow crumbly path, a couple times the horses in front lost their footing. By the way, on a precipice. Certain death or maiming. The horse in front slipped on a rock which sloped down along the precipice also. But I trusted Latour and let the reins go, closed my eyes and crossed my fingers. He knows the mountains better than I do !
The last hour or so of the ride was nice and gentle on the road. Pretty
mellow. The French motorists for the most part were very courteous and even turned their cars off while we passed. I saw lots of smiling faces poking out of cars "bonjour !". Camera phones were being used to capture the spectacle going by.
Half an hour before we arrived at our destination, Yves’ horse Johnny just laid down by the road. The horse was soaked in sweat and Yves is a big guy. I guess he’d just had enough. But my concern vanished when he started to graze, the little turd ! Yves climbed off and pulled Johnny to his feet but stayed dismounted, and walked beside his horse the rest of the way.
We arrived at a stream in a small park. We let the horses go and I thought the ride was finished.... splashed my face and then the fatigue started to catch up with me. But 15 minutes later Jean Louis delighted in telling me that we were in fact NOT yet finished... we had to walk for another half an hour up a trail to let them go. Hesther the Dutch girl no longer had a horse to ride so she offered to take my horse. I was so tired I said yes... but then realized, hey ! I didn’t come all this friggin way just to stay in the parking lot. So I walked, exhausted and hot as I was, for 15 minutes up a steep trail. Then Hesther and I switched, and I got to ride Latou bareback for the rest of the time. In no time at all we arrived at the REAL final destination and released the horses one last time. Johnny got a splash-down with some cold water, and a check-over and pronounced healthy but tired.
Then we ran down the trail for a yummy lunch ! More of the same, plus some crackers and cherries. And more beer ! Hurray. Then I had a lie-down under the tree, I was so tired. When I woke up everyone had helped clear up the table and I got a ride back in the truck, hauling the only horse left ! It belonged to Yves, it was a half-Merens and half French Trotter. The driver slammed the breaks on so hard they squealed as we were cornering... there was a little car coming round. The horse fell down in the trailer but nobody seemed to upset. I was yelling "he’s down !". They just turned and watched.
The horse got to his feet then they just continued on. !! That would never happen here. But it all turned out okay.
When we got back I immediately jumped in the shower and it was the best shower I have ever had. Then I sat on the lovely curtained verandah and wrote some journal entries. The other girls and I exchanged email addresses and promised to share our digital photos. They all 3 took off pretty well after their showers.
That evening I joined Jean Louis and his friends for dinner. Spaghetti with fried tomoatoes ! But it was absolutely lovely, the first real hot meal I’d had for 3 days. ONe of the funny Frenchies was trying on a tight white shirt with the farm’s brand on it, (literally !) and everyone was commenting on his tits, his "tetons". Well I immediately burst out laughing and couldn’t stop.
The Grand Tetons ! I told them that was a mountain range in the US, and they didn’t believe me ! I have to send them the link. Beautiful.
That night as I snuggled into my warm fluffy comfy beautiful waterbed, I
decided that the sweat and the sunburns and the sore knees and the ass blisters were all worth it. Then someone turned out the lights and I woke up 10 hours later, much more refreshed and with a spring in my step !