Sunday Summer News’

The above photos are from last week’s training trip. We usually travel 8 to 12 km in 3 hours or less on gravel, dirt and pavement. There is a shady place to take a break for half an hour.


This Sunday morning arrived gently. While the cool of the night lay over the fields and the pale light of early morning held our world in a sort of antique painting, I brought Vanille up to the barn for a good brushing and overall checkup. We had time for half an hour of grazing on the few bits of green grass that have survived the severe dry hot weather. Jean François arrived with his friend, Joël, to measure and discuss the building of Tòti’s door and windows. A catalog of door and window hardware was spread out on the table and we chose all the necessary hardware, talked about the shutters and many other details over coffee. It was an exciting moment! This is one of a few jobs left before we can finally say, “Tòti’s finished”. The door and windows are difficult and they are the job that we are not equipped to do properly. The stained glass rear window created by Scott Ecelberger is the heart of Tòti. When it is in place, I know she will come alive. Mark is still doing the fidgety work of the front seat and I think that will be finished before winter.

Jean François has purchased Duplo Composite Horse Shoes for Vanille’s rear hooves. If you are interested, the website is

The blacksmith will attach them next week. We will continue to use her boots for her front hooves. They are great and she seems to like them. After her back feet are protected for long trips on pavement, we plan to take several trips before winter arrives and we find ourselves once again in front of the fire reading books and dreaming of spring travelling.

We’re tired though and the winter in front of the fire will be welcome. This has been a long project, already 3 years, and we have had to learn something new each step of the way. We have not had a proper workshop and tools have had to be improvised, borrowed or bought. Our bank account is way below zero and many things for our day to day life have been neglected and are worn out. I often dive into a project without knowing how it is to be done or what the complications might be. If I knew, I’m sure I would never attempt anything. However, this project has enriched our lives in ways we never imagined. It is a work of love and love is an extraordinary force!

We pulled Tòti out into the pasture and spent two nights living there. Vanille grazed around us but we protected Tòti with a small electric fence in case Vanille decided Tòti might be a nice scratching post. The summer breezes drifted in through the windows and the night sounds of owls, Vanille munching and the rustling of the trees lulled me into a deep sleep. Our two cats were the only bother as they had to explore and leap up on the bed. Our Chat Noir couldn’t quite make it and dug into Mark’s chest with his claws to keep himself from falling. Mark let out quite a yell but it wasn’t too serious. Bella spent the entire night with Vanille. By morning she was stretched out in the grass sound asleep. Our camp stove had the coffee brewing early and I sat outside feeling the grass under my bare feet, watching the dawn arrive. There was no electricity and we had no exterior lights so the stars in the sky were brilliant. There was no sound of cars, no city noise. Tòti rocked a bit when we moved reminding us that we were not in a house. She felt alive. The bed was comfortable and enfolded us. Tòti Bleu is truly a “spirit shelter”.

The last morning I harnessed Vanille and walked her over to Tòti with the reins to hook her up. With Jean François beside me, we set off through the pasture but I went under a low hanging branch making quite a lot of scratching noises on the roof. Vanille took off at a gallop, leaping in the air, Jean François grabbed the reins and she calmed down immediately. For a moment I had forgotten just how tall Tòti is. That was quite a lesson!

Last week Mark and Jean François went off by car, scouting places to visit with Tòti and Vanille. We are all new to this adventure and Vanille is still young and learning with us so we are not quite ready to take off into the great unknown. I preferred not to go along as I want it to be new and surprising the first time we set off for a few days.



Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,

She took me back so tenderly,

arranging her dark skirts, her pockets

full of lichens and seeds.

I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,

nothing between me and the white fire of the stars

but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths

among the branches of the perfect trees.

All night I heard the small kingdoms

breathing around me, the insects,

and the birds who do their work in the darkness.

All night I rose and fell, as if in water,

grappling with a luminous doom. By morning

I had vanished at least a dozen times

into something better.

Mary Oliver




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Tòti’s Living Space

Tòti's interior is ready to be lived in except for the windows and doors. We are waiting for help from a friend as we don't have the tools necessary to do a proper job.


Voila! Les photos…














Thank you again to everyone who has made my dream come true. Your names are written on Tóti's wall and in my heart.


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Progress on Tòti seems slow but when I sit down here to write, I can see photos and words of our progression through the months. It helps to see that we are making progress steadily.

I have found a better hat since this photo was taken but I am so proud that I can successfully drive Tòti and that Vanille listens to me and responds perfectly. Ridiculous hat included, I love this photo. I still make lots of mistakes but I'm doing it! I can harness her up easily now. I remember last year when harnessing seemed so complicated to me. There are many details to learn if the job is to be done correctly. We are constantly checking the adjustments.

Our forest is being destroyed for money. It is very sad for me but it is a forest that was planted to be harvested and the trees have come of age. This photo shows just one stack of logs and there are many!

We go for our training trip every Sunday morning to avoid the logging trucks. These double trailer monsters terrify me. Each Sunday we travel a bit further. Usually our trip lasts from 2 to 3 hours on dirt, gravel and blacktop roads. Not only is it a learning experience for me but this is a new job for Vanille. We are testing the brakes (which had to be adjusted several times), the harness, and the boots on Vanille's front feet. Her feet are examined each time before putting on the boots and afterwards as well. She has developed her most comfortable walking speed which is 3.5 to 4 kmh and today she easily trotted on the flat and uphill at 14 kmh, with an extended trot of 17 kmh. We stop midway for her to rest, checking her breathing and dousing her with cold water even though she is not sweating. The evening and following day I make sure there is no swelling or heat either on her shoulders from the collar or her legs and feet. There is no problem with the boots, I think they are wonderful. There are many models available but hers are Easyboots New Trail. She is doing great. What a gentle, generous, powerful horse she is!

Here are the two men who have made my dream come true. Mark, the builder, engineer and the love of my life. Jean François, our wonderful friend, who brought Vanille into our life, is constantly teaching me and helping in a hundred ways and who has diligently studied horse collars and harness and boots so that we have great equipment. What a joy it is to enjoy these moments together!

Chatting with our friends on the road towards home. Vanille has no fear of cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles or dogs. This will be very important when travelling. She is unflappable.


We've made progress on the interior of Tòti. The galley is finished. We don't plan to have a sink. I will use an old fashioned dishpan which can be used outside as well. I have memories of washing dishes in a stream long ago and how I loved that moment. We have a campstove which will sit on the folding part of the top and the worksurface is plenty big. We still have to make places on the wall for plates, etc. Water will be stored underneath.

The bed is finished but I am working on the quilt cover. It's very comfortable and there is a large storage area underneath.

I get up very early on Sunday mornings to feed Vanille. I love having lots of time to brush her, check her over and dress her up a bit. The time I spend with her every day gives me energy. There is nothing quite like the day to day close relationship with a horse.


We have made a lot of progress in the past couple of years, not only on Tòti, but working together to bring this project from dream to reality has brought another wondrous element into our relationship. The work is not finished. There is the roof to fibreglass, the windows and doors to do, the front seat to build and the floor to paint. Our weather window is very short and we don't have a proper workshop or tools. But it's happening!



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Interior Work

Oh, the glorious days of warmth, blue skies, wild flowers, and the calm, star studded night skies! We dine under the big maple tree, soft grass beneath my bare feet. The sun seems hesitant to leave us and finally disappears under the horizon after 10. The small window beside our bed rests open, and night sounds drift over me with the gentle breeze as I close my eyes. There is such happiness and contentment covering me from head to toe. As I get older I find it impossible to keep the garden weeded but this year, for the first time, I have learned to love the wildness of nature. For the month of July we are blessed with young archeology students, camping in tents and working at the nearby Cathar castle ruins. Their excited voices and laughter mingle with the roosters crowing, lambs crying and peacocks screaming, creating a sort of abstract symphony.

I helped a friend sell her house and the wonderful couple who bought it painted this for me as a thank you. I love it! Vanille looks just as she is, strong and lively.



We are slowly starting to make progress on the interior of Tòti. We insulated the bottom half of the walls with sheep’s wool insulation.









Then the walls were glued on with epoxy and sanded. A bead of polyurethene was put at the bottom to seal between the bottom of the walls and the floor.



I have painted them with three coats of yellow, slightly darker than the upper half and ceiling. I also painted a simple design along the top of the bottom walls, and the names of everyone who has helped with our project along the top beam. There are many names already!

Yesterday we glued in the supports for the bed. As always the preparation was more complicated than imagined and took days. Mark constantly finds ways to keep everything as lightweight as possible and this takes hours of thought. The holes are to allow the mattress to breathe and hopefully to discourage mildew. I will begin to paint it tomorrow.

Vanille spends the hot days in the bergerie to protect her from biting flies. I don’t like to cover her with insecticide and this is the best solution so far. She is not a hot weather horse and loves her shady, roomy place in the bergerie. We have taken two training trips so far, 6 km and 8 km on gravel and paved road. We will take another tomorrow very early in the morning. No problems so far. She pulls Tòti easily with 4 adults. There is no rubbing from the new collar and harness. She gets a nice cold shower afterwards and bounces off at a gallop into her pasture.


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Rolling Along

As with any project, the start-up after months of non action is challenging, and Tòti has been sleeping in our neighbor’s garage for months. We brought her home thinking that summer was just around the corner, but as always, Mother Nature had a few surprises up her sleeve. She threw hailstorms, days and nights of wind, lightning, and torrential rain upon us. Enormous black clouds darkened our days, and the gusts of wind blew everything away that was not securely fastened down. On the days that we could do something outside we walked around in circles trying to decide where to start, and searching for tools that were put away last autumn. Waking up every morning to a grey wet dripping world was depressing. We were ready for summer weather!  Now, at the end of the month, the sun is brilliant, the sky is a bright blue and the rain has washed away all obstacles and opened up a treasure chest of happiness.

Thanks to Jean François’ expert help, Vanille is now wearing very beautiful brand new Zilco harness from Australia and a collar from My Draft Horse in Ohio. This is a huge leap forward! It was a big investment, and for months I had no idea where the money would come from…but my angels provided. Fitting the harness and collar was far more complicated than I ever imagined but I just followed the advice of someone with years of experience and watched while he adjusted everything and patiently explained each piece. We also ordered another swingle tree for the wagon. Thank you Mr. Szymanski for sending it so fast. The old one was too short and caused the traces to cut into Vanille’s sides. I still need to order a pad for the sellette and new traces.

On Sunday we went out for 1 1/2 hours at a walk and trot on our gravel lane and the paved road. Vanille had not been worked since autumn and we were amazed at how easily she pulled Tòti. Mark has done an amazing job of constructing an extremely lightweight housing. We were four adults in Tòti, and Vanille volunteered to break into a trot as if there was a feather behind her! I had the fun of driving for a while and managed to do a big circle successfully. The months of caring for her have developed a true friendship between us. I feel it when I am driving and also in our day to day relationship. I can give her very quiet voice commands and she listens. We are so very happy with Tòti and Vanille!

So far we have not put traditional shoes on Vanille. We watch her very carefully. The veterinarian came today for her vaccination. She also x-rayed her front feet. This is required for insurance but it was the perfect opportunity to have more information. The veterinarian’s advice is to continue keeping Vanille barefoot and have boots for her front feet during the transition.

Vanille does have a weight problem and this is a problem!


She had a nice shower after her trip on Sunday. She loves this!

The more we read about natural hoof care, the more sensible it sounds.  The internet is full of good information but Making Natural Hoof Care Work For You by Pete Ramey is a great book.




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Why Not Traditional Iron Shoes??

A good friend, after she read my last posting, sent me an email. Following are her comments and questions:

“I am still puzzled about your search for an alternative way of shoeing your draft horse. As you said you would not walk on gravel without your shoes , why make her do it? I know that fashion comes and goes ,but what is so wrong with traditional shoes ? The keratin quality differ from horse to horse, some can take it other not. I have been spending half of my life around horses, riders and farriers, all sizes, all breed, all sexes. I have heard of a lot of technics, hopes, innovations ,to better the gaits, alleviate the pain, straighten the legs…I have heard a lot and seen a lot . I came to the conclusion that yoga ( dressage for the horse ) reasonable and adapted exercise for the horse is what will really make any difference and amelioration. If you are a bad dancer the shoes will not change that, practice will. Shoes are to protect the hoof, may be Vanilla is one of those rare horses to be able to work on hard ground without protection, it would be great. Here we have 18 horses, about half need shoes in the front.They live on pastures are ridden in a sandy arena and never touch hard roads but they develop abscesses and bruises with the coral in the ground. I would not take the risk. I never walk on gravel bare foot, not pleasant at all. Is it the idea of the nails ? Is it the cost of the farrier ? Vets are much more expensive ….”

So here is my answer. I'm definitely not an authority and I listen carefully and read what I can find on the subject: ( However, I never said I wouldn't walk barefoot. I love to walk barefoot but in the summer when I first take off my shoes, it's ouchy. Later it feels great.)

Although people have been shoeing horses with iron shoes that are nailed to the hooves for centuries, modern research is finding that iron shoes are not always the answer and often create serious problems. Because of the travel we hope to do with Toti and Vanille, we are examining other possibilities for Vanille. We are just at the question stage, nothing is decided. Here are our reasons:

1. We will be travelling somewhat long distances, although only short distances each day. Vanille's hooves are very heavy and we are no longer young with strong backs. If she were to lose a shoe, we might be in an area with no blacksmith, or we may have to wait days for one to arrive. In adddition, many blacksmiths refuse to work on draft horses as it is an especially difficult job. We are not capable of changing her shoes, but I am able to pick up her feet for short periods of time and I think I could put boots on and off. However, if we feel she is better with iron shoes, that's what she'll have while working.

2. Vanille has excellent feet and we want to keep them in good shape. The first trimming this year by a blacksmith who shoes horses with traditional shoes was not a success. Her feet chipped up almost immediately.

3. We want to be absolutely sure that Vanille will be comfortable, never in pain. We love her and want to be sure she has what is best for her; the best food, harness, and the best care of her very important feet!! Iron shoes cause numerous problems. The following is from an excellent article entitled It's time to Rethink Horseshoes. You can read the entire article on

“There are more than a dozen ways that shoes are known to damage the feet, legs, and circulatory system of the horse (see A Lifetime of Soundness by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser). Some of these are: loss of circulation in the hoof, loss of shock absorption, “white line”

Since Vanille is a draft horse, I have found the site very helpful. Here are a few paragraphs I have copied for you to read but if you can find the time, read the site. Pete Ramey's years of research and experience are invaluable.

This heavy draft horse plows several gardens every year, works kids to a plow (at our local “farm days” fair), trail rides and pulls a wagon on the road. His hooves are always ready to handle whatever the owner dishes out. The pictures were taken before a six-week maintenance trim during peak work season.

“It is so difficult to keep well connected hoof walls on draft horses, many owners and trainers have incorrectly decided draft horses are supposed to have flared, split hoof walls. The weight of a heavy draft is often more than the walls can take and the very finest shoers can really struggle to keep everything held together. “

“Recent research from Michigan State University (Dr. Robert Bowker) confirms what many insightful farriers have suspected all along. The hoof walls were never intended to bear all the horse’s weight. The soles, frogs and bars are supposed to share in the load, with the primary initial impact force received by the frog. This is why draft hooves seem so easily ripped apart; most people are trying to force the walls into a primary support role nature never intended.”

“We created the heavy draft horse through breeding. We didn’t manage to scale everything up proportionately, though. While overgrown walls can usually lift the soles and frogs off the ground in a light horse, they are rarely proportionately strong enough in a draft. Instead the walls flare, split and break away. Believe it or not, this actually works to the draft horse’s advantage. With the soles and frogs on the ground throughout life, it is rare to find a draft horse with inadequate development and sensitive structures in the back of the foot. Because of this, we almost always can pull the shoes, start a competent natural trimming program and the horse will comfortably keep on working. (If not, we use hoof boots for work while we wait for the inner structures to develop. I usually use the Easyboot Epics; available up to size #8’s)”

I understand totally that Vanille may not be able to travel barefoot. Every horse is different. But I want to be sure we're doing the best for her health and safety now and longterm. Proper trimming of her feet and time will tell us if it is possible. It has been a little over two weeks since her last trim and she is full of energy and galloping like a kid, chasing the dogs and in no pain. If this miserable weather ever ends we will begin to long rein her on the pavement for short periods of time.

If we do decide to leave her barefoot, we will also have easyboot epic with us if they are needed.

If we decide to shoe her with traditional shoes, they will be pulled when she is not working.

I want to make it very clear that we have not yet made a decision. We are just doing the research which is very interesting! We have friends who do not use traditional shoes for their horses with no problems. We have found an experienced man for trimming her feet who only works on barefoot horses. There is endless information on the internet.

I really appreciate feedback on this blog. If you find it difficult to comment on the blog, just send me an email.

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Is There a BETTER Way?


Mother Nature is showing her wild side this month! From my cosy chair I watch enormous evergreen trees dance a crazy jig in the high winds. Heavy rains create streams where streams have never flowed. Lightning and hail make me run for cover. Grass grows inches overnight daring us to bring out the lawnmower. There is the occasional day when the sun finds its way through the clouds but these days are few. The big pasture is so rich that I can't put Vanille out in its lushness. It's a dangerous time for a horse that is already overweight. She's happy enough in her pasture though, with room to gallop. She and Bella enjoy chasing each other which is a joy to watch.

Vanille is so wide that we've had to order a new piece for T'oti (palonier in french. swingletree in British english). The one that came with Toti is too narrow squishing Vanille with the traces. She looks like me in my jeans.

Tòti is wrapped up in a big blue tarp waiting for calmer days. I have been studying the possibility of keeping Vanille barefoot and at the same time researching harness possibilités. Vanille's collar has arrived from THE DRAFT HORSE SUPER STORE in Ohio. It's beautiful! We'll know next week if our measuring was done correctly. Sure hope it fits properly!

We have decided to order the bridle and harness from a Zilco distributor in France. It will be synthetic which is easy to keep clean.

Is there a better way than nailing iron shoes on Vanille's feet? This is the big question!

There are many different types of boots for horses as well as plastic shoes which are glued on. After reading all the information I can find, I prefer the POSSIBILITY of keeping her barefoot with proper trimming and care of her hooves and also to have Easy Boot Epic for her front feet close at hand in case there is a problem when travelling.

This is an excellent article from 2006, take a look at

Is “Barefoot” an Option for Your Draft Horse? 1-10-06 Pete Ramey

In addition to a constant conversation about hooves and harness and feeding of the “easy keeper”, Jean François has been sending me internet links to study. He is researching in depth other possibilities than metal shoes for our horses. He contacted a young man who only works on barefoot horses. This passionate and extremely competent man spent several hours trimming Vanille's hooves properly, explaining everything and answering questions. That was 13 May. Since he trimmed her feet I have been taking her out each day on a lead line and walking her on gravel and pavement for 15 minutes to slowly help her become accustomed to rough surfaces. The first few days she reacted as I might do if I took my shoes off in the summer to walk barefoot, but now she is walking normally on all kinds of surface. We will begin long reining her in a few days. There is so much to explain that I prefer you read the internet information at the bottom of this posting if you are interested. As for Vanille, we are watching her carefully. Since she will not be working every day, it will be much better if we can avoid metal shoes. We are still studying, watching and learning. Patience is important as it will take time to know if this is possible or not.


English names for the bottom of the horsés hoof

Vanille's hoof, 16,5 wide

We have had Vanille here with us every day since November. Our understanding of each other and the communication between us has grown enormously. It takes time to develop trust and we are doing great! However respect from both of us must always be present!


Interesting reading on the internet:


AND….an excellent video if you want to know if your horse is at its proper weight



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