Autumn in all its beauty has arrived and we have been enjoying it! We have had bright, crisp days and lovely trips with Vanille pulling the caleche. Delicious mushrooms sprinkling the grass along our trail, the Pyrenee mountains in the distance, even a few exciting gallops initiated by Vanille. We won’t take Tòti out again until spring and I hold in my heart the lovely days we spent traveling at 4 km an hour, and the nights we spent sleeping in Toti under tall trees.
When I walk down to Vanille’s pasture I call out to her and she answers and comes trotting over. On warm days I put on her halter and lead her to a green patch of yummy grass, turn her loose, and spend an hour just being with her. She loves these moments and it is a meditative time for me. If I call her and walk away, promising to have found an even better patch of grass, she follows. She has learned that when I call her, I have something pleasant to share. We have succeeded in trimming her down to the perfect weight so her intake of grass is limited and we weigh out her hay which she has four times a day. I always thought an “easy keeper” would be easy to take care of but regulating the diet of Vanille takes a lot of study, thought and careful feeding. We are surrounded by beautiful pastures but they are dangerous for her. Since she has lost weight, she moves better, she does not overheat when working and her hooves are much improved.
Speaking of hooves, we began over a year ago to study barefoot trimming. Jean François is constantly researching the newest advances in hoof care, boots, and plastic shoes. With the work that Vanille does we found that it was not possible for her to be barefoot, except when she is not working or at the beginning of the season when the trips were short. We then tried boots but found that putting them on and off was time consuming and if they got wet, they tended to slip sideways. However they are also useful at the beginning of the season. The next thing was Duplo composite shoes which were very good but with Vanille’s weight and the amount of work she does, they wore out much too fast. Now we have ordered Hoof-it plastic shoes but we will not use them until next year. In a week or so the blacksmith will pull the Duplos and Vanille will pass winter with frequent trimming but no shoes. Jean François is the expert among the three of us concerning hoof care so hopefully he will post on this blog this winter sometime.
I have joined a facebook group, Aging Horsewomen. It’s great! I find it inspiring, friendly and full of information. I would prefer it to be called Ageless Horsewomen but I’m happy to have lived to this age. The stories are amazing. There are women in their 80’s and one woman in her 90’s still riding, women in wheelchairs who have devised a way to be lifted onto their horses, a young woman born with no legs who has won medals in the paralympic games, and on and on. There are so many beautiful, brave people in our world. It gives me hope to read their stories.
I received a beautiful gift, a treasure, from my neighbor. It was made around 1900 in Paris but seems to have been made for the British as there is one container marked “butter”. There is even a bottle for whiskey and a small stove to boil water in the tea kettle. I have a book, The Land Yacht Wanderer, that was written in the late 1800’s by an English man who traveled extensively in England pulled by two horses. I imagine he must have had something similar with him in his Land Yacht.
Today there is a blazing fire in our woodstove. It is a misty day. Beau the cat is stretched out in front of the fire and Bella our Border Collie is snoozing in the chair next to me. I have so many precious memories of the past months with Mark, Jean François and Vanille that light up my thoughts on this lazy day. There has been much hard work and much joy! And, there is always Bella to challenge my patience and remind me not to be too serious.
When I am driving Vanille, everything else disappears except the beauty passing slowly by and the calm rhythm of her hooves upon the earth. I am surrounded by nature. I am attached to Vanille by the thin cord of the reins and I am constantly thinking of her safety and comfort as she calmly leads on. We have developed a bond, an understanding and a great trust. She knows when I ask something of her that it will not hurt her, and I trust her to be gentle and careful with me. It was not like this at the beginning. It has taken 3 years to really know each other. We humans are such fragile creatures. When we are working with this enormous animal we feel dramatically our fragility. We have so much to learn in their company! A turning point in my relationship with Vanille was the day she managed to get one front leg over a fence that was chest high. She stood waiting for me. I couldn’t believe it when I saw what she had done. There was no one to help so I had to trust her to stay calm while I crumpled down the fence (I had no tools), lifted up her foot and moved it back and over the wire which was still higher than her knee. She had to trust me to do whatever necessary to free her from her predicament. Trust is a big word. There can be no love without trust.