Winter Cometh

Photo by:  André Hemelrijk  (

The mornings are silent now. The mist that enshrouds our mountaintop at this time of year begs for a blazing fire in the woodstove. Vanille has covered herself in a new winter coat and she is looking forward to some months of rest after a season of work. She happily pulled us in Tòti for over 100 km this season. She is a generous horse, never balking at work, ears forward and always marching on with equine joy at her 4km an hour pace. Our longest trip was 18 km with quite a lot of uphill work. I plan to long rein her around the farm for our pleasure on gentle days this winter and also to do a little work teaching her to lower her head so that I can more easily attach the bridle. I am just too short! In the afternoons I will enjoy taking her to a patch of green grass and daydreaming while she eats. I can string an electric ribbon un-electrified around a yummy area and know that she will stay, happily munching.

I am painting and decorating Toti’s doors. It’s a job that takes weeks. First there’s a coat of very liquid epoxy, then sanding. Next are 3 coats of red paint on both sides. Now I’m painting the decoration, gold accents. Each step requires time to dry.

My spinning wheel has been put in front of the fire and my stack of books awaits cold weather. Like Vanille, I’m looking forward to resting and dreaming of spring. We hope to enjoy trips with friends, and a few long trips with overnight stops in some shady grove. Winter months will find us planning and dreaming.

My daughter Ashlyn is working on a book of our Tòti Bleu experience from idea to realization.

I just discovered an interesting site, a young woman who has been traveling for four years in her gypsy wagon pulled by two horses. Her book is available and I am trying to buy one but her website is making it difficult. She is French and her book is written in french but she also has a book of photos. Her website is:

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Doors and Window


Two years ago Dana arrived from the states with a beautiful stained glass window made by Scott Ecelberger. Scott is an artist with stained glass! The image of a turtle expresses the concept of Tòti as I have always imagined. As I get older, life seems to rush past me. Cars seem to move faster and people seem to be in such a hurry. Slow down I want to say, slow down and open your eyes. Look at all the beauty!

Yesterday we were planning for the doors to be installed. We had asked Joel Galinier to build the door for Tòti as it is a complicated design. Mark didn't have the tools and he felt it would take him months to finish it. I met Joel a few months ago when Jean François brought him to look at Tòti. After explaining what we wanted, he agreed to build the door saying that he would do it when he had the time, that I shouldn't be rushed. We talked about having him build the windows as well but couldn't afford more than the door. His price was ridiculously low but at this time even that was more than we could find. Yesterday he arrived with the door and to my surprise he had also built the frame for the window, the window that I consider Tòti's heart. “A gift” he said. I was so surprised and the emotion was so strong that I had to leave for a while and sit alone in the house. It was overwhelming!!!

He spent all afternoon installing the door and window. Jean François came to help. The neighbors came to watch. It was a beautiful, sunny day. I can't find any words to express my feelings.





The door is more beautiful than I expected. It is in four sections which made it quite a challenge to build. It fits perfectly, has antique brass handles and the windows are plexiglass making it lightweight with no danger of broken glass. The interior of the bottom sections is insulated with sheep's wool. All of the sections lift off easily. In warm weather, if we want to be travelling with the doors open, we can lift them off the hinges and store them under the bed so that they are out of the way completely. They have a proper lock and key for safety when we are not present.


I feel utterly exhausted from happiness.


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This was our first long day outing. We left home at 10 in the morning and returned around 4 in the afternoon. The day was cold but sunny with a bright blue sky and fluffy snow white clouds. We invited the neighbor to come along so there were four of us. I brought pumpkin soup and a vegetable tart, cake and coffee for dessert. Jean François brought grapes from his vines. Of course there were carrots for Vanille and we carried hay just in case there was not grass at our rest stop. It's mostly a steady gradual uphill climb to the nearest village, slightly more than 8 KM. Just before the village there is a winding downhill slope of 2.5 KM. We went through the village and stopped at a quiet picnic area. This was a day filled with firsts! For the first time we set up an enclosure for Vanille with electric fence tape (no electricity), just a single ribbon wound around nearby trees and plastic fence posts. We unhitched her and she kept her head down in the green grass. There were two horses in a pasture close by who came to talk with her and a van with mother and daughter and their two horses who arrived. Vanille was interested to see other horses but she remained her wonderful calm self. She showed no sign of exhaustion! We had done the trip at a walk except for a short downhill run at a slow trot. She walks at 4 to 4.5 KM hour. She was calm and unflappable along the road. At our supposedly quiet picnic area, a big bus arrived and out stepped a group of men from the French Foreign Legion dressed in camouflage. That was a surprise!

Our little campstove was great for heating the soup and making coffee. There was a picnic table under the trees. A few people came to have their photos taken with Vanille and a couple of military men came over to chat. After lunch we cleared up, washing dishes in the spring. We harnessed up Vanille and headed off through the village. She was ready to go!! We stopped once at a level pulloff on the winding uphill climb to make sure she was not tiring. This was the first time she had done such a long uphill climb and the first time for such a long trip. She is an amazingly generous horse. The men always get out and walk on the uphill climbs to lighten her load. We always douse her with cold water halfway and again when she is unharnessed at home. We also verify that she has no swellings where the collar fits nor any problems with legs or feet following a long trip. I watch carefully how she is walking and acting for a few days following a trip.

I reflected on the fact that it took us most of a day to travel 18 KM. In a car we would have done this distance in minutes. I thought about a time when cars didn't exist, villages would have been the center of most people's lives. I wish life would return to the villages some day. The village that we were traveling through has been sleeping for some years but it is now coming alive with new people buying some of the old stone houses, painting shutters bright colors and lifting the greyness that once prevailed. Flowers are sitting on windowsills, shutters are open showing windows decorated with lace curtains and the small café is once again open with people sitting under the ancient trees.


I am so very proud of Vanille. Once she understands what is expected of her, she is eager and willing to do her best. She is always alert and interested in everything, but calm. A simple white ribbon keeps her in an enclosure, she comes when called, lifts her dainty feet when asked and is just a loving and beautiful animal. We adore her!

The Duplo composite shoes seem to be excellent. So far we have no complaints.

I just want to live the remainder of my life like this. Walking, quiet, slow, talking to people along the way, dining under trees, hugging my love and hugging my horse!


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“We wanted to do something beautiful”

I'm reading The Perfect Horse by Elisabeth Letts. It's almost impossible to put it down. The story of saving the very valuable Arabian and Lipizzan horses held by the Germans at the end of WWII is a tribute to the powerful goodness in man. It was an impossible task. When asked why they had decided to save the horses, The American, Colonel Reed said, “We were so tired of death and destruction, we wanted to do something beautiful.”

His words speak to me at this time in my life. I don't watch television and I don't read the news or listen to it on the radio. I live in a rather isolated place. However, I do have internet, and friends keep me up to date on the happenings in the world. The human suffering, the destruction of our wildlife and our planet, the fear and depression, all of this and more are the dark clouds that surround me. I make an effort to smile and be friendly with everyone, to help when possible and to live life conscientiously but what else can I do? I have had a dream to build this traveling piece of art and to have it powered by a beautiful horse. The dream is coming true even though it was an impossible dream. I am often asked why?? The only answer I can give is that I just wanted to do something beautiful, joyful, and I wanted it to move at a turtle pace. Everyone seems to be moving too fast and so much beauty is missed. I am hoping that it will brighten up the darkness, even if only a little. As for me, this project has brought wonderful people into my life, it has strengthened my relationship with my husband and I have become stronger, healthier and happier. It has taught me to believe in miracles.

Someone stopping to chat at our rest place.

On our training trips, We always find a shady spot to brew coffee, douse Vanille and let her take a nice long rest, and just relax ourselves before heading home. Someone always stops their car to take a photo or ask lots of questions as well as share their experiences, or simply to chat. I love this! Some people will rush by, but I love that someone will slow down, even stop, and spend the time just to talk.

climbing a long hill alone. The men are walking to lighten the load.

For the past few months we have been making short training trips. Mark and I have had to learn the many facets of driving a horse. Each outing has brought a new challenge and we are becoming more comfortable in the driver's seat. Vanille, the lovely Comtois mare lent to us by Jean François is also learning. She is amazing! Huge trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and cars who are in a hurry don't phase her. She is strong, intelligent, sensitive, and she loves to work.

Jean François has been a gift from heaven. The three of us are always together when traveling and he is a wonderful teacher. We could never have done this without his help. He is constantly researching and trying new shoes/boots for Vanille and the best diet for her since she has a tendency to be too heavy. His experience and research made it possible to find the best harness which has been perfect so far. When Vanille is resting, she practically sits on the back strap of the harness, all 750 kilos of her. Thank the Gods and Jean François that we bought the Zilco harness. We have used Easyboot New Trail on Vanille's front feet most of the summer and Duplo composite shoes on her back feet. We had some trouble with the boots turning so we now have the Duplo shoes on all four feet. This year has been about researching, learning and trials for everything.

Bella has become attached to Vanille and spends most of the day just “hangin'” with her. She makes a big effort to herd her and occasionally Vanille will galop off with Bella running beside her. This is such a beautiful sight! Most of the time though Vanille just ignores her.

As for the finishing work on Tòti, we are nearing a standstill until next year. The door is being built by a friend but the windows and fiberglas for the roof will have to wait until next spring. I'm so impatient to put the sunflower gussets up to hold the front roof, and place the stained glass window in the back, but I have to wait. The weather is changing, and we are totally out of money. We will finish next spring and hopefully take some long trips. I hope friends will come along….one at a time as weight is a huge consideration. Vanille must enjoy this as much as we do. We love her too much!

Once again, BRAVO to Mark for his building and engineering skills. He's also learning to drive and doing great. My hero!

If you want to join us next year, if you think the experience will be important for you, let me know.

If you have any questions, comments or a story to share, please send an email.


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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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