My route back to the saddle

I have been an enthusiastic horse lover for the greater part of my life. Since I was 6, I have been going to lessons, and pretty much spent all possible time at stables. Before long I got my parents to buy me my own horse. She ended up being one of the most important friends of my youth. Then, after 10 years together, her journey came to an end.  Afterwards I resulted into renting a couple of horses, until that, too came to an end, as I moved to Belgium.

After the move, life happened. I was busy exploring my new home country and quite some of its surroundings. Then came work, and an utter lack of time, plus I wasn’t exactly thrilled to go and search for a place where there wouldn’t be a massive language barrier. And also, from owning and renting horses, it is kind of a big step backwards to return to a riding school. So, life went on, for almost 4 years, with no horses.

This spring we moved, closer to work, which meant a lot more free time. Additional free time was the key to light the spark again. Somewhere in the summer I started to search for stables in the area and contacted a few.

A couple of days later I got a reply from one of those stables. Welcoming me to a workshop, where I could get an idea of the functioning of the stable and the of the philosophy they follow. I was through the roof!

So, on a warm Sunday morning in August, I found myself sitting in a circle with ladies of all ages, talking about the feeding of a horse; in Dutch. I tried to follow, googled the names of plants and body parts of horses they were mentioning, taking in the smell of sand, hay and horses. There was a welcoming atmosphere, everybody seemed to have the same goal in mind; how to have a healthy, happy horse.

The horses had plenty of space to roam around, which is not always the case in Belgium, where some stables don’t let the horses out at all, so I was happy. The herd seemed harmonious and well cared for. The well being of the animals was clearly the first priority there. Without too much doubting I enlisted myself for weekly lessons. This has been going on for about one and a half months.  Now I have also started to rent a horse once a week. Centered riding is the way of riding here. Everything is to do with breathing and balance. I am excited about this, since I think this will be a great way for me to get back into riding and become better in it.

Every lesson before we even get on to the horse, the teacher busies us with ground work. Which I find also a very smart approach. If you think about teaching a person to ride, without teaching them how to be with a horse, read it and handle it, you are cutting quite some corners short, eventually asking for trouble. By working on the ground first, you get the first contact with the animal on the eye-level. You see its mood and the way it moves easier. And everybody gets a little warm up.

The lessons advance slowly, focusing much more on the thinking side of the whole thing, rather than getting through complicated exercises. So we learn to lead the horse, learn to balance our own energy so, that horse follows and listens. We search for the movement of the horse, while on horse back and try to follow it and see and feel, how your seat affects the horses movement and mood. It all is very slow, the riding skills are really being built from the bottom up, block by block.

I have been happy to notice that this break from horses has done some good for me. I am a fairly reactive and nervous person by nature. I used to have a horse that was the same. Which was not necessarily a good combination if you wanted to stay on top of the situation. But we both had fun, which back then was the most important thing!

Now during this break I think I have matured. I am less hasty. I am not only reacting, but am able to stop and asses the situations before doing anything. I find myself enjoying the moments when I can just watch and see how the horses interact with each other and try and learn from that and interpret it to my own actions with them. I am learning loads more now, than what I was capable of, or willing to, before!

The horse I am renting, she is lovely and ridiculously pretty palomino. She most definitely is not the smartest of the bunch, though some things she learns quickly, others she takes ages to figure out. Plus she is completely new to this way of working. But she is sweet, and trusting and I am very much looking forward to learning together with her.

This is a completely new start for me, to be with horses and to ride. There is a serious bunch of things to learn and find out, of the sport and of myself. I am so very happy I finally got to find a stable to continue my dear hobby. Once again I have a place to forget all the stress of work and just be present and have a horse to develop with!


Changing scenery

It has already been a while, since this happened, but I just haven’t had the inspiration to write about it. But anyways, we have a new home! We moved in May this year.

Nothing spectacular, we are still in Belgium and in Flanders, but Rupelmonde, charming and lovely Rupelmonde was left behind. We had been searching for a new place to live in for the whole spring. The main goal was to get closer to work. The 3 hours that disappeared every day while going to and coming from work was finally getting too much.

We selected the approximate areas where we would like to see ourselves living in. Not in Brussels but somewhere along an easyish railway connection to there. Simple, in theory. Many of you probably know that theory is often far from reality.

First of all we (Waffle) had to get our heads around the fact that an apartment might be a viable option (lower heating costs and maintenance etc.), then we started to create more requirements, like garage, preferably for two cars. Waffle wasn’t even turning his ear to any living space, smaller than 80m2. I was tearing my hair out, since almost none of the rental ads displayed the layout of the home advertised, which to me is more or less the most important piece of information when choosing a home!

Anyhow, we slowly began to find homes which more or less matched the criteria, and got on with visiting some of them. At times the lack of service-mindedness from the real estate agents was striking. They offered no help to us, nor the land lords. Frustrating! But anyhow, one day the moment came, Waffle called me to work, telling me he had found what we were looking for. I received a video of the visit, and approved. A week later we signed the rental contract and became happy inhabitants to be of the jolly town of Merchtem!

A few weeks passed, with packing boxes, sorting out stuff and so on. Waffle had been living in the same house for close to 10 years, accumulating surprisingly lot of things that you easily forget about. Also the fact, that we were moving from a 3 storey house into an apartment, forced us to get rid of quite some belongings. Including a hole pile of guitars, Waffle had collected… That was eventually a refreshing experience! Plus we hardly needed to buy anything new!

The move itself was a hassle, as they always are. But thanks to all our friends who lend their helping hands our stuff switched addresses quickly and we got to enjoy our pizzas and beers.

So that was done, our belongings were moved and we got to settle in. The building of new routines could commence.  I myself was very happy to find out that my walk to train station is only 3 minutes. And my travel time to work was cut to half (provided the trains bother driving)! Waffle has it even better, traveling to work in less than half an hour at best. Both of us are secretly nurturing the idea of eventually cycling to work, although for me crossing the Brussels center in morning traffic by bike is a somewhat terrifying thought.

But the main thing is, that we now have at least an extra hour to every day, and I am more independent in my mobility. Which is great, I’m sure you can imagine! Merchtem is not a bad place to live either. Although the population seems to be somewhat politically active (the local elections are approaching and the amount of propa… advertisements is overwhelming) the neighborhood is tidy, calm, fresh and green.

As we have been exploring the neighborhood, we have found a local kiwi grower and wine maker, a very jolly fellow. And as every self respecting Belgian, we have mapped the best places to get fries from (unfortunately the best has since burned down, forcing us to buy our fatty potatoes from the second best joint). We also found out that Merchtem is the proud town of stilt walkers! Apparently the area used to flood frequently, so the dwellers needed to figure out a way to keep their toes dry. Stilts were the answer!

Still, we are missing the beautiful nature area we had in Rupelmonde and the Skelt -river. Merchtem is mainly surrounded by endless fields of corn and paddocks for cows. No Beavers or otters here. We do have two big forests relatively close by, which is great, and there are trails to run on, when ever one of us lazies gets off of the sofa.  Also our caravan is sitting in our own garage, so our weekend trips got just a little bit easier to depart onto! So everything all fine and dandy.

Schelde, Rupelmonde, Belgium

The added time has enabled me to revive my old hobby, which is great, on that I will write a completely separate blogety blog!





The last steps in the Pyrenees

The previous post is here!

It was a restless night, we both kept searching for a comfortable position, listening to the sounds outside.  As the wind ruffled the tent, I was happy to be tucked in my wonderfully warm sleeping bag.

The morning came, as it always does, brisk and clean and all new. The sunlight smacked my sleepy eyes and forced me awake. A graving for coffee was next in line and soon enough the stove was set up and water beginning to boil. After some hot breakfast and coffee we were ready to head off.

This would be our last day of hiking. The trail, which had appeared in front of us yesterday would follow the ridge all the way down to the GR10 again. The beautiful undulating ridge was basking in the sunlight, promising an easy way home.

And easy it was. Beautiful as well. We were so relieved to see the more demanding parts of the trail disappearing behind us. The trail walked us past a few smaller peaks, until leading us to a magnificent broad saddle, littered with tiny blooming heathers and other small flowers. I have never seen such a large saddle, it was like walking across a football field, high up on a mountain ridge!

After useless loitering on the wide open plain, we had to start going again. Up onto the last peak of the hike. It was a gentle mountain, that one. Not so high anymore, soft and round. But from the top we got a great overview of the whole trail and all the peaks we had conquered.

On the other side of the peak the ridge continued to be beautiful. With softly tumbling meadows on one side and plummeting cliffs on the other. All this was topped off by a small herd of young horses wandering around the mountain meadows, all wild and free.

The downwards journey advanced swiftly, soon we found ourselves below the tree line and in the middle of wild blueberries. The best hiking snacks there are! all in all our descent was fairly uneventful, we started to meet some other hikers, going the opposite way, and on GR10 it got almost crowded. I was starting to feel increasingly ill. A loud humming in my ears, blocked nose and difficulties to find my balance were making the last meters to our car little bit less of an enjoyable journey.

I was happy to see our car again. Always after a hike it seems like a promise of comfort, at least a soft seat to lay your buttocks on. But it is bittersweet happiness, since the car takes us away from the mountains too. Plus it is so hot you could bake eggs inside.

As we drove down the serpentine, my ears were blobbing between blocked and open and blocked again. Waffle was demanding I go to a doctor. I hate going to doctors, but Waffle went on and found one in a tiny village called Piolenc, the capital of garlic. We were confident that a doctor, even in the south of France, will speak English. We were wrong. Plenty of confusion, translating and hand signals later I got a diagnose of ear infection and a long prescription for all sorts of medicine. Maybe indeed I had been sick enough for the doctor’s visit.

That turned our the planning for the rest of our holiday upside down. I always become extremely feeble with antibiotics, so hiking was pretty much off the menu. Luckily we were not too far from the second home of Waffle’s parents’, which happened to be empty at the time. We retreated there to medicate me in peace and comfort.

The house is in the beautiful gorge of the Ardèche, so the situation was not bad at all. We spent a couple of nights there and during the days we searched for places to skinny dip in the rivers. And there are plenty of those! Every corner of the river hides new secrets. The water is crystal clear and and there are plenty of small pools created by water to the soft limestone. It is nicely refreshing to take a dive in a small pool of cool water in the heat of over 30 degrees. From the northern areas of the nature park of Monts d’Ardèche we even found a beautiful set of cascades!

This holiday was creeping to an end and once again we had to get onto the road and off towards home. We were on the move early enough to make a stop and be tourists. I had realized with my antibiotic-infused brain, that our route went via the Burgundy wine region. Hooray, something new for us! Quick Googling pointed out one excellent, small vineyard, Parigot et Richard, making Crémant de Bourgogne in the town of Savigny-lès-Beaune.

Turned out, Savigny lès Beaune was not at all shabby village. The houses were very French, built out of pale stone and the streets were tidy and after every corner you walked by a vineyard or two. We wandered into one of those, just by random.

We were welcomed by a man, a happy man who apparently had been in the process of tasting his own produce. He sat us at his table and started pouring wine. White and red, fairly dry, both of them. He was clearly not in favor of mixing grapes, so all his bottles were containing 100% of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Aligoté. Perfectly good wines, so we walked out of there with a couple of boxes and left the man himself giggling in his own reality.

After that, we actually managed to get to the house I had found earlier with Google. They were busy at work; the harvest had started ahead of time, thanks to the exceptional weather. But they did manage to squeeze us in, when they heard we were in the region only for that afternoon.

And oh boy, was I happy they did! Their selection of sparkling wines was exquisite. Bottles containing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aligoté in harmonious quantities offering quite refreshing tastes.  Waffle accidentally compared the product to Champagne, which was a mistake; these people clearly have a pride of their own. The wine maker was slightly insulted, remembering to mention, that the grapes of Champagne are actually from the Burgundy region! After chatting and tasting we left happily with a few boxes of sparkling gold.

After a the wine found its way to the car, we went for a walk to clear our heads, so we could hit the road safely again. We circled the town, found some vineyards and plenty of old war planes deposited into a garden of a castle. Quite a surprise that was!

An hour or so later, we got driving again for the last leg of our journey to home. Car full of wines, heads full of happy memories. We were both so glad that we finally got to do a longer hike in such a beautiful setting, even though the start of the holiday hadn’t been too promising.