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!





Small is sometimes better…

Town, France, Village

As we travel and explore the world it is rather seldom, that we venture into, and get to see and feel the life in the small towns. Big cities and the tourist destinations we do go to,  they are easy to find, everybody is talking about them and of course, normally a city is just has more live into it. More things to see, do and experience.

But that is by no means a reason not to go to the small towns and villages. I might be a little bit biased in this matter. I have somewhat an allergy towards city trips. Cities do not usually end up into mine or Waffle’s travel “to do” lists. But there are just so many hidden jewels in those small, sleepy towns in every single country I have traveled to. Often in those places, in my opinion, you get to see the real culture and the real people, life is less global in these places. And in a way, the culture of the capital and cities, it stems from the villages and countryside.

Take Italy for example, at best, you find a remarkably different cuisine from one village to another. France is not left far behind. Do I need to even mention cheeses and wine? Not forgetting the ever changing architecture from coast to the mountains and back? Not forgetting Belgium, every single village here has a brewery to visit, sometimes even a good one. I am pretty sure the small towns in every country have something similar to surprise people with.

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We have traveled through dozens of cute little villages, some downright ugly ones too, but what would life be without good contrasts! Some of the nicest lingering memories from our travels we have collected for a village here or there. Like the unbeatable surveillance system of Romanian villages: grannies sitting by the road. Or the vines in the pergolas of almost every house in Montenegro. And the faint smell of smoke in winter lingering around the mountain villages of France, when people are keeping their toes warm. All in all, the atmosphere is different in towns compared to bigger communities. Everybody more or less knows each other and a traveler is always a stranger.

These things don’t end up in travel guides. Which is understandable, no bureau of travel has the time or resources to go through and discover an endless amount of small places people have chosen to live in. It can indeed be time consuming.

The way me and Waffle travel, almost always takes us to these places. Sometimes randomly, sometimes by planning.  I like these small strolls we have in towns. It gets me into the mood of being abroad.

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How do we manage to end up in the small places then? A car. A car is the answer. Unfortunately relying on public transport would be time consuming in this business. Most every time when we head abroad we leave the airport or harbor in a car. Then as we plan on crossing half a country in that said vehicle it is more or less inevitable to pass some villages. Bit of magic on the Google maps will often help us to get started and lessen the randomness factor. Sometimes we even manage to take a photo or two of them, before disappearing for days into the shrubbery.

I guess there needs to be a purpose of this rambling. Let it be an intro to the pictures we actually managed to capture of the villages we have passed during our travels. Maybe this will be an inspiration too, to some of you out there, to take a break of your city/beach/nature holiday and take a step towards a small town somewhere. Sometimes it is worth it to go explore these places in your home country, trust me!

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