Showing posts with label horses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label horses. Show all posts

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Horse lessons terminated

Yesterday, I told my Welsh friend Will—seen in the following photo at Gamone with his pair of splendid friends—that it was time for me to terminate my horse lessons, which I mentioned briefly in my article entitled Learning a thing or two about horses [display].

Two aspects of the situation had gotten out of control. On the one hand, unlike donkeys, these great beasts need a constant supply of fine hay in winter, and it goes without saying that I'm not in a position to obtain such a supply. Two or three local farmers have been prepared to sell me a bale of hay from time to time, but it's generally hay that they themselves have purchased from other farmers with rich pastures in relatively remote localities. Besides, that goes to explain why there's no longer much serious agricultural activity in the vicinity of Choranche. In our commune, there's only one remaining dairy-farming family: our mayor Bernard Bourne and his son Frédéric.

The second problem is a consequence of the first one, but more annoying. When the horses decide that they're not getting enough good fodder, they take action. The day before yesterday, towards the end of the afternoon, the black horse found a weak corner in the barbed-wire fence at the top of my property, and it succeeded in bursting through. When I saw it wandering around up on top of the ridge above my house, I immediately scrambled up there and cut away the dangling barbed wire, so that the animal would not injure itself if I managed to coax it back down the slopes. By that time, the piebald horse had discovered the hole, and it promptly climbed up to its mate. Night started to set in, and it was no longer possible to intervene in any way whatsoever. So I decided to postpone operations until the following morning. Besides, since there wasn't much that could be done at this point, I decided that there was no point in phoning Will, to tell him what had happened.

At 5 o'clock the next morning (yesterday), the barking of the dogs woke me, and I discovered that the two horses and the two donkeys were wandering around in the yard in front of my house. Once again, I decided that nothing could be done until daylight. Two hours later, when I went outside to evaluate the situation, all four animals had disappeared. I jumped into my car and started searching everywhere, but there was no sign of them. Around 8 o'clock, I finally got through to Will, and described the situation. He and Sylvie arrived down at Gamone a little later, and we decided to climb up to the top of the ridge to see if the animals were hanging around on the land of my neighbor Gérard Magnat. They weren't in sight. Suddenly, we glimpsed the donkeys running up from the main road, pursued by a yellow van, along the winding track that leads to Gérard's house. Will only half-believed me when I discouraged him from scrambling down in a straight line towards the house. Although it seems to be close at hand, there's a messy creek with steep banks, which can only be crossed easily by sheep (as I've known too well for several years). So, we started back down towards my house, with a view to going down the road to access Gérard's place. Within half an hour, Will had met up with his horses, on the outskirts of Pont-en-Royans, and I was able to lead my donkeys calmly back to Gamone.

Trying to grasp what had taken place during the dark hours of the night, I told Will that the donkeys, when they escape from their paddock (as has often happened), are capable of hanging around the house for hours or even days on end. Why was it that the horses ventured rapidly onto the busy road down below Gamone, in the hours before dawn, and followed it blindly towards Pont-en-Royans? Here, Will gave me another lesson on horse psychology, which might be summed up in this famous logo for Johnnie Walker whisky:

Once a horse has moved stealthily (or almost) out of its usual yard, and found freedom in the wide, wide world, it's sole desire is to keep on walking, up until it runs into a gate or some kind of barrier. Well, between Gamone and Pont-en-Royans, there are no gates, and the only barriers are a few fences around the yards of private properties.

This escapade of the two horses, accompanied by my donkeys, was an extremely dangerous excursion, which could have brought about a road accident. Obviously, I cannot tolerate this kind of risk. So, I told Will that it would be preferable if he took his horses up to Presles. And that is what he did, immediately after. As for me, I'm a little wiser about horses than I was before. Meanwhile, I've asked folk who know me (my daughter, above all) to give me a sharp kick if I were to evoke, ever again, the idea of inviting horses to Gamone as guests.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Learning a thing or two about horses

Yesterday morning, as planned, my Welsh neighbor Will Walters came down here from Presles and we spent a good part of the day enlarging the electrified paddock for my donkeys and his horses. While awaiting his arrival, I distributed fragments of stale bread to the animals. While doing so, I became alarmed by the behavior of the black horse, which appeared to be exceptionally lethargic. To my inexperienced eye, the animal was drowsy. Instead of eating bread, it simply rolled over onto its side as if it were weak and sick. I was most alarmed, because I had the sudden impression that the horse might be agonizing… maybe poisoned by toxic weeds, or something like that. I put a bucket of water in front of its nose, but the animal continued to drowse, as if in a troubled coma. I tried several times to phone Will, urgently, to inform him of what was happening. Thankfully, he arrived soon after in his big 4x4 vehicle, with his three dogs (Fitzroy's family). I yelled out to him to come quickly, because I was persuaded that his beautiful black horse was on the verge of death.

"Let me look into his eyes," said Will, calmly, "and I'll tell you whether there's anything wrong." He did so, promptly, and the horse even got up onto its four legs. Will is one of those rare individuals who knows how to whisper into the ears of horses, and see what's in their eyes. He started to laugh. "William, the horse was simply sleeping. Deeply and serenely, in a state of bliss." When I pressed him to explain, Will adopted the stance of a professor of veterinary science… then his clear and concise explanations enabled me to learn a thing or two about these animals. "Horses have always belonged to the category of prey rather than predators. So, they sleep standing up, while locking their knee bones so that they won't fall over. In that way, if a predator such as a saber-toothed tiger were to arrive on the scene, the horse would wake up instantly and gallop away to save its skin." For the moment, I couldn't quite see what Will was trying to tell me, because I had been convinced that his glorious black horse had been in a state of somnolence, on the verge of death. Will carried on his explanations. "On rare occasions, a horse can find itself in an exceptionally positive and totally comfortable frame of mind. This can happen when it has eaten to its heart's content, and when it's located in a totally friendly and reassuring atmosphere, surrounded by familiar entities. In such an exceptional situation, instead of dozing while remaining upright, the horse is capable of suddenly lying down on its side and falling into a joyful state of sleep… which is exactly what just happened to the black animal. In other words, William, the horse was simply expressing its joy at being here in the friendly surroundings of Gamone."

This morning, observing the black horse grazing contentedly in a sea of apples, I thought about Will's wise words. Later on in the day, the two horses stood calmly upon the slopes of Gamone and gazed down at me as if this were their new home… as it is, for the moment.

I'm looking forward to the next time one of these huge beasts rolls over onto its side and falls asleep.