Archive of ‘Big Sky’ category
If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed a few weeks ago that I posted about my dry cleaner losing my hunt coat. I purposefully didn’t name the business and was willing to give them a chance to make things right. So this is my story about doing business with Twin Kell Cleaners.
I dropped my hunt coat off with the cleaner early on a Tuesday morning and emphasised to the woman I left it with that it HAD to be ready to pick up by 8a on Friday morning. She was a big grumpy and seemed quite put out by my request (really, is it unusual that someone would want their clothing back in 2 1/2 days?!) but committed to have it ready after 5p on Thursday.
I left a touch earlier than usual on Friday morning to give myself plenty of time to stop at the cleaners before work. I rolled up at about 7:30a and had even kept my ticket with the bar code for them to scan and (hopefully) make it quicker and easier for them to find my coat. The nice lady takes my ticket, goes to the back and starts rolling the hangers to get to my number. After a few minutes of this I can tell something isn’t right. She smiles at me and asks the other nice lady at the desk to come back and help her look. They go item by item through at least 500 garments to no avail. They ask the washing girl if it is in with the washed items (egads!). Still no coat. By 7:50a they admit to me that they have lost the coat. I explain, as nicely as I can when starting to panic, that I HAVE to have this coat before I leave for the horse show that afternoon. They are going to continue to look and will call me before 2p.
Now this isn’t just any old hunt coat. This is a hunt coat that my Mom made for me when I was in high school. It is a lovely charcoal tropical wool with a RED pinstripe and RED silk satin lining. And it fit just perfectly.
The red pinstripe coat in action.
Losing my hunt coat was definitely an inconvenience, but it was a huge sentimental loss, too. My Mom is an amazingly talented seamstress. She made all of my horse show clothes when I was growing up as well as all my formal gowns and all my regular clothes until I was in junior high (which is when one becomes way too cool to wear clothes that Mom made). She had always said that NOTHING was as hard to make as hunt coats. The fit has to be just perfect for the fabric to lay correctly.
The nice lady from the cleaners called around 1p and didn’t have any better news. The coat was officially lost. They suspected that they accidentally gave it to someone else, but wouldn’t know that until or unless someone returned it and there was no telling if or when that would happen. She did advise me that Twin Kell would reimburse me for a new coat if I had to buy a new coat. Well, if I was going to show I really had to have a coat. I had already texted my trainer about the debacle and she had rounded up some coats I might be able to borrow so hopefully all wasn’t lost.
I left work, picked up Sterling at home and drove as fast (and safely) as I could to Tyler in hopes of getting there in time to try on some coats at Quail Hollow Tack. If the cleaners were willing to reimburse me for a new coat I might as well get one. If they did find my coat at least I’d have a second in case something like this happened again. I got there in the nick of time to unload Sterling and run over to the trailer to try on coats. The Grand Prix Techlite in Navy fit me PERFECTLY! AND it is WASHABLE! No more worrying about any dry cleaning incidents!
I showed the next two weekends with my new coat and no word from the cleaners. I had my receipt for the new coat tucked safely in my purse, but just hadn’t been able to bring myself to go request the reimbursement. Lo and behold, two days before the last spring show in Tyler the cleaners called. Someone else had in fact picked up my coat and had returned it to Twin Kell. I was absolutely delighted. I did mention that I had to buy a new coat and that they had promised to reimburse me if I did buy one. She asked me to hold on and passed the phone to one of the owners. My heart sunk. I just knew he was going to tell me that he was sorry I had to buy a new coat, but that since they now had mine they weren’t going to cover the cost of the new coat. In fact, all he asked was how much the new coat cost and that they would have a check ready for me when I picked up the missing coat that afternoon. I told him the cost and offered to provide the receipt. He didn’t need to receipt and the check would be ready by early afternoon. I could have hugged him through the phone! What delightful customer service!
I picked up my coat that evening and sure enough there was an envelope attached to the hanger with a check in the exact amount I told him. I’m a forever Twin Kell customer now. I’ll tell anyone who will listen about how well they treated me when they truly didn’t have to treat me well if they hadn’t wanted to.
My beautiful hunt coat is now back in my closet, safe and sound.
I was perusing Facebook recently and came upon a post with a link to an article titled How to Embrace “Incompetence”. Sometimes one just feels compelled to read something and so I did. I didn’t read the article word-for-word, but I did skim the highlights and what I read really hit home. The article is about Noel Burch’s philosophy of learning which contains four stages;
• Unconscious Incompetence
• Conscious Incompetence
• Conscious Competence
• Unconscious Competence
In case you are wondering, I’m at stage 2; Conscious Incompetence. This means, in a nutshell, I know what I’m supposed to do but just can’t seem to get it done. At least not all of the time. Often when I talk to people and they ask how I did at a horse show I have some sort of snarky response about how great Sterling was, but his rider not-so-much. People who have known me a long time, and especially horsey friends will feel the need to reassure me that I’m a great rider. The thing is, I may be a great rider, but I still don’t really know what I’m doing when cantering around a hunter course! There are SO many pieces to put together and all of my riding muscle memory is from riding western or riding English, but in western style.
One of the biggest differences between western in English riding is how the rider uses their legs. In western riding the rider will give an order with the leg and then leave it alone. In English riding there is constant contact and support with the leg with occasional stronger cues. My western trained legs KNOW they shouldn’t just be hanging there, but they still seem to be incompetent to get a move on and do what I want them to do all the time. Hence the competent incompetence.
Moving from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence requires lots and lots of practice doing things correctly. I’m right in the middle of four horse shows in a row over five weekends and this is giving us quite a lot of opportunity for practice, practice, practice. The great news is that my horse is awesome. Almost no matter how things go in the warmup, or lack thereof, he’s always good in the ring. This gives me the good fortune of getting to practice creating new muscle memory and learning from my mistakes generally without having to worry about my horse spooking at something or refusing jumps. He’s also settling in much better at each show. Eating all his meals and drinking his water. Things Jaguar would never in a million years have NOT done! My trainer lives five hours away so I really only see her at horse shows. This means we are learning on the “stage”, but it has the added benefit of being at a horse show. You can never ever duplicate the energy of a horse show at home.
Hopefully by the last weekend I will have, at least in part, moved to some level of competence and be rewarded with that elusive blue ribbon.
Sterling and I got to go to another horse show this past weekend. Most places that host USEF “A” rated horse shows seem to have them for multiple weeks in a row. I’ve only been doing this for a few months so I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read on social media they do this to attract trainers. It is a lot easier to have multiple weeks in a row where the trainer can just camp out for a month or two than to go to place A one week, then drive to place B the next week and then to place C. You get my point. Right now there are about five weeks in a row of horse shows at the Texas Rose Horse Park near Tyler. I’m planning to go to three weekends of shows. Time and budget restraints prevent going to all four weekends of shows.
For non-Texans, April is a very special time of year in North Texas. It is severe-thunderstorm-warning-and-tornado season. When I drove to the horse show I listened to the radio and watched my rear-view mirror and basically outran a severe thunderstorm to get to the stables and get Sterling settled before it hit. Jaguar has done a fantastic job of being the herd boss and making all the horses stand outside during major storms; snow, rain, tornado, it doesn’t matter. This has resulted in horses that aren’t too affected by bad weather. I was able to unload my trailer, get Sterling settled in his stall, and head to the hotel before the wind, thunder and lightning got crazy. I had talked to Boot City earlier and the storm hit our house pretty hard. He was without power for a couple hours, which is pretty unusual for us. The braiders braid the horses’ manes and tails overnight so our braider texted my trainer and said our horses and ponies were all fine during the storm. Sterling was interested, but not crazy. She even got his forelock braided without me there to distract him while she braided it!
When we got to the barn the next morning this is what our wheelbarrow looked like:
That is just rainwater people. No one filled that thing with a hose!
That was just from rain from the sky, it was also runoff from the roof of the tent where the horses were stabled, but still. That is a LOT of water!
Considering this was only our second “A” show and at a newish place (we had been here a couple times before, but the ambience at an “A” show is completely different than a schooling show), I didn’t exactly know what to expect from Sterling. We did make some progress in figuring out how to best prep and settle him at horse shows.
Here is Sterling’s horse show list:
- Don’t ride him right when you get to the show grounds. He’s too busy and crazy looking around to accomplish anything functional.
- Generally he doesn’t eat much of his feed, but he will eat every morsel of hay he’s given. This isn’t terrible, at least he eats.
- Warmup rings make him crazy. There is way too much to look at and too many horses buzzing around him. Five minutes in it feels like someone hooked him up to an electrical outlet. It is much better to get to the show grounds super early in the morning, before the hunter princesses have woken from their beauty sleep, and get time in the warmup ring all alone.
- Use the warmup round for just that, to warm up over fences. I read a Chronicle of the Horse forum post recently asking about people not jumping their horse in the warmup before showing. That seems to be Sterling now. He’s the sweetest boy in the whole wide world and generally (knock on wood) is not at all spooky. He just needs one round to go see all the jumps and he’s good.
- Last, but not least, he just might like peppermints as treats. this needs further exploration, but I’m excited that there may be a treat he actually likes!
All in all it was a good show. We had very respectable placings on Saturday; a 2nd and a 6th over fences and 2nd in the flat class. Sunday’s placings weren’t as good, but I felt like I was riding much better. We got a fourth, a fifth and an eighth, all over fences. I’m super excited to do it all again soon. Sterling’s list may be a bit different, but at least we are getting his likes and dislikes figured out which surely makes the whole experience better for him!
Saturday’s ribbons and a very sleepy pony.
When Coco was born her dam (“mom” in human talk) was four years old. That means she was bred when she was three, which is relatively young for a horse. I keep in pretty close touch with Coco’s breeder and also know the gentleman who breaks their horses from mutual friends. The breeder told me that breeding the young mares often helps the mare to be calmer and less “marish” AKA bitchy. The breaker reiterated that Mai Tai (Coco’s mom) was much calmer and more submissive than younger mares often act when first getting ridden. Thus a seed was planted.
The whole reason I own Coco is because I had bought an older mare a few years ago for the sole purpose of breeding. After two breeding seasons and a LOT of vet bills I finally threw in the towel and bought a foal AKA Coco.You’d think after that miserable experience I’d have learned my lesson, but I haven’t. My parents raised horses and we had foals nearly every year I lived in Montana. I love being around the babies, teaching them all the basics and eventually riding and showing them. I value knowing every single experience the horse has ever had. I have no one to blame but myself if they missed something in their training. I also can’t afford to buy a $50,000+ show horse. Buying or raising foals makes much fancier horses significantly more affordable, if a bit more risky and time consuming.
Coco is by a Thoroughbred stallion named Coconut Grove out of a mare by a Dutch Warmblood stallion named Mezcalero. Both Mezcalero and Coconut Grove stood at the barn where I bought Coco. Her grand-damsire, Amaretto D, also stood there. She is registered with RPSI When planning what stallion I wanted to breed her to my biggest priority was temperament. I want a foal who is fun and easy to bring up and not super hot. I also have an affinity for Holsteiners. They are a German registry and many of the top jumpers are Holsteiners. Someday I’ll do a post (or 14) about warmblood registries. After growing up with Quarter Horses I’m still trying to figure out the whole warmblood registry thing. I follow a few breeders on Facebook and one stallion in particular had caught my eye. His name is Cartier R and he’s a Holsteiner imported from Germany. His breeder was running a fee special in 2013 so I talked to Coco’s breeder and asked if she thought it was a good cross. They had prepared and shown Cartier R at his Holsteiner stallion inspection so I knew they knew him and could give me good feedback. Coco’s breeder gave a thumbs up so I went ahead and paid the stud fee knowing it would be at least two years before Coco would be an eligible bachelorette.
Cartier R at his Holsteiner Stallion Inspection
At the time I paid his stud fee Cartier was only four years old so definitely didn’t yet have any show experience. Since then he has shown in some jumper and hunter classes and gotten some good ribbons. He started in the jumper arena, but has since move to the hunter arena which I actually prefer. My hope is that Coco or her foal will be a hunter. The jumpers still scare me. One thing about Cartier that I’m almost superstitious about is his single white left hind ankle. Jaguar has a single white left hind ankle and so does Coco. I’m convinced it is a sign of superior intelligence.
Cartier R showing in summer 2014
If you want to read more about Cartier R you should check out Rising Star Farm. Coco went to the reproduction vet last week and I have my fingers and toes crossed and I say special prayers every night that she gets in foal easily, has a nice pregnancy and delivers a perfect filly next spring, also with a white left hind ankle. OK, I’d be fine if it is just a healthy foal.
I’ll leave you with one last photo of the beautiful Cartier R. If you own a warmblood mare, you should give Ronda a call. She has a few lovely stallions on her farm. In the meantime think happy thoughts, so prayers, or do whatever you do to influence positive outcomes!
Another pic of Cartier R showing in the hunter ring
So saddle #1 was a fail. We headed to another horse show in November and this time I discussed more fully with my trainer what exactly I was shopping for. We settled on looking for an Antares and a larger seat size than a 17″. They make lovely saddles in France and have a great reputation both for their customer service (even on second-hand purchased saddles) as well as for having a quality product. We ruled out a couple other brands for quality and fit issues and kept a couple as maybes. I have a tendency to get fixated on things, so I was pretty set on getting an Antares. My trainer mentioned the Antares Spooner, which is an off-the-rack saddle that Antares offers, but I mostly blew off that idea (in my head, not out loud) because it was a few hundred dollars more than what I was planning to spend. This would become laughable later.
As I previously posted that show went pretty well (we got 6th in our first ever hunter derby) and we headed home with renewed energy to shop for that new saddle. I shopped. And I shopped. And I shopped some more. THIS IS THE ONE! Wait, no, I don’t think that flap is long enough. I love it, but it is too expensive. I talked Boot City’s ear off about the whole thing. Maybe I should try this one, or maybe this one. I got so in my own head that I didn’t even try another saddle until Christmas. And what a lovely Christmas it was.
Boot City pays a lot more attention to things than I generally give him credit for. He is unbelievably supportive of my obsession with all things horsey and genuinely supports every harebrained idea I get about what I want to do with my horses. So, Christmas morning, this is what was under the tree:
An Antares Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak!
He took it upon himself to order the Spooner trial saddle from SmartPak for me to try. Yes, the saddle that was a few hundred dollars over the budget I had set for myself he just went ahead and got for me to try. I had to sit down for a minute. I HAVE THE BEST HORSEY HUSBAND EVER. The trial saddles from SmartPak generally only come in a 17″ (as previously mentioned, this is the most popular size seat). If you like the saddle you try, you can just keep it. Having discussed the larger seat size with my trainer already I was fairly certain I was going to need a bigger saddle, but with the trial I could make sure it fit my horse and that I generally liked it so I could order the correct size.
How does the saddle need to fit the horse? I’m no expert, but I can explain the basics. You want the gullet, the channel down the middle of the underside of the seat, to be wide enough that it doesn’t put pressure on the horse’s spine. You also want plenty of clearance over the horses’s withers (the hump behind their neck and before their back), but not hitting the top of the withers. Lastly you want the underside of the saddle to touch the horse evenly. The more evenly the panels touch the horse, the more evenly the rider’s weight is spread out. If all the rider’s weight is only supported by a couple spots then the horse is going to have pain in the spots over time. Thankfully my horses are all rather easy to fit. Sterling especially.
The back view. Not the best photo ever taken, but you can see there is plenty of room down the gullet to give his spine plenty of room.
In this shot you can see there are no issues with his withers being pinched or hitting the underside of the saddle. Things are looking good!
All signs were pointing to yes to the Spooner. Yay! Now to ride in it a few times. SmartPak very specifically says to ride in it like you own it already. Often when you try new saddles you have to cover up the stirrup leathers with a sock so as not to damage the leather and you can’t do much in it because the saddle still needs to look brand new if you opt to not keep it. Not the best way to try a saddle. So we spent the five days after Christmas riding in the Spooner as much as possible and sending myriad photos to my trainer to get feedback on fit.
Definitely too small, but leg position is improved. Trainer says shorten the stirrups and send more pics.
Stirrups shortened. Getting better. Trainer requests another pic with stirrups shortened again. Done and done.
Day 4 the-saddle-must-be-mailed-back-tomorrow
Looks good! Trainer says to order the 18″. 18″?!?!?!?! #selfimagesuffering
I’m a female in the United States of America in 2015. Bigger size, means big person, which is generally frowned upon in the culture that worships young and thin. I need an 18″ saddle?!?!?! So, I ask my trainer what any female student would ask, “is my butt really THAT big?” Here I get another lesson in saddle fitting. It isn’t about how big my derriere is, it is how long my legs are and how skinny my horse is. Huh? I have long legs. What?! No one has told me that since I was 17. I thought that I had somehow become average in all aspects of size as an adult, but evidently my legs did NOT get shorter upon entering adulthood. My horse has flat sides and doesn’t have a huge barrel. This combination means I need to ride with a shorter stirrup than I would on a larger barrelled horse which pushes my seat back in the saddle and results in needing a larger seat size to accommodate all this accommodation for my skinny horse. Make sense?
At this point I have a whole new level of respect for saddle fitters and for people with hard to fit body types and horses who are hard to fit. I’m just a little bit out of whack and it made getting just the right saddle that much more complicated. But, I knew now that I needed an 18″ Antares Spooner. I boxed up my beautiful test ride saddle and sent it back to SmartPak and called to order my 18″. Except that they no longer carry the Spooner in the 18″. Wait. What?! Nope. No. Can. Do. I’m quite certain I nearly cried. I guess the bright side at this point was that I knew, for the most part, what size I needed and that I needed the long flap (not the Normal or Short flap, the long one for my long legs. I was pretty excited about having long legs again).
So, next week will be the big saddle shopping finale.
A few years ago at a fox hunt, one of the other members made the comment that my saddle was too small. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was moderately offended. What?! Me?! I know how a saddle should fit and this one fits just fine! Or. Not. Then I went to take a riding/jumping lesson at a very nice barn near my house. I was so proud of my Pessoa A/O saddle and I was absolutely convinced they would take me seriously because I had a nice saddle. Except that I didn’t, but I didn’t know that yet. The head trainer took one look at my 10 year old Pessoa and promptly suggested I ride one of their Antares saddles. Ant-what? I had never heard of the thing. It was like riding in velcro disguised as buttery soft French leather. It was at that moment that I knew I had a has-been saddle.
Pessoas were great saddles when I got mine. In 199ahem. Made in England of durable, quality leather. I probably hadn’t taken the best care of it, but that was mostly due to ignorance rather than laziness or not caring. I was raised by a cowboy who thought it was absolutely ridiculous I cleaned my saddles before EVERY SINGLE HORSE SHOW. Once a year was clearly more than enough. I won’t go into how he started copying me and borrowed my saddle soap and Neatsfoot oil. But its 2015 now and things have changed quite a lot. Technology in all facets of riding equipment seems to have advanced exponentially in just the past 5 years, but some things like proper fit never change.
This is the Pessoa in all it’s glory at a local hunter show in 2013. Now I can totally see why it was too small. More about that later.
Fast forward a few years to having a broke horse worth taking to a few horse shows and the need for an actual saddle that fits became very real. A lovely friend let me borrow her beautiful Hermes Essentielle for nearly a year. She had shown in it as a youth and rode in it in college and then it took up residence in the back of her car when she started working and no longer had time to ride nor a horse to put it on. It was a full inch bigger than my Pessoa so I thought surely it was “my” size. The most common English saddle size is 17″ and they are generally sold in .5″ increments. I’m about 5’8″ tall with more leg than torso. In my head this was “average” size. Not so as I would learn later.
And the lovely Hermes. Who wouldn’t want to own an Hermes! Beautiful and classic. And also, too small.
I went to a few shows and finally asked my trainer what I should do. You should get a new saddle, she says. She hates where the Hermes puts my leg. Ok. Works for me. I need got get my own saddle so off I go on my saddle shopping spree. I was so excited. I set a budget for what I thought would get me a nice, used, French saddle. My initial thought was I’d get a used saddle now and when Coco gets bigger and ready to show (and presumably I have more $$) I would then get a brand spankin’ new FANCY saddle. Maybe even a custom one. Then this used one would get used primarily for fox hunting and riding youngsters. Wishful thinking. I didn’t ask much beyond whether or not I should get a different saddle so went into my search rather blindly.
I follow a few used tack pages on Facebook and lo and behold a lovely, used Hermes Oxer showed up one day. 17″, which I thought was just the right size. The price was right so I contacted the seller and she agreed to do a trial. She’d ship the saddle to me for a 5 day trial. If it fit I’d keep the saddle and she’d keep my money. If it didn’t fit, she’d refund the money and I’d send back the saddle. Easy peasy. The saddle I had been riding was an Essentielle and this was an Oxer, so the where-it-put-my-leg woes shouldn’t be the same. The saddle arrived and it was lovely and in great condition. I convinced my horsey bestie to come over and tell me what she thought as well as take photos to send to our trainer for further advice.
Hermes Oxer 1. There should be at least 4″ between my hiney and the back of the saddle. Not happening here.
The flap should hit my leg in the middle of my calf. Also, not happening here.
Trainer vetoed. The seat was too small and the flap too short. Saddle number 1 = fail. Hey, no worries. There are more saddles out there. We just have to keep kissing some frogs. I was still upbeat and excited about my license to shop for something I “needed”. Keep up the positive energy! Saddle fit Stage 2 will come Thursday. And we haven’t even gotten into the fitting the horse part!
I remember when I was 9 or 10 years old, I had a lovely horse ready to start showing and my friends and I would tell our other 4-H friends that we were going to start going to the “big time” shows, not just the little local and 4-H horse shows. We really thought we were a big deal! Mind you, the “big time” was AQHA shows. In comparison they really were a bigger deal than the local shows, but Montana horse shows are by no means the “big time”.
I find myself having a similar experience as a 30+ year old, though. As you may recall I went to a couple horse shows last summer and fall. These shows were non-rated, regional club shows. Also, not the “big time”. My goal all along with Sterling has been for us to at some point be good enough to compete at USEF A rated shows. In my mind, these are the “big time”. After our fantastic Derby experience at the November show my trainer felt like it would be worthwhile to go to some A shows! EXCLAMATION POINT! There are many reasons why this is exciting. The first being that my minimal initial investment in an unwanted yearling Thoroughbred was actually a great investment. The second being that it means I have made it to a point as a rider that I’m not entirely embarrassing, at least not all the time. The others being that I could finally go to the big, fun shows I’ve only heard and read about for years and show with my horsey bestie.
We settled on where would be our first show back in December based on schedule and proximity. I don’t have a lot of flexibility getting away from work so it was necessary my classes be on the weekend. I also am not ready to show in classes with fences bigger than 2’6″. This gives Sterling room to save my hiney when I make bad decisions without having to get himself over a ginormous jump. The Winter Series in Katy would be our maiden A show voyage. It turned out to be the PERFECT first A show. Never mind the drama that occurred a couple days before the show when Boot City had to stay up until 2:38a fixing Sterling’s chauffeur’s major coolant leak.
The weather was perfect, 60’s-70’s and mostly sunny. There were about 600 horses at the show so it was big, but not terrifyingly huge. We had pre-entered in the Modified Adult division and our trainer added the Limit Rider to get more courses under our belt. This turned out to be a fantastic idea. Our first couple of Modified courses on Saturday morning left a lot to be desired. Counting strides is often an insurmountable task for me, as is remembering that I have legs and how to use them when riding. I also seem to really like to lean forward, real forward. Poor Sterling has to pick himself and me up before he can jump over the fences. Our Modified placings were 5th and 7th out of twelve, so respectable but nothing to write home about.
The Limit courses were MUCH better! I actually remembered to count, YAY! I also used my leg a few times. I still leaned forward too much, but I think there is some muscle memory that needs to be retrained and that is going to take some time at home. We achieved two 2nd place finishes out of 5 in the Limit. We also got 3rd of 5 in the flat. I was pretty excited to end our FIRST day at the “BIG TIME” show so well!
Sunday was a bit of a reversion back to our old and not-so-pretty ways resulting in some rather ugly courses. Sterling was a bit tired so wasn’t as into saving me from my bad decisions so he tattled on my poor choices of not using my leg and forgetting how to count. We did get it together enough to get 4th of 6 in the under saddle flat class even after one horrendous canter takeoff smack dab in front of the judge with some extremely fancy horses. We didn’t stay long enough on Sunday to show in the Limit classes, but when I checked the results of the show later in the week I found that we had gotten Reserve Champion in the Limit Division! I am so proud of us!
Overall I was very pleased with the results of our first “big time” show. We have some homework to do and poor Jaguar is going to have to participate in my getting miles trying to NOT get in front of my horse when he jumps. I’ll leave it for another post to talk about the BEST part of the weekend. 😉
Photo by Jerry Mohme Photography. Sterling looks lovely and like he wishes his rider would get off his front end!
To continue our horse-centric French rendezvous we made a day of going to the horse races at the Hippodrome de Longchamp.
I have a love/hate relationship with horse racing. I love the stories of horses like Seabiscuit and see them at the track in person, but I’ve been close enough to the sport to know that racehorses are to most of their owners and handlers (I know there are exceptions) not much different from cattle. Once they are done, for whatever reason, they are gotten rid of in the quickest and most lucrative fashion. I’ve seen my fair share of legs broken on the racetrack and my dad ran a stockyards when it was legal to sell horses to the killers in the US. Quite a lot of the horses on those trailers were from the track. However, there is a spirit in many thoroughbreds that nothing can fulfil other than racing. It is powerful to watch such majestic creatures run their hearts out because it is what they were bred to do. It was with that spirit that I found myself at Longchamp.
It was easy to tell the moment we laid eyes on the horses in the paddock that they were extremely well kept. Their coats glistened, their hooves were shiny and, to our surprise, most all of their manes were braided. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a racehorse (in person) in the US with it’s mane braided. Their tails were also thick and banged (cut bluntly). I definitely have not seen many American racehorses with a nice tail! The paddock itself was lovely. Lots of green grass and beautiful flower beds.
The paddock at Longchamp
One of the differences between French and American horse racing that first struck me was the lack of pony horses. At all tracks in the U.S. racehorses are led onto the track, while on the track and often when leaving the track on pony horses. Meaning that someone riding another horse leads the racehorse. Pony horses are usually calm and put up with a lot of racehorse shenanigans. There was not a pony horse in sight at the French racecourse. The first race we watched were three-year-olds and they walked, pretty calmly I might add, from the paddock to the racetrack all by themselves. Most had a human handler or groom walking alongside, but they were pretty much on their own.
Headed to the track
The other difference was that the track at Longchamp is turf (grass). All of the Triple Crown races in the U.S. are run on dirt tracks. Most American tracks have a turf track, but more often run on the dirt. I thought it was a curious difference. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe race is run at Longchamp and is the second richest race in the world. The turf does make for a much lovelier view than does dirt. At first it made me a bit nervous because grass can be very slippery. In none of the races we watched did any of the horses have issues with the footing, thankfully.
Running on the turf around the bend to the homestretch
We stayed for six of the eight or nine races being run the day we attended. We were there on a Monday afternoon so the stands were rather empty. We noticed a few other tourists, but most of the spectators were men and were betting. We had hoped to have a lovely picnic on the grass in the infield, but we couldn’t figure how to get to the infield so we settled in stands and enjoyed getting to watch the horses and general racetrack activity.
A small crowd made for great views, up close and personal.
My favourite part of each race was how calmly and orderly the horses left the track. The jockeys would ride them about 1/8 further down the track than the finish line, then turn their horses around and canter back to the same gate from which they rode onto the field. None of the horses jigged or pranced as they left the track in a single file line back to the paddock. I’m not sure that my 7-year-old thoroughbred (whom has never run a race in his life) would have done it so calmly.
Calmly leaving the track after running a good race.
All in all it was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. The horses were gorgeous, the racing was good and the weather was absolutely perfect. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was to be run a few weeks after our trip. It would be fun to see one of the fancy races in Europe, but I’ll hold out for Ascot one of these trips.
Paris in less than four days; do it! We did! WAY before our trip we had a few “planning” dinners at Saint-Emilion in Fort Worth. We felt the authentic French atmosphere really helped us get into the groove to plan our trip in France. The amazing food and wine was just an extra added bonus. We agreed that we weren’t going to focus on doing the most Parisy of Paris things while we were there. No Eiffel Tower. No Louvre. No love lock bridge. Our focus was on horses and fashion and eating. However, we did happen to fit a few touristy items into the agenda. My partner in travel had been to Paris within the last year and had some destinations undiscovered that she wanted to experience so we focused on a couple highlights and let the rest fall into place.
In keeping with our hunting theme we first headed to the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature). Other than the arbitrary contemporary art exhibit that was there on a temporary basis, this is my favourite museum ever. Small enough to get through, but interesting enough to spend hours. I feel like I could go there 5 times and immerse myself in a completely different part of the museum every time. It had incredible hunting art, guns and knives, taxidermy and fantastic explanations of the focus of hunting through French history. Our most favourite was Reynard sleeping in a chair.
Reynard is an often used name for the fox being hunted by hounds.
After our few hours at the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature we decided to do the touristy of touristing and visit the Notre Dame. We were visiting on a Sunday and, to my delight, were able to go during mass. I felt tacky touring through the Notre Dame during an actual religious mass, but it was well worth the visit. You can’t help but feel some kind of spiritual presence in such a magnificent building. The mass was in French, but the emotion of the priest was palpable without fully understanding the words he was saying. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to hit the tourists being disrespectful and talking as they walked around the building.
Inside the Notre Dame during a Sunday Mass
Destination number three for the day was the Luxemburg Gardens. Have I mentioned how perfect the weather was during our entire trip? Lots of overcast skies, but nary a drop of rain and the delightful temperature almost every day of around 72F. PERFECT weather to visit parks and gardens. We knew before going that Luxemburg Gardens are home to one of, if not THE, oldest carousels in the whole wide world. My Mom LOVES carousels so I really wanted to see it during our visit. We wandered around the entire garden and watched at the adorable pond where kids were sailing little sailboats around and people were camped around in the grass with picnics. There were a lot of picnickers in Luxemburg Gardens. We came across this breathtaking bronze of some stags. With the green grass and sharp colours we had to get a photo.
Stag family in Luxemburg Garden
We followed the sounds of a plethora of energetic kids to find the carousel. It was much smaller than I imagined it would be and there was no one around it. There were signs that said 1.5Euro, but the gates were closed, not locked, and no one seemed to be attending the ride. While the gates were closed, they were not locked, so we took it upon ourselves to open the gates and head in to get a closer view and photos. Just in time for a small Asian man to come hustling out of a little room and chastise us for going through the gate. It was hilarious! I thought he was telling us no photos, but turns out he was telling us no rides (or something like that). There was no way I was going to try to ride one of those tiny carousel horses, but it makes for a funny story. Right?! Interestingly, all the tails from the carousel animals have been removed. Perhaps from age the have fallen out over the years, or were taken off for reasons of durability.
Very old carousel at the Luxemburg Gardens in Paris
We headed back towards our hotel and opted to wander down the Champs Elysees. Let me tell you, it is highly overrated. Full of American chain stores and overrated “high” fashion. My favourite part of the Champs Elysees was the car removal we watched. They evidently don’t tow cars like we do in USA, which I can understand considering the narrowness of most streets. However, I can’t say I’d be all that confident in this guy moving my car from it’s parking space. He bumped the sides and bumpers of this poor chap’s car a few times before he finally got it out and situated on the trailer. Nevermind the large crowd that gathered to watch. It was pretty hilarious.
This is how your car gets towed in Paris
I recently had the amazing fortune to spend 10 days with a delightful friend in France and England. It was the horsiest non-riding vacation imaginable and it was heaven! Not to be rude, but I generally have little or no interest in looking at other people’s vacation photos. So, rather than inundate the world with annoying photos I’m going to blog about a few of my favourite parts of the trip, include a few photos and keep the rest for myself to enjoy the memories that go with the photos.
Our first full day of the trip was spent visiting the Domaine de Chantilly with priority given to the Grandes Ecuries (aka Grand Stables). This trip was ALL about HORSES. Anything we could possibly do that involved horses, without actually riding one, we pursued. And let me tell you. These stables are GRAND.
View of the Grand Stables and Hippodrome (or race track in English).
I can’t even comprehend what went into building a stable like Chantilly. The focus and energy that went into horse care during a time when the horse was the hot rod is difficult to wrap one’s head around 100 years after the automobile has taken over as the choice of transportation. Horses today are just something that little girls (and some big girls) obsess about and are a luxurious hobby. These stables were the difference between Jay Leno’s garage to store priceless Maseratis and street parking an old Honda Accord in a bad neighbourhood today.
Imagine warming up your horse in this setting in preparation for a morning stag hunt (I should be wary of imagining such things considering women at the time the stables were built were assuredly NOT going on stag hunts).
From the description of the Grand Stables, this may have been where the hounds were let out just prior to hunts, but is now a lovely riding area.
We toured the stables and clucked at all the horses, however they were onto the clucking thing and were having nothing to do with the tourists. Most of the horses in the stables were Spanish types, which we found odd but they are likely more suited to living in a stall and doing public shows than the average Selle Francais. We also toured, and loved, the Musee du cheval (Museum of the horse). It was without a doubt one of the best presented horse exhibits I’ve ever seen.
To finish off our Chantilly horse fix we attended the Equestrian Spectacle. The show was lovely, not the most amazing horsemanship in the world, but they do the show most every day and the horses and riders are actually lovely. Definitely a flight of steps higher than Medieval Times in the US. They did all the announcements before the show in French and (evidently) a select few in English at the end. One of the ones they didn’t say in English was no photography, so I got yelled at by the cute French boy charged with chastising audience members for photography. BUT not before I got at least a couple of good shots. We think this location was probably where the horses were shown off during the heyday of the Grand Stables.
Breathtaking architecture and a beautiful horse.
As a relative newby to the sport of fox hunting I really enjoyed the French take on the sport. The Chateau at Chantilly is full of art and homages to the sport of hunting. The French did/do a lot of stag hunting as well and it is depicted in their art. At the entry to the Chateau grounds there are stags on either side of the entry and then further at the actual structure are hounds. I would LOVE to have a larger than life bronze of my hounds at my front gate. Someday.
The stags. Kind of hard to see, but they are on either side of the entry way.
If you are going to France and you are horse crazy, I highly advise going to Chantilly. It is a short (and lovely) train ride from Paris and is an unforgettable experience.