Training Helen – How Horsey People Do the Entente Cordiale


I feel really lucky to have met our closest neighbor JP, an endurance rider in his seventies. He doesn’t speak English. Or if he does he’s keeping it quiet, which is fine by me as any opportunity I get to test my perilous grasp of le francaise I take with great enthusiasm.

I was a little bit concerned about the length of time he goes out riding. When I asked he said, “cinq heures.” Five hours?!? I don’t think so. An hour is more than enough for me. I established that he rides for five hours once a week, which I trump with my one hour a day, I reckon.

I pleaded bad hip. I knew it would come in handy one day, and the first time we went out he managed to get me home in an hour and a half.

He took me for miles (or should that be kilometers) on routes I’d never been on before which was awesome. At one point he lost his baseball cap on a low branch, got off to retrieve it, and got back on his 16.2hh horse from the ground.

Well, I’m ashamed to say there is no way I would be able to do this so he has my total respect.

He rides in a western saddle, and I’m pretty sure the horse is an ex-trotter as it has the strangest gait. But it is very handsome and they are more than happy to gallop and I must say the horse is bombproof.

It’s decked out with what I think is a lariat as well as a bridle, and there seems to be a fair bit of neck reining going on. JP seemed to consider I wasn’t a liability and he seemed to approve of Missy so I was invited out for a second time.

This time we again rode for miles and what seemed like hours, and we crossed a stream. Missy balked at it the first time which is hysterical given her eventing history (see photo above) and JP had to come back and give me a lead. In a rare moment of linguistic breakthrough, JP said, “Training, Helen. Next time we cross the Charente!” Gulp, the Charente is huge!

JP likes climbing banks and scrabbling across ditches on his obliging mount, all done in the name of ‘training’ which I have begun to see as his mantra. As on our first hack, every time we got to a junction, rather than turning towards home JP turned away from home and took me over new land. We cantered for miles – Missy loved it.

When we got to the junction near his house, I made all the appropriate noises to thank him and say goodbye. He was having none of it. He wanted me to see his house. Fair enough I thought, so on we went, until I saw a branch across the path wrapped up in a bit of twine.

I stopped. Obviously. And looked for a way around. JP bypassed me and just jumped straight over inevitably catching the twine which trailed between the horse’s back legs. Not an eyelid was batted by the horse. “Training, Helen,” said JP.

By this point, I’d got the message so I just shrugged and followed. In his garden, he dismounted and tied his horse to a rail a la High Chaparral. He gestured for me to do the same.

I said “Non!” because although I don’t have a fancy Stubben bridle, the thought of tying my horse to a rail by her reins did not appeal. I had visions of the bridle coming off with her teeth still attached. Or at the very least suffering some breakages to a perfectly functional bridle caused by a diva madam used to a little more BHS style decorum.

I was beckoned across the lawn to meet his poor wife, who clearly wasn’t expecting me, as she came out in her PJs. We all roared with laughter and had a nice chat whilst they admired Missy who soaked it all up with a flutter of her eyelashes. She knows she’s beautiful and l’amour de ma vie.

JP then pointed to his lake (etang) and said, “J’e nage avec le cheval, vous aussi”. So, he swims in the lake with his horse, and apparently so will I. Marvelous, there goes my Albion saddle! Maybe I’ll be allowed to take it off first?!?

I finally took my leave, popped back over the twine fence like I’d been doing it all my life, and made it home.

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