Thursday, February 24, 2011

Southbound!


It happened at the end of January. I was sitting at my computer, once again trawling the “Horses for Sale” section of Horse and Hound online for potentially interesting Warmbloods, when, suddenly, up popped a dappled grey Andalusian stabled somewhere in England. He was about the right age, about the right price, and sounded as though he was schooled to a pretty good level of dressage. I’ve always been attracted to Iberian horses, but had only ever ridden lackadaisical riding school horses on trail rides while holidaying in Ibiza. I knew they tend to be comfortable, good natured, and possess a natural ability to collect.

Other than that, I knew nada, apart from the fact that Swiss dressage judges tend not to like them, mostly because they are often a little limited in the trot department. But I wasn’t too bothered about the Swiss dressage judges. If I go to one or two shows per year it’s more than enough for me.

Also, I’d seen loads of videos of Warmbloods, and it was becoming more and more obvious that anything I really really liked was way out of my budget.

Might I be better off going south and looking at Spanish horses?

So I fired off an email, enquiring about the Andalusian advertised in “Horse and Hound”. Soon afterwards, my trainer, Marie-Valentine, called to discuss the trials and tribulations of our ongoing search for my perfect horse. “What about an Andalusian?” I said, unsure of how she’d react.

I could almost hear her brain processing the idea down the phone line. Then she said, “You know, that might be a good idea! You’ve always liked them, and although you don’t like to compete, you enjoy doing the fun stuff (she meant flying changes, piaffe, passage, etc), and they’re really good at that. Yes, I can picture you on an Andalusian! And, hey, how fun would it be to go south to Spain instead of north to Gemany?!”

At that point, our conversation soon became rather squealy and schoolgirlish, both of us geting thoroughly carried away, picturing ourselves down in sunny Malaga, spending our mornings trying fabulous horses, before pottering down to the spend the afternoons at the beach.

There was, however, one small problem. How the heck were we going to find those fabulous Spanish horses? Apart from an American friend living in Aachen who specializes in Spanish horses, my trainer didn’t know who to contact. And when I received a video of the “Horse and Hound” Andalusian I’d found on the internet, it didn’t have the level of movement I was looking for.

Determined to find something suitable, I Googled Spanish horses until I turned, well, google-eyed. I watched dozens of online videos. Nothing. Well, nothing for me. I contacted a dealer in Madrid, who sent me private videos. Too young. Too Baroc. Too little trot. No extension. Too little walk. Or drop-dead-knockout, but way too expensive! Marie-Valentine’s contact in Germany had contacted a contact in Malaga, but that contact had yet to contact us.

Argh! I was frustrated. I wanted to go and look at horses!

And then, one afternoon, Marie-Valentine rang me. She’d spoken to another dressage trainer and asked whether he had reliable contacts for good Spanish horses. He’d told her he’d put out some feelers, that he knew a few people, and would get back to her. Within twenty-four hours he rang to tell her there was a really nice Lusitano waiting for us to go take a look at him near Avignon, in the south of France. He was seven years old, a stallion, with a good level of training. There were no videos, no photos available. But he knew from reliable sources that this horse was a good one.

So a week later, not utterly convinced it was worth making the trip, yet impatient to start horse shopping, we hopped into my car and embarked on a four-hour drive south. Marie-Valentine had never taken a client to see a horse without viewing it on video. Also, she’s never ridden an Iberian horse in her life. Yet here there we were, on our way to a blind date with a Lusitano stallion!

“What if he’s awful?” I blurted, my stomach churning with nerves as we our destination grew closer.

Marie-Valentine shrugged. “If he’s awful, we’ll say thank you very much and we’ll leave. I’ll make a few phone calls, and we’ll go find some other horses to look at. A friend of mine mentioned a place not too far away. I mean, what else can we do?”

We reached the outskirts of Avignon, left the highway and followed my GPS’ instructions along country roads through pretty Provencal villages. We turned left at an old monastery and soon found ourselves deep in the countryside.

“Why do we live where we live?” exclaimed Marie-Valentine as we drooled over the silver grey olive trees, the green oaks, and blossoming fruit trees. Here, 400 or so kilometers south of a still frost-bitten Geneva, spring was already in the air. We rolled down the windows and took giant breaths of the pungent, herb-scented, Provencal air. How I wish I could import it!

Once we reached the stables, we were greeted by a smiling, blue-eyed man escorted by a couple of hyperactive Jack Russell terriers.

“Are you ready?” said Marie-Valentine, winking at me.

“I hope he’s pretty,” I replied, trembling, nervous as heck as I flopped out of the car.

“Bonjour mesdames, vous avez fait bon voyage?” asked the man in his lovely sing-song Provencal accent (okay, so I love everything about the Mediterranean!).

We replied that, yes, we’d have a nice trip, enthusing over how great it was to be in this beautiful part of the world. My knees shook as we followed him down a little dirt track and around the corner to the stables where a row of aloof Lusitano stallions gave us the once over.

Right at the back, in the last loose box, a young woman was plaiting a big, beautiful, dark bay horse.

As we drew closer, Marie-Valentine nudged me in the ribs. “Il est magnifique,” she whispered, wide-eyed.

We observed the horse as they saddled him up and bandaged his legs. He stood quietly, placidly. He had soft, warm, translucent eyes edged by endless lashes. He had a thick, black, wavy tail. Judging from his double row of plaits, he obviously had a very thick mane, too! He was beautifully proportioned, chunky yet not too chunky, with a short back, a nice bottom, a strong neck, and lovely clean legs.

Could we have got lucky the first time out, I wondered, grabbing my helmet and struggling into my riding boots? Chill, Cesca, I told myself. Sure, he was beautiful, but what was his movement like?

My trainer and I held our breath as the young woman led this stunning dark bay stallion out into the yard and up the hill towards a large, circular arena. He stood quietly as she mounted and moved off into a lovely walk. So far so good. She pushed him into trot. Not bad! He filled his tracks nicely, which from what I’d seen on the internet, is hard to find in Iberian horses. A few minutes later, she asked him to canter and he obliged, showing a lovely smooth, uphill movement. The lateral work was good, the flying changes a little insecure, but the basic work was well established, with no sign of unwillingness or bad behavior. And gosh, the guy was seriously flashy!

To be perfectly honest, I was pretty intimidated. I’ve only ridden Kwintus in the past few years, haven’t really ridden at all since last summer, and to suddenly climb onto a much bigger, far greener, seven-year-old Lusitano stallion was a little scary. But I bunged on my helmet, took a deep breath and mounted.

Wow! What a totally different feeling! He was far less stable than Kwint, and I had a hard time keeping him straight, or even moving in a straight line (the circular arena didn't help). He moved sideways at the slightest shift of my weight in the saddle and at the tiniest backward movement of my legs (and boy, did my legs want to slide backwards! I couldn’t seem to keep them long at all! Why?!). His trot felt impressively forward and easy to sit, and his canter was a dream. All in all, I had a really good sensation.

When I rode him the next day, he felt even better. I was no longer quite as intimidated, and any residual nerves soon evaporated as this lovely horse did his best to understand what I was asking. You should have seen the smile on my face when I dismounted!

Will he be coming back to live next to Kwintus? I hope so. The vet check is scheduled for March 8th, so I’m counting the days, my fingers crossed he’ll flex fine, that nothing dodgy will show up on the x-rays. Meanwhile, I’m drooling over his photographs, and soothing my sore muscles in plenty of hot water.

21 comments:

HorsesAndTurbos said...

I *love* the description of Europe...I can visualize myself walking along with you, listening into your conversation about your horse-to-be.

After looking at/considering a lot of horses before I got Friday, I know the feeling. The right one will fall into your lap!

Jackie

Kate said...

Keeping fingers crossed for you - he sounds really good!

Francesca Prescott said...

Thanks for reading, Horses and Turbos. That's the great thing about blogging with people from different places in the world, we get to discover all sorts of details about their environment. I love hearing about living with horses in the US!

Kate: thank you. He's a real sweetie, and so regal! He's like a prince!

Shanster said...

Great post! I can't wait to hear the results!!! All the BEST!!!

Dreaming said...

Oh my gosh - what an incredible find!
He sounds perfect. Can't wait to hear more and I hope the vet check is great.
I visited the Rhone valley area last spring - your description made me wish I was back there right now!

KarenTX said...

He sounds absolutely lovely! I hope it works out for you.

Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Shanster! Thank you! Let's just hope he checks out to be perfect :).

Dreaming: isn't the south of France just soooo beautiful? The light, the vegetation, the landscape? Of course, they get that really cold wind, the Mistral (and apparently it's been really bad this winter), but still. They get far more sun than we do. The climate is so much softer. And yes, finding this horse was a total fluke! I hope it's "meant to be"!

Karen TX: thanks for your good wishes :)

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--I am really excited for you! Will you keep him a stallion if you buy him? Please keep us posted.
And the best vacation I ever spent was in the south of France and on the Costa Brava. I wanted to move there ASAP. I'm just grateful that my home here by California's Monterey Bay has much the same climate. But it doesn't have those old stone walls and crumbling monastaries and castles, more's the pity.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: I think I'd keep him as a stallion as he's an approved stallion, and Iberian stallions react differently from German stallions, they're far more easy going. I rode him right past a field with a mare in heat, and he didn't react at all. Plus, his father is Grand Prix, so he might be quite popular with the ladies!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. A friend of mine spent a year trying to find a horse that passed the vet check... I don't want to get too excited, and then be mega disappointed.

You're lucky to live in the Monterey bay area; the climate there always reminds me of the south of France. And if you don't have the old castles and monasteries, you have other wonderful things to offer. I love your part of the world.

Gayle Carline said...

Good luck with the vet check! He sounds gorgeous, and what a beautiful place to find him. My friend has an Andalusian stallion, and he is so well-mannered. "Like a prince" describes him perfectly.

Alison said...

Good luck, Francesca. I feel as if I am living vicariously through you (and Laura and Jami . . . )
Here in VA spring just MIGHT be coming, somewhere, but so far I'm having trouble finding it as well as the horses for the mud and rain.

Linda Benson said...

Francesca - your writing is fabulous. Felt like I was right there with you on a wild and crazy adventure - and those place names: "Avignon, in the South of France" - it all sounds so dreamy. Here's hoping this new horse vets out and is just as dreamy. Keep us posted! He sounds wonderful!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Oooh, that sounds so exciting! Good luck on the vet check. Do you have any photos?

Francesca Prescott said...

Gayle: even though I've heard a million times that Iberian stallions don't behave like other stallions, it's still reassuring to hear about yet another regal and well mannered individual. Thank you! Has your friend had hers long?

Francesca Prescott said...

Alison: well, if its any comfort, we woke up to a spinkling of snow again yesterday morning. Ugh. So it's not just VA! Let's all move to Avignon!

Francesca Prescott said...

Linda: I'm glad you "came with me", hey, the more the merrier! My trainer called last night telling me if I wanted to go ride him before March 8th I can. But I don't dare because I know I'll get too emotionally attached. We'll just go down on March 7th, ride him, and then check him the next day. Argh!!!

Francesca Prescott said...

Fantastyk voyager: well, I have some more photos of me on him taken last week, but they're all quite similar. And until he vet checks sound I'd rather be a little discreet as to his origins, and not show some of the lovely photos I've found of him online!

You can be sure that if it works out, all will be revealed!

kippen64 said...

I am so excited for you and more than a bit jealous!!! Fingers (and toes) crossed that he will pass his vet check.

Francesca Prescott said...

Kippen: thanks for the fingers and toes! Hope you don't get cramps!!!

mommyrides said...

Yippee! I'm so happy for you Francesca! I love to hear others stories about hunting for that perfect/almost perfect!! equine partner. I have four at home now and I still go through the horsie classifieds "just to see"....:o)

Looking forward to hearing more wonderful stories! Lynn

Jami Davenport said...

Francesca, He is beautiful. I, too, have always loved Iberian horses. I hope everything works out with him, and you have a long and rewarding partnership together.