Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kwintus Moves to Burgundy

If you read my last post you might recall that, just over two weeks ago, totally out of the blue, I was informed that Kwintus, my sweet old retired dressage schoolmaster, could no longer live out the rest of his days in the company of his friend Coconut. Go figure why two dignified old gentlemen needed to be split up when there were no logistics problems involved, and they weren’t doing anyone any harm. I was devastated, hated having to break the news to my daughter Olivia (Kwintus is really her horse) who is at university in England, hated hearing her sobbing on the other end of the phone. Angry and upset, I decided I needed to find Kwintus a nice new home and get him out of there as soon as possible. My friend Maya (who owns a tack shop I seem to practically live at) recommended I call her friend Nathalie, who owns Domaine des Hugaux, a centre for retired horses in Burgundy, about a two and a half hour drive from Geneva. Maya’s old horse retired there earlier this year; she says he’s loving it.

With my heart in my mouth, I called Nathalie to see if she had space for Kwintus. Most nice retirement places for horses tend to be permanently full in this part of the world, but when I explained the situation and mentioned I’d got her number through Maya, Nathalie told me she could work something out. Of course, I wanted to visit the place before I made a decision and decided to drive down to visit on Thursday.

My mother was kind enough to come down with me, patiently listening to my mental dilly-dallyings about whether or not it was a good idea to take Kwintus somewhere so far away. It took us longer than expected to get there as my GPS (sat nav) was clearly off its trolley, booting us off the highway far too early and sending us through minuscule picturesque villages blanketed in thick fog. I worried and fussed; surely I could find somewhere closer suitable for Kwintus?

My misgivings began to melt into the mist the second we turned into Nathalie’s driveway. The property is straight out of a movie-set. Set on the top of a hillside, the old stone house overlooks miles and miles of rolling hills. Dozens of horses graze contentedly in endless pastures edged by hedgerows. Both sets of stable block (one old, the other brand new) are immaculate. Nathalie and her friend Monika bought the 32 hectare property two years ago, completely underestimating how fast their retirement home for horses would take off simply by word of mouth. They now provide a home for 25 horses, most of them OAPs, but also a couple of brood mares, two donkeys and a Shetland pony. There are also four mismatched, very friendly dogs, a couple of cats, and loads of chickens, geese and turkeys. Nathalie gave us the grand tour while Monika kindly prepared lunch, and I knew Kwintus would be fine here. I sent my daughter some photographs, spoke to her on the phone, assured her the place was perfect, and made arrangements to bring Kwintus three days later.

My friend Heike from my new stables (where Qrac now lives) said she’d keep me company during the drive down on Sunday, which was mega kind as she lives about an hour from my house and would have to wake up super early so that we could load Kwint around 9.15 a.m in order to make it to Nathalie and Monika’s in time for lunch.

Kwint’s friend Coconut was out in the field when we arrived at my old stables, clearly anxious having been turned out without his best buddy. I prepared Kwintus for transport, fitting him with leg protections, telling him we were going to a really nice place where he’d make lots of new friends. I felt terrible as I lead Kwint down the hill towards my trailer. Coconut watched, whinnying repeatedly as Kwint walked into my trailer like an old pro. I hauled back tears, said a quick goodbye to S. and drove away with a hole in my stomach. I was glad to have Heike’s company as she soon started chatting about this and that, which helped take my mind off all the horse drama. I also had to really concentrate on the road as insanely thick fog made a large part of the drive seriously hairy. Thankfully, after a couple of hours the visibility increased, and although it wasn’t a bright sunny day, at least Heike - who’d never been to this area of France - was able to enjoy the gorgeous countryside.

It took us just under four hours to get to the Domaine des Hugaux. We’d have been there earlier if my GPS hadn’t gone psycho on me again and sent me straight through the centre of a small but bustling town on market day! I so hate maneuvering my trailer through narrow cobbled streets, and almost gave myself a hernia sucking in my tummy. I don’t know why but I always suck my tummy in and clench my buttocks when I have to squeeze my car and trailer through narrow spaces! Do you do that too?

When we finally arrived, Kwintus carefully backed out of the van and looked around, wondering where he was. Nathalie suggested I take him straight to his stable so he could have a pee, and sure enough, he relieved himself immediately and settled down, chomping on a mountain of hay. I chatted to him for a while, relieved that he didn’t seem too perturbed by his new surroundings. We left him to relax for a while, and after about half an hour Nathalie suggested we put him out in a pasture by himself, next to another pasture with five horses.

Kwintus ambled around his field, casually grazing, making his way nonchalantly towards the horses in the field next to him, but not too bothered about making contact. When they squealed and pulled faces at him and showed him their bottoms and back feet he just ambled away, nonplussed, far more interested in sampling the Burgundy grass. Maybe grass is like wine, with better varieties in different areas of the world. If that’s the case, Kwintus should be in luck!

Heike and I had lunch with Nathalie and Monika along with some other people who had come down from Geneva for the weekend to visit their horses. The food was delicious (salad, home-made lasagna followed by a massive plate of cheeses, then stewed apples and pears infused with a vanilla pod) and the atmosphere lovely and warm. There was plenty of horsey talk of course, which is always nice. I love how horsey people are quick to whip out photographs of their horses at the slightest excuse!

This being France our meal went on for quite some time, so I excused myself during coffee and went out to check on Kwintus who was still peacefully sampling the local green delicacies. I called him and he lifted his head and ambled up to me immediately. I scratched his neck and kissed his soft velvety nose and told him I loved him, and that he was going to live happily ever after in this beautiful tranquil place.

Night was falling as Heike and I got back into the car and headed home. I felt tired, but surprisingly calm and at peace. When I spoke to Nathalie the following day she told me that Kwintus had been very relaxed in his stable overnight and had even lain down to sleep, which was most reassuring. I called her a few times over the next couple of days to see how he was doing and was a little upset to hear that he hadn’t yet made any friends. There was also an incident where he came face to face with a couple of donkeys and a Shetland pony and got totally freaked out, galloping around the field at top speed until Nathalie finally managed to catch him and calm him down. But over the last couple of days Nathalie tells me he’s made friends with a gentle old skinny gelding who arrived there a month or two ago virtually a skeleton and who is slowly gaining weight, gradually returning to the land of the living. I pray those two will really click and that Kwintus will find a “new Coconut” to share his life with. He deserves to be happy. All horses do.

My daughter is coming home for the Christmas holidays this Saturday, and she and I will drive down to visit Kwintus over the next couple of weeks, staying overnight in one of Nathalie and Monika’s pretty guest rooms. I stopped by Maya’s tack shop again this afternoon (Qrac put a foot through his reins this morning and broke his bridle) and she suggested she and I go down to Nathalie’s in the spring time for a nice relaxed girlie weekend. Although distance makes it difficult to visit Kwintus as often as before, the fact that Nathalie and Monika also offer bed and breakfast (and lunch and dinner too!) in lovely surroundings turns a weekend visit into a mini-holiday. And although my husband isn’t particularly fussed about horses, he does enjoy pleasant surroundings and good wine. If I can sell him visiting Kwintus as a romantic, wine-tasting getaway in Burgundy maybe we could go there every couple of months.

Quite frankly, the most important thing for me is that Kwintus is well looked after, and, from what I’ve seen, I’m confident this will be the case. Chances are his life in Burgundy will be more comfortable than his life was with Coconut; Nathalie has more land, more horses, and Kwint will definitely get more exercise, pottering up and down all those rolling hills day after day. Everything happens for a reason, so I guess I’ll just have to wait to find out the real reasons behind this emotional upheaval.


Anonymous said...

That must be a huge relief to have found a great place and gotten him settled. I'm so glad things worked out for the best.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful place, if you wouldn't mind, I could go visit Kwintus for you,

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--I'm with redhorse, I'll go visit Kwint, too. That farm is gorgeous, and reminds me of the very happy time I had rambling through the French countryside with my new husband.

I think you made a good choice and Kwint will be happy. And what a great excuse for fun holiday weekends. I MUST go visit my horse.

Francesca Prescott said...

Kate, it's definitely a big relief. I'm so thankful it all worked out, I was lucky to get him this spot as he's taken the last one; she's not taking any more horses now.

Redhorse: it's a beautiful place, and must be absolutely stunning in the summer. Their website has some lovely photographs of better meteorological moments! It's definitely a great address for a short break.

Laura: you can come and visit me and we'll go and visit Kwintus together :).

Sarah said...

What a beautiful, lovely place. Can I retire there? :) Seriously, Kwintus will be so happy there, and I bet you he will have a new bestie in no time, whether it's mr. skinny or someone else.

Alison said...

I think this is the movie set from National Velvet!

Kwint is lucky to have you as a caring owner. Happy retirement, Kwint!

Francesca Prescott said...

Thank you Sarah. I'm sure he'll be happy there. I still worry though!!

Alison: I've not watched National Velvet in decades, but I can see what you mean. It's definitely got movie-set potential! What amazed me was the absolute quiet. No planes overhead!! No trains, no cars. Lovely.

Francesca Prescott said...

I received this from one of Kwintus' ex-owners. Made me all tearful. This horse is so loved, and has touched so many people. He's extra special.

"Dear dear Kwintus, I love you to bits from the bottom of my heart. Not a day goes by when I don't think about you. You are the first to greet me when I walk sleepy eyed onto the landing in the morning, and when I boil the kettle. You have taught me so much about not just horses but life in general. There will never be a Kwintus version two. I hope you are very happy in your new home and live out your life with all the dignity you deserve. You are noble beyond words and the patience you showed me will forever be unsurpassed. My heart was shredded when I lost you, and I have tears in my eyes when I write this. I hope you make some good friends soon, no one can dislike your generosity, your willingness or your gentle touch. I hope you settle soon, Cesca has done something wonderful for you. This will be the last major change in your life, so stay well and enjoy the future. Biggest biggest hug xxxxxxxxxxx"

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--Wow. That is really a special message to receive. It gave me chills. Kwint is clearly a wonderful being. What a gift to have him in your life, and how wonderful that you are able to give him a gift in return.

jenj said...

Finding a good place for a retired partner is so difficult, and moving them is even more challenging. However, it looks like a beautiful place, and Kwintus sounds like he's settling right in and making new friends. Wine and cheese weekend visits just sound like the icing on the cake!

Mrs. Mom said...

I am SO happy to read that Kwint is in such an amazing place!! The pictures are lovely- sure hope that your handsome old fellow does remarkable there!

RiderWriter said...

Wowie... I'm with Sarah. Never mind a horse, *I* would like to retire there! Yes, we have beautiful country in America, but there is something so special about Europe/France. Not fair. ;-)

Seriously, though, I am delighted for you that you were able to find a wonderful home for Kwintus on such short notice. Angry thoughts to "S" and her "concept," and soothing thoughts to poor Coconut, bless him. I hope everyone is able to be happy in their new circumstances.

Terri Rocovich said...

I am so happy that Kwintus is in a good place. As sad as it was for him to be uprooted the place he is in now looks like horse paradise. He looks so kind and regal, if you were on this continent I would consider it a priviledge to have a wise elder statesman like him on my farm. I do think that Uiver looks like a younger version. Good for you for perservering and turning a negative into a positive.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: the ex-owner who wrote Kwintus that little letter is an amazing person. She searched for Kwintus for years after she lost him in difficult circumstances and only found him because of my website. I'll never forget the first email I got from her when she tracked him down and realized she'd finally found him. A few months later she flew over from the UK and came to visit him, staying with me for a few days. It was an amazing experience, and incredibly moving. I've stayed in touch with her, and always keep her up informed of what's going on with Kwintus.

Francesca Prescott said...

Jenj, Mrs Mom and Terri: thanks for reading. I'm hoping to go visit Kwintus before Christmas with my daughter. From what I've heard he's still doing fine :)