Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Carrots with Kwintus

He’s no spring chicken, but the rolling hills of Burgundy are definitely having a rejuvenating effect on our now retired, ex-dressage schoolmaster, Kwintus, who turned twenty a couple of days ago.

Kwintus officially belongs to my daughter Olivia, who left Switzerland for university in England in September 2010. We bought him in Germany when both he and Olivia were fifteen; as a first horse for my daughter we couldn’t have found better. Kind, patient, reliable, and always willing to work, Kwintus taught Olivia and me how to do half-passes, tempi changes, pirouettes, piaffe and passage. He won Olivia a first place in the very first dressage competition she ever entered. Basically,
he’s a very special horse.

Sadly, Kwintus developed arthritis in his neck, which made him stumble. His condition worsened abruptly when Olivia went to university, particularly when he suffered a broken tooth right at the back of his mouth (underneath his left eye) that became infected. I had the tooth surgically removed (I wrote about it at the time on this blog: I had to fly an equine dentist in from Munich because nobody in Switzerland could perform the operation), treated his arthritis with cortisone infiltrations, hoping to at least keep him sound enough for trail-riding. But when I saddled him up a month after the infiltrations, I knew immediately that his riding days were over, and made the decision to retire him.

Kwintus spent the next year chilling, turned out during the day with his friend Coconut, an ex-showjumper who was also retired. Kwintus seemed comfortable enough moving between his stable and the pasture, but not to the extent that I’d have considered putting on his halter and leading him down the trails for a change of scenery. It really was that bad.

But he seemed content enough, ambling around his huge field, and swishing away flies with Coco. It was nice to watch them hanging out together, enjoying each other’s company.

To my horror, late last year, totally out of the blue, Coconut’s owner evicted Kwintus. I scrambled to find him another home, and was lucky enough to get him the last space at Domaine des Hugaux, an amazing place in Burgundy. Domaine des Hugaux came came highly recommended by a friend of mine who owns my favourite tack shop, and although I can no longer visit Kwintus as often as I’d like because of the 250 kilometre drive, and hated having to tear him away from his beloved Coconut, I realise now that his abrupt eviction was a blessing in disguise.

When I first moved Kwintus to Burgundy the only thing that worried me was the hilly topography of the property, and when Olivia and I returned to visit him last week, Nathalie, who owns Domaine des Hugaux with her friend Monika, confessed that this had worried her too, because he seemed to be stumbling all over the place. Also, he had a hard time “making friends”, and seemed to prefer hanging out alone. It took a few weeks of trial and error for Nathalie to find him the right combination of field companions. But she persisted, bless her, and Kwintus made friends with Newton, a
horse ten years his junior, who is spending a year at Domaine des Hugaux while his young owner completes her education. Newton and Kwintus apparently hit it off immediately, although there were days when Newton’s youthful antics clearly got on Kwint’s nerves, whereupon Nathalie would separate them and let Kwint spend the day in part her garden, “mowing the lawn”.

Gradually, however, Nathalie noticed that Kwintus had grown stronger, and that constantly moving up and down the hills had not only done wonders for his stamina, it had also had an amazing effect on his movement.

Olivia and I could barely believe our eyes when we visited Kwintus last week and
witnessed him tackling steep inclines not only at a trot, but also at a gallop! His eyes were bright and he was clearly happy with his life within a small herd of four. Kwint recognised up immediately, raising his head and looking our way when Olivia called his name from behind the fence. I’d love to tell you that he came trotting over to us immediately, but that would be a lie; the spring grass was clearly far more appetizing than our giant bag of carrots! And as tempting as it was to slip under the fence and go pat him, we refrained. Experience has taught me that it can be dangerous to walk out into the middle of a herd of even the gentlest natured horses.

The most thrilling sight was when it was time for the horses to come in for the night. Nathalie stood at the gate, calling their names one after another. They came immediately, thundering across the fields at a full gallop. Kwint’s group skid-slipped to a halt just in front of her, then waited patiently as she put their halters on and led them two by two up to the stables. Once in his stable, Kwintus suddenly took a keen interest in our carrots, enjoying being fussed over, chatted to and photographed like a movie star.

We checked him over, delighted by his healthy appearance. Sure, he looks a little tatty because he’s busy shedding his winter coat, but his back is strong, his legs are cool and lump-free, and his feet are in great shape; going barefoot clearly hasn’t bothered him at all (I’d pulled his shoes off soon after I initially retired him, only to have to re-shoe him in front a few months later when some moronic farrier cut his feet far too short).

Later that evening, over dinner, Nathalie suggested that Olivia might like to try saddling Kwintus up and taking out for gentle hacks on the trails when we go back to visit him in the summer. As you can imagine, this concept would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago, but now, thanks to his active lifestyle, taking him for occasional trail rides seems like a distinct possibility. Personally, I’d love for Olivia to be able to ride him again, even if it’s only once or twice a year; she was away at university in England when I had to take the decision to retire him, and she was heartbroken when I broke the bad news. I’ve always felt that it should have been her, not me, who took him for that final short, sad ride in the rain.
Might Kwintus enjoy accompanying Olivia on a couple of gentle, happy rides in the sunshine during the summer holidays? I hope so, but it will definitely be his decision.

Incidentally, if you are planning a trip to France and fancy spending some relaxing time on a hilltop in the beautiful Burgundy countryside, Domaine des Hugaux also
operates as a “Chambre d’Hôte”, offering simple but comfortable rooms, as well as great cuisine. As you can see from the photo, the house is straight out of a picture book, and the view is amazing. There’s a swimming pool, a game room with a pool table, and plenty of open space to run around. Children will love hanging out with the resident donkeys and Shetland pony, with the added attraction of the duck pond and chicken coop, ruled by Gaston the Terrible Turkey (although Gaston’s days might
be numbered due to his bad temper!), flanked by his gaggle of hissing geese. There are a couple of gentle horses to take out on trail rides, as well as a few brood mares, one of which has probably had her foal since Olivia and I were there last week. The hiking is spectacular, and there are plenty of interesting, historical places to visit within easy driving distance, lots of good restaurants to enjoy, and far too many fabulous wines to taste. And then, of course, there’s lovely old Mr. Kwintus, who would love to meet you and share a carrot or two!


Laura Crum said...

I think it would be great if Olivia could take a gentle trail ride on Kwint. So happy to hear he's doing well. And I want to go stay there!

Francesca Prescott said...

I'll meet you there Laura!

jenj said...

It is amazing what turnout on varied terrain can do for a horse, and how time heals (or at least, makes things better). I hope that Olivia gets that trail ride (or two or three) on Kwint!

Unknown said...

Nothing like a lovely retirement. Glad Kwint is doing so well.

Francesca Prescott said...

Thanks Jenh and Angie :) It's so true about the varied terrain, I'd never have imagined it could make such a difference. It's wonderful. And the place is true fabulous; Nathalie knows so much about horses and is so observant of her pensioners. She knows all their little rituals and habits, which horses lie down at what time, and if someone is lying down at the wrong time whether it's a bad sign. All kinds of incredible stuff! We were so lucky to get a spot for Kwintus there.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful end to your story of finding a home for Kwintus! And lovely photos. When I finally retire and get to travel, I will definitely come see Kwintus and beautiful Switzerland.

Alison said...

I want to visit you and Kwintus! What beautiful scenery. And a beautiful story about Kwintus' life. Your heart must finally be light now that you realize he is so happy.

Francesca Prescott said...

Anonymous: let me know when you do and I will give you some personal tips of where to go and what to visit. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

Francesca Prescott said...

Alison: you can come and visit anytime! Burgundy is a beautiful area of France; the town of Cluny is only half an hour from where Kwintus lives and there is a famous national stud farm there. It's a really pretty town to visit. Lyon isn't too far either, personally I prefer it to Paris. It reminds me of Paris, but is smaller and easier to get around. And then of course it's only a few hours to Geneva in Switzerland, where the scenery is totally different but just as beautiful. Thanks for commenting :)