Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christmas Buzz at La Ruche

By Francesca Prescott

Photo by Aurore Biron

One year ago, Ecurie de la Ruche*, the stables where Qrac lives, inaugurated its new facilities. Previously a small, cosy village-stable with comfortable but basic facilities for 15 horses, La Ruche 
morphed into a top class, high-tech, super chic, state of the art equestrian paradise for 50 lucky steeds.

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been absent from this blog for twelve months, before finally reappearing last week. Well, the main reason for my absence is that despite the stables being a four minute drive from my house instead of the 45 minutes it took me to get to Qrac’s previous residence, I seem to spend even more time partaking in horse related activities than I used to. It’s now so easy to go backwards and forwards to the stables that I practically live there. Also, I really appreciate being able to check on Qrac more than just once a day, to change a blanket if necessary, to pick out his feet if he’s been in the field, reassure myself that he’s ok if I have the slightest doubt about anything.

Qrac enjoying his terrace. He was lighter in the summer!
Qrac has a massive box with a matching massive terrace, which means his social life is wonderful as when he’s not with me, he’s either discussing carrots and sharing dressage tips on his terrace with his pony neighbour, or he’s out in the field, or, when the ground gets too waterlogged, hanging out in one of the “sand pits (winter parks). All in all, I think he’s a pretty happy horse.

And I’m a happy lady, because La Ruche is a great place for humans, too. The atmosphere is great, everyone gets along, and everywhere is always spotlessly clean without anyone coming across as obsessive compulsive about picking up a fleck of horse poo, or a strand of horse hair or anything. People just get on with things, generally clean up after themselves, and there is genuine mutual respect and friendship in the air. We even have Happy Hour every Friday afternoon as of approximately 5 o’clock until approximately goodness knows what time, with giggles aplenty! I love it! I think we all do.
Qrac gets plenty of turnout and likes to roll in the mud...

So last Saturday, we all celebrated one year of Rucharian bliss (Rucharians being the inhabitants of La Ruche, of course) with a Christmas competition. I think I have two extra wrinkles on either side of my mouth from an excess of smiling all day long. Seriously, it was a blast.

Concentration! Photo Aurore Biron
The festivities officially began at one o’clock with a dressage competition, followed, as of three, by jumping. We had all picked a competition partner: one person rode dressage, the other jumped. Some of the jumping participants proved particularly versatile, partnering twice in order to also take part in the dressage. There were different dressage tests and jumping heights according to everyone’s level, and the scores of each partnership’s dressage test and jumping course were added up, meaning that if you didn’t do a great dressage test, if your partner rode a fabulous jumping round your chances of winning or placing were still intact. Riding as a team made the event even more socially interactive, with everyone rooting for one another. As a dressage rider, accustomed to hushed, poker-faced ambiances, it was wonderful to ride in a lively, fun-scented atmosphere, with louder music than usual, and people clapping and cheering and generally having a great time. There was less pressure of course, but that didn’t mean that we didn’t take our programs and courses any less seriously; I’d worked hard to ride a higher level test than I’ve ever ridden before, and I was delighted with how hard Qrac tried for me in front of the judge, by how relaxed he stayed, and by how well we scored. But best of all, I thoroughly enjoyed my ride.
Me and my boy
Photo Aurore Biron

My partner, Antoine M., later rode a very nice clear-round, taking his time around the course so as not to wind-up his excitable Chicos Boy, and we ended up in 5th place. We were both so happy you’d have thought we’d won the Olympics or the World Games or something, high-fiving one another over and over! A fun detail was that the prize-giving ceremony took place on horseback, which was a first for me, and Qrac and I loved galloping around the indoor arena with our ribbon trailing from his bridle while the crowd cheered. Such fun!
Antoine M. and Chicos Boy going for it!
Photo Isabelle Von Wattenwyl

Did we win the Olympics or something?!


Antoine M. and Chicos Boy

But the fun wasn’t over yet, because one of our fellow Rucharians had prepared an in-hand presentation to music, with her horse doing all sorts of cool tricks, such as Spanish walk, curtseying, and lying down. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch her show since I was already back on Qrac, warming up in the outside arena with my friend Josephine and her beautiful black Oldenburg, Swarowski, for our pas-de-deux.

Josephine and I had hummed and hahed about doing a pas-de-deux at the competition for quite some time. Believe me, if we’d realised how difficult riding side-by-side to music would turn out to be, we’d have done a lot less humming and hahing and a lot more practising. Basically, we finally got it together ten days beforehand, and only practised the choreography four or five times, the first attempt being complete pandemonium, our horses becoming demented with excitement! We considered calling the whole thing off, but since we’d already bought our outfits, throwing in the towel struck us as a bit of a waste. Besides, we liked what we were going to wear, we loved the music we’d chosen (Ricky Martin’s new single, Adios), and the horses looked amazing side-by-side, so on we toiled, prancing and and sweating, determined to produce something vaguely decent and fun to watch. Things went a little more smoothly the second time we ran through our (very basic) choreography, and we enjoyed ourselves, particularly during the final bit where we passaged (or attempted to!) down the centre line side-by-side to Ricky’s infectious Latino beat.

Anyway, so late last Saturday afternoon, Josephine and I wriggled into our red jodhpurs, put on our white shirts with the frilly black-edged ruffles down the front, and our little black cropped jackets. We clipped on our long blonde swishy ponytails, inserted our big gold dangly-jangly hooped earrings, and put on our wide-brimmed, Spanish-style black hats. We had initially planned on wearing bright red lipstick, too, but we didn’t get around to applying it as everything was all a bit of a mad rush. Our friend Aurore, who had drawn up our choreography, quickly threaded red ribbon through Qrac and Swarowski’s plaited manes. Both horses looked amazing. Actually, if I may say so myself, I think Josephine and I looked pretty amazing too!

However, once we were riding around outside, warming up, I soon realised that there was no way my hat was going to stay on, despite having secured it under my chin with red ribbon. It was far too big and kept on flopping down in front of my eyes, preventing me from seeing where I was going. Also, as soon as I asked Qrac to canter, the wide brim caught in the wind and the hat blew off backwards. My husband handed it back to me twice, but I knew we’d have to make last minute adjustments to our presentation. Josephine’s hat was a smaller size than mine and seemed to be staying on fine, so she was a bit disappointed when I suggested we throw them off theatrically when we saluted, but had to agree it was the best way to start the show.

Help! I can't see!!!
Our swishy pony-tails!
What comes next...?!
So we rode into the indoor arena on our prancing black horses feeling fabulous. The music started and off we went, trotting around the arena and down the centre line, our ponytails swishing, my hat falling down over my nose, Qrac shying at the loudspeakers. We halted, bowed our heads, grinned at the expectant crowd and threw off our hats! Everyone cheered, and I’d swear I even heard a few wolf-whistles as away we trotted, parting and coming back together, crossing over in half pass, extending across the diagonal, Qrac thoroughly beside himself with excitement. It took a team effort to remind each other what came next, and we rode the entire thing giggling away about how wonky it was all turning out, while thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Everyone cheered as we finished, and we clattered out into the night all starry eyed as people milled around, showering us with compliments and congratulations. Ooh, it was so much fun!

An excellent cheese raclette for 74 people ensued, with oodles of atmosphere and plenty of wine. As the evening wound down and numbers dwindled, a group of us thought it would be fun to have a bit of a boogie. Driving was out of the question, so someone suggested we go across the road to her house. Off we went, cranking up the music, shaking our booties until we could shake them no more.

What struck me particularly, as well as the rest of the people I’ve spoken to about their impressions of Saturday, was the infectious enthusiasm and camaraderie that buzzed around the place, despite the low-lying cloud and the cold and the bone-marinating humidity. It was a genuinely happy day. Call me mushy, but the entire event seemed infused with love and generosity, both on the part of the tireless and charismatic Kilchherr family who own the premises, and on the part all those attending, be they participants or spectators. Everyone lent a hand, baking, putting up jumps, measuring and laying out the temporary dressage arena within the huge indoor school, poop-scooping, buying food, setting up the sound system, taking photos, cleaning up, decorating, giving riding advice when things weren’t going to plan in the warm-up arena, announcing riders and horses over the loudspeaker, scraping raclettes, scooping potatoes, making desserts. It was a team effort, everyone was really into it, making it a very special day that will be remembered for a very long time.

I hope we can do it again soon!

*FYI, “La Ruche” is French for “the beehive”. Hence the buzz!

PS: The photos of Josephine and I during our pas-de-deux were made by Josephine's husband from screenshots of the video of our mesmerising performance. You see, we were so mesmerising that nobody remembered to take any photos of us!  


Funder said...

Yall are absolutely adorable in the pas de deux. And you look stunning solo with Qrac!

Francesca Prescott said...

Thanks Funder :) It really was such a special day :)

Alison said...

What fun! And see how much better it is when you can share it with us?

Keep posting and riding and loving your beautiful new home.

Anonymous said...

All I can say is WOW. What you described is like horse paradise to me. Sounds absolutely perfect.
I don't know, maybe Europe has it better for dressage riders? Better bred and trained horses that you can actually afford and such wonderful training facilities. I can only dream of a barn like yours. That's not to say I don't like my barn, not at all, but it just doesn't compare. Here in the US it seems you need $$$$$$ to get anywhere even close to what you are describing. I just don't think I'll ever be able to afford that.

Francesca Prescott said...

Alison, I forgot how much I love sharing ;) Just back from an amazing weekend clinic... So lucky!

Francesca Prescott said...

Anonymous: Thank you, I'm very touched by your comment. My stable is pretty unique in this area, so I am very fortunate, particularly as it's so close to my house.