So much time has passed since I last had a chance to write about my travels – they say time flies when you’re having fun! Here’s what I got up to during my 6 week tour of Europe.
I stayed for 10 days with my family at a friend’s forest house in Schonstadt, near Marburg. The house had 150ha of forest behind it which was great for walks, although I wished I’d had a horse to make the most of all the beautiful trails.
Not many horse experiences here except with a local horse owner who gave me my first ride in about 10 years on a shod and bitted horse. That was scary and I don’t know how anyone can feel safe riding a shod horse on a sealed bitumen road !
After my sister and her family left to return to Australia, Mum and I set off on the ‘horsey’ part of our holiday together.
Our first visit was to Ravensburg to see Gunnar who had stayed with me back in 2007 to complete the Hoofcare Course. He is now a professional trimmer and boot fitter so we were able to go with him on his client rounds to see many different stables, a Paddock Paradise set up and the new HIT Activ automated stables now becoming popular in this country.
It was also lovely to catch up with Mila who had come to stay with me while she did the Hoofcare course in 2009 (and meet her mum). I’ll be writing more about the various ways of horse keeping we saw in a separate article.
Next stop was Vienna in Austria where I visited Larissa who stayed with me in 2010. We had a short stay there but it was great to see one of Europe’s most beautiful cities that houses the Spanish Riding School. A the stallions had just gone on holidays we were unable to see them, but we did see many beautiful old horse drawn carriages with some lovely horses pulling them.
Travelling on to the south Tyrol area (northern part) of Italy, we enjoyed spectacular mountain scenery which only got better as we reached Annie’s home high on the Ritten Mountain above Bolzano. We extended our visit by 2 extra nights to make the most of the spectacular hiking and riding trails that took us up to the native summer pastures where over 600 horses and cattle graze in huge herds for the 3 months of summer.
It was lovely to see the young foals, many of them Haflingers, playing with their friends and enjoying the wide open spaces.
Annie (who had visited me in January this year) and her family made us very welcome and their B&B was one of the nicest we encountered and had the best views of the Dolomite mountains.
The train journey to Switzerland was no less spectacular and finished in Trogen near St Gallen just below the Lake of Constance. We had a week with Jens, Daniella, Annouk and Seth who had stayed with me back in 2006 and kept in touch. It gave us time to explore St Gallen which was founded by Irish monks, and visit their horses and other friends. I also observed Daniella treat a horse with Osteopathy and Parelli Instructor, Walter Gegenschaz starting a young horse as he was filmed for TV.
I loved the cable car ride and walk to the Ascher Restaurant where I tasted the best Rosti ever! We spent a day exploring the city of Lucerne before heading to France to meet up with cousins John and Olga in their car.
Being driven around France gave me the chance to see many ‘out of the way’ places and visit horse people I’d come into contact with via online groups.
It was such a nice change from Holland, Germany, Italy and Switzerland to see some ‘wilder more natural’ coutryside and while there is plenty of agriculture (lots of wheat, corn, sunflowers and hay being grown) at least the cattle were allowed outside and to have their calves with them.
All the horse owners I stayed with were natural minded people and so their horses were not stabled, although I hear that many are, (showjumping is huge in France) and seeing fewer in the fields than other countries possibly supports this.
I really enjoyed my time with Abigail in Bouilliand near Beaune – the richest wine region in France and a very pretty area too. Amazing old buildings and the best wine I’ve ever tasted (good wine doesn’t give you a hangover!) topped off the experience of the Beaune market and visit to a 14th century hospice famous for its beautiful architecture.
I caught up with Remco who wrote an excellent book on laminitis (its in dutch) that he’s having translated to French and German soon. I provided some of the photos for this text and it was nice to spend an evening sharing our similar views on hooves and horsemanship.
Next it was down to the south east of France where in the Drome area I stayed with Marthe Kiley-Worthington at her Eco Research Centre high up in the mountains. Along with her husband Chris and willing Wwoofers, they had revitalised a farm abandoned in the 1950’s and had it back into producing enough to sustain several families.
I spent a morning with Marthe heaing about her research with the horses and watched how she trains and works with them. It was lovely to see her arabian mare Shemal, one of the stars of her books, perform to voice commands of which she understands over 250 words.
While Marthe’s breeding herd has reduced down to a handful of mares, she is still an active rider focusing on classical dressage with the aim of riding at Grand Prix level bridleless.
As proof that any well educated horse can be ridden bitless, Marthe tried my LightRider Bitless bridle on Shemal who hadn’t been ridden in 2 months. She willingly accepted it and even managed some piaffe, passage and tempe changes!
One of the take home messages I got from Marthe was that domestic horses need more mental stimulation than most people can give them. We can provide a more natural environment, a herd situation and even large areas for them to run in, but unless they receive regular meaningful work or training they will still suffer boredom and lack of development.
“Give them a job to do” she says “ they are quite capable of being taught to pull a sleigh for moving hay or collecting up manure”. Her horses also harrow the arena and pasture, plough the garden and are ridden to check fences around the 150 ha property.
From there we travelled south towards the Pyrenees where I visited Monica in the tiny town of Trilla. Another wine region but with a much drier climate and many limestone mountains. There were many more native pastures for horses here and Monica’s 2 geldings and Molly the Mule looked like they did very well on it.
Monica is qualified as a Masterton Method practitioner and also barefoot trims for local clients alongside her job as a nurse. She is in the middle of a huge renovation of a ‘cave’ – a wine making building that will one day provide holiday accommodation for those wanting to explore the region.
I enjoyed seeing her happy horses and the ride on her newer spanish gelding, King, who had his first experience of a LightRider Bitless Bridle and responded very nicely.
Next stop was in totally different countryside which reminded me of the north west coast of Tasmania with lots of rolling hills and crops everywhere. Peta who is a former well travelled Haflinger breeder showed us her remaining herd of mares and geldings – all beautiful horses and kept naturally. Their good condition and relaxed natures were a result of herd life with native pastures in a natural ‘paddock paradise’ where paths had been mown through the forest to join small patches of native grasses.
From there we drove to the west coast to visit some popular places – La Rochelle and Mont Saint Michel which gave us our dose of doing the touristy thing!
Over 2.5 million tourists visit the Mont Saint Michel Monastry (built on a rock in the sea) each year making it France’s top tourist attraction. It was certainly a busy place the day we were there!
BACK TO HOLLAND
After visiting more relatives on the way back to Holland, we drove through the Flanders region of Belgium and found some bargains at a street market.
Back in Breda it was nice to rest for a few days, but the confines of the city soon had me anxious to get on the train/plane for my next stop in the UK where I’ll be for the next 4 weeks – another chapter to come!
If you would like to see loads of photos from the whole trip go to my online albums here.