Sunday, December 12, 2004

Messing About With Horses

Hortenseposing.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
This photo was taken by Merri Melde while she was visiting me last February. I have lots of photos of Hortense being silly on a horse, but I think that Merri got the best one. Hortense is one of my neighbours, a young French woman who is utterly fearless on horseback, as is pretty obvious from the picture. The horse is Maximus, a rescued cart horse. She teaches lessons, trains horses for other owners, and competes in local competitions, both jumping and endurance. None of these competitions are very important, nor are they very serious. She has a good time, the horse has a good time, everyone enjoys themselves.

When I was a little girl I harassed my poor parents into buying model horses, broomstick horses, even into bringing two skulls home from a camping trip so that I could have a "horse" in the garden. I even fed the poor bones daily. When I was about 8, they finally gave in to the extent that I was allowed to take weekly riding lessons for a year or so. I was about 12 when we moved from a city to a small town where horses almost outnumbered humans. A couple down the road from us sheltered rescue horses and they were happy to have some demented child come to ride them and feed them treats.

At roughly the same time, I was reading rather large quantities of books about archaeology and ancient civilizations, with Egypt being right up there on my reading list. I bored any number of horsey friends silly by going on about pyramids and pharoahs as we rambled around the dirt roads and mountain trails on whatever horses could be collected. Despite all my entreaties, my parents never lost sight of their sanity and actually bought me the horse that I pleaded for. I had to come to Egypt to own a horse.

I spent twenty horseless years going to university, working and having children. Canada is a pretty expensive place to own horses, so it wasn't ever really an option. I was forty or so when my husband came home to tell me that he'd offered me as new owner for a chestnut Arab mare who had been owned by a friend of his. I didn't know whether to be delighted or horrified. I'd met the mare once and she wasn't exactly the friendliest creature on the planet, but in the end, a horse nut is a horse nut after all. I found a place for her in a stable in Alexandria and found myself a new group of friends who undertook my retraining as a rider so that I wouldn't kill myself with this green filly.

All of that was about 15 years ago. I still have the mare, Dorika, as well as two of her sons. I also have the son of a lovely white mare that I bought soon after acquiring Dory, a couple of gift geldings, one purchase who is worth his weight in gold for his patience and reliability with novice riders, and a filly who is growing up to take Dory's place as top mare someday. The horses are beginning to earn their carrots taking people for trail rides, but their real value is in maintaining my sanity.

Today I decided that I'd spent enough time doing errands and whatnot, so I called Hortense's husband, Morad, to see if he was free for a ride. He also trains and competes with local horses, so their work schedules often have holes in them that allow rides. We took two of my boys out for a trip around the local stables, stopping for tea here and there, trying out a nice looking mare, and generally fooling around for a couple of hours, but at the same time working on the training for the horses.

We made one stop for tea at a house near Morad's new place. The fellaheen who own the house buy and sell horses on a very small scale. There is usually a young stallion or mare tied outside the front door between training sessions with a cart or saddle. Today there were three horses there, an older mare being shod, a young stallion and a filly. I was riding my younger gelding who didn't really get the idea that he had to stand still while I was drinking a hot cup of tea and we had to walk in a few circles before he decided to cooperate. Thinking about it now, drinking hot tea on a horse is probably something that I should tell the kids not to try at home, but at the time it seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

At my age, I really shouldn't be doing silly things I suppose, but I find that life is much more interesting when I do. That's one of the things that the horses give me, a chance to play. I go exploring, I play games like trying to pluck flowers from a wall, I go fruit picking with four-legged ladders during mulberry season. It's fun and the horses don't ever turn around to me and tell me that it's time I grew up. Partners in crime.


justanothernickname said...

This is good............I'm headed to Egypt......I may have to use your writings for knowledge of the area........any objections?

Anonymous said...

That most people "at your age" don't play and aren't silly is proof positive that society is very effective at killing the creative energy of most people long before. So long as you have the energy to do this
stuff, you're an inspiration to everyone who has yet to succomb to the pressures of the modern workplace!

Besides, if you can't have fun horsing around (or hortense-ing around) then where can you have fun? :)