Saturday, November 21, 2015

Horseback riding in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France

Horseback riding has been on my life list for some time now, and as of one week ago—Saturday, November 14—I can now cross it off.

I think I've been on a horse twice in my life before this—both as a child. The first was to take a picture of my siblings and I at someone's farm (I'm not sure who), but I feel like they were maybe church people from my childhood town. (Parents, any idea who/where this was?)

Ah, look! My brother found the photo evidence:

T.J. and Rebe on the horse... with Charlie?

As I remember it, they put me up on a horse first, while grabbing another child to put behind (or in front of?) me. I remembered having seen people kick the sides of horses in movies to go fast, so I curiously gave my horse a light tap to the sides with my boots. Sure enough, then it started moving! The horse owners scolded it and told it to stay still. I never did that again!

The second time I believe was in second grade when we were looking to get a dog. Before we ended up with Maggie from the humane society, we had visited a couple of houses selling black labs. We went to one house out in the country outside of Oregon, to look at the runt in a litter of labs. The oldest daughter rode horses (I think), and I'm pretty sure she took us kids riding on it while dad looked at the dogs and talked to the parents. (Once again, parents (or older siblings), do you recall this?)

Anyway, ever since I found out it's an activity offered all over down here (along the Mediterranean coast of southeastern France), I told Damien I wanted to do it sometime—and he was game.

Sometime during the week we decided to go last Saturday, and I was so excited.

Then early Saturday morning we learned of the terror attacks in Paris that had happened just hours before. I was super tired from having been up so early, and not in the mood to go horseback riding that day anymore—not with what had just happened in Paris.

But I didn't express that feeling to Damien, and when he asked if going in the afternoon was okay, I let him go ahead and reserve via phone. If he hadn't even considered canceling our plans, I guess it's okay to keep them, I reasoned to myself. And boom, a quick phone call later and it was all set: a 2-hour horse ride. Just like that.

As we hopped in the car and started driving to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (~45 minutes away, in the Camargue Natural Regional Park), my mind was on Paris and what had just happened. I definitely felt guilty that we'd be enjoying the afternoon in this way while so many others in this country—and around the world—were suffering and mourning. Yet here we were, easily escaping it all. Unharmed, safe and sound.

I had these guilty thoughts, yet effortlessly moved forward with our amusing day—pushing the shock/guilt/anger/fear/sadness away, aware that I was avoiding facing the heavy reality. At the same time, it was also a choice to be completely present in our current surroundings. To appreciate and take pleasure in something I'd looked forward to doing for years and years, while putting everything else on hold.

We pulled up to the Tamaris stables about 20 minutes before our 1:30 start time, and so began our afternoon a world away from everyone else.

The horses were all lined up, eating lunch. Damien and I both enjoyed a chuckle at the sight of this mini-pony, which you can see below:

It was a bizarre ride in that our "leader" person never even introduced herself to us, but was with Damien and I the entire time. In fact, another woman handed me the reins once I was on my horse, after showing me "left" (pull left), "right" (pull right), and "stop" (pull towards yourself). That was it—an 8-second tutorial, and then we were off.

This woman hardly talked to us, so there was awkward silence for a large chunk of it.

Until she started making her long, personal phone calls, that is. Then I turned around to Damien and shouted back a few comments. I suppose we weren't paying for a tour, but I was still expecting more out of it. To learn something about riding horses or the area where we were walking—anything!

Here's our gem of a ride leader, in action:

Here's Damien and his goofy horse named Geronimo.

Completely missed my horse in this selfie, but her name was Alaska!

Geronimo liked to stray from the trail and sometimes bend down to nibble on some delicious grass, and to shake off mosquitoes with sudden body jerks.

It was quite entertaining and funny to hear Damien react to all of this, talking to Geronimo ("What are you doing?! No, don't go over there! *sigh* Come on, let's go!")

After a while going slowly on a flat surface, we got to some muddy, really watery areas.

This isn't even the worst of it. There were parts with several inches of water sitting on top of the mud, which yes, does splash up when your horse walks through it quickly, so as not to get stuck.

I rather liked the change in ground, though, as it made the walk more interesting and memorable.

After maybe 45 minutes of walking, we trotted for about 20 or 30 seconds before arriving to the beach. Our leader lady had turned around and said something like, "We're going to try trotting now. [Bla bla some quick instruction I missed in French.] Okay, here we go."

Yikes, hope that wasn't important! And then we were off... and I got tossed all over. Up, down, up, down. My bum was getting thrown completely off the saddle, as I searched for something to hold on to—as the rope wasn't cutting it.

Luckily the front of my saddle had a loop that I held on to for dear life. It's really the only thing that kept me from falling off. Even with that, I didn't know how much more of this I could stand before getting tossed off.

Looking straight ahead at the leader lady, whose bum looked like she was sitting on a couch watching movies or something, I was absolutely puzzled as to how she was remaining still on her horse.

Then I was totally relieved when she slowed us back down to a walk. Thank goodness.

And then we were at the seaside.

We trotted once more on the way back, and the same thing happened. Afterwards Damien asked Leader Lady how to stay on the saddle during a trot, and all she said was "You guys won't be able to do it since you're beginners. You have to know the movement of your horse."

And that was it. Thanks a lot, lady! I'm going to recommend your rides to absolutely no one!

When we got back to the stables—15 minutes early, might we add—a nice lady helped us get off the horses and asked us how the ride had been, while Leader Lady disappeared into the stables. (No, she didn't say a word to us.)

After snapping the above picture, Damien and I put our helmets back in the bin and tossed our hair nets in the trash. But then we awkwardly waited around because we weren't sure if there was anything else to do. Nobody had said goodbye; Leader Lady just sort of disappeared back into the stables, and the woman who had helped us get on and off the horses was nowhere in sight.

I used this occasion to take one final photo of the ridiculously short pony. Tee-hee.

Eh, I lied. I actually then made Damien go stand next to it, for a nice height comparison.

Okay little pony, we'll stop picking on you now.

Leader Lady was now shoveling up horse shit a couple yards away, so we shouted out "Au revoir" (goodbye) before actually leaving. She put her head up—looked like she was wondering what we were still doing there—and returned a quick goodbye before going straight back to her world.

The 2-hour ride cost 28 euros (per person), but I obviously don't recommend this company, so the details shouldn't really matter. There are tons of other options if you're looking to go horse riding in the same area. We went with this one because it was the lowest price we found online, and I think "you get what you pay for" definitely came into play here.

While regrouping back in the car, Damien asked if I wanted to go straight back to Palavas, or if I wanted to visit the town Aigues-Mortes for a bit—which was on the way home. I didn't know what Aigues-Mortes had to see, but I figured since we were out and about anyway, why not do a little exploring.

And so we remained in our world away for a few hours longer, as we headed towards Aigues-Mortes.
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  1. You're right about your first two horse experiences. The first was Charlie __?__, and the second was the Torhorst family. I know I have a picture of the two of us on a horse at Charlie's. Not sure where, but I can look around.

    1. Ah yes, the name Charlie does ring a bell! I know I've seen that picture before. If somebody happened to find it and scan it on Thanksgiving, it'd be pretty cool to add here... just sayin'.

  2. Charlie Kidde, went to HMC, lived south of Oregon/Brooklyn.