Bordeaux Breaks Ride, Summer 2008
At the somewhat advanced age of 50 I decided to learn to ride. I’d always had the idea that I would enjoy riding but had never done anything about it, on the basis that it was now or never I had my first even lesson in January 2008 and loved it. I realised that it was going to be a slow process. It took me three attempts to pass my driving test at the age of 17! I’m not a quick learner of anything that requires hand-eye co-ordination.
I was talking to a horsey friend about my situation; wanting to improve my riding, but not having the time or the money for more than one lesson a week and she said “have you considered a riding holiday”, at that point I hadn’t but as she spoke I thought “that’s a good idea”. I also thought that I could combine riding with being somewhere I enjoy, preferably somewhere with better weather than rainy England. So I went home and got googling which is how I discovered “Far & Ride”. I browsed the website and realised that what I wanted, lessons rather than trekking, was a less common option. So I emailed in and asked for advice. A list of possible holiday destination was emailed to me and I chose Bordeaux Breaks.
I was slightly apprehensive. I was travelling alone to stay with what were clearly seriously horsey people as a 50 year old novice rider. I need not have worried, from the moment I was collected at the airport on arrival, to the moment I was dropped off at Bordeaux railway station on my way home, I was made wonderfully welcome. Bordeaux Breaks is based in a tiny hamlet about 45 minutes drive from Bordeaux airport. The first thing that stuck me was the quiet, there are other farms and houses nearby but it is incredibly peaceful. The countryside is cultivated farmland and wooded areas and in some ways quite English and in others quite Mediterranean. I had a simply furnished, but comfortable double room, which had an additional bed, so would have been suitable for either two friends or a couple. It was adjacent to a shower and toilet. My windows looked out over the peaceful French countryside.
My holiday included full board and every morning I was asked what I wanted for breakfast, my choice was boiled eggs, fruit and croissants or bread, juice and coffee, but I could have had cereal, if I’d wished. Lunches were usually generous salads and the evening meals varied but were always delicious, a main course followed by cheese and dessert.
But of course I’d come for the riding; I know very little about horses, but even I could tell that these horses were superior animals and there were lots of them. They promise that they have a horse for most grades of rider and for this novice that was certainly true. I rode two: an ex-racehorse called Harry and a Dutch warm blood called Foster; I started on Harry. Jackie taught me each morning, she is an excellent teacher, very calm and very experienced, just the thing for the nervous novice. My lessons took place in the outdoor school.
It was with Jackie that I began to realise that to ride well you have to communicate with your horse. This may be obvious to the experienced, but initially I’d been so concerned with not falling off and trying to get my legs and arms to do what they were supposed to, that I had not thought much about how this appeared to the horse. Jackie showed me how to talk to the horse verbally and by correct use of the aids. One of the best things about Jackie’s teaching was that for some of the time I had my lessons in the school with another experienced rider, Jackie would ask the other person to demonstrate what it was that I was supposed to be doing. I found this tremendously helpful. It is sometimes hard to visualise what exactly is meant by a command, but I have an image of Becky (from the centre) trotting gracefully around the school with her back straight and her head up, and every time my instructor herein the UK says relax those shoulders and drop your hands, I think about Becky and my instructor usually says moments later, “That’s more like it”.
After a couple of days Jackie asked me if I would like to try Foster, he was tall, 16.2, but a lovely comfortable ride and a very patient animal, forward going but safe for a beginner. I adored riding him, if there was an easy way to smuggle a large black horse out of the country and back to England I would have been sorely tempted. I had a lesson every morning and on two days I followed that by a hack around the lanes with Johnny. I was also able to watch Jackie give lessons to two other guests, and watch Johnny and Becky school their horses which for me was very useful. I could see how Jackie’s advice and instructions helped them improve their riding even though they were doing things which were too advanced for me. Jackie and Johnny were also very patient with my (to them) very basic questions about all aspects of riding and horses. I came away more confident in my ability to trot, using leg yield and generally being able to move a horse where I want it to go then I was before I arrived and just knowing more about horses. My improved riding and confidence was noted by my instructors when I got home.
Most days after a morning of horsey activity, I went back to the house for a shower, lunch and an afternoon spent lazing by the pool with a good book. It was my choice to have lazy afternoons, I was looking for a relaxing holiday, but anyone wanting to get out and explore the area could have done so, although it would be necessary to hire a car as there was no close public transport. On one afternoon I was taken to St. Emillion to explore which was enjoyable. What was also lovely was that my peaceful time by the pool was punctuated at tea time, by tea and biscuits or cake and then later before supper by the offer of wine and nibbles. I have never been so well looked after!
I cannot recommend Bordeaux breaks highly enough, the horses, the countryside, the food and of course the hosts themselves were all wonderful and I certainly hope to go again.
Read more about this ride here: Bordeaux Breaks Ride