The Lot Valley, December 2008
I decided I wanted to do something different for Christmas and always wanted to ride a horse, so I decided to roll both into one and gave Lot Valley a try. As a complete beginner, I managed to squeeze in two riding lessons from a conventional riding school before my trip. The overall goal of my trip was to gain experience riding and grooming and to be comfortable around horses. Derek met me and a couple of other guests at the airport in Toulouse (the closest airport in Rodez is closed during the winter). There was a very pleasant and scenic two hour drive from the airport to Asprieres. Entering the Lot Valley region from the highway was beautiful, there were several small villages along the way and varied levels of terrain with beautiful scenery all around. Asprieres is a beautiful old village.
The gîte was relaxing, warm, welcoming and well decorated. The living area is large and airy with a large dining table; the kitchen is large and always fully stocked. There’s a pool (not for winter use though). Each bedroom was a good size, cute and quirky with an en-suite. Across the road is the first of several fields with horses, so it was a pleasure to open the window every morning to be greeted by one or some of the many horses there.
Derek and Anne are absolutely wonderful! They are very down to earth, easy to speak to and just a lot of fun to be around. Derek has to be the best horseman ever! He knows all of his horses as if they were his children and treats them with as much love and affection as any good parent would treat their kids. Derek makes riding look as easy as walking. He does things on horses I didn’t even know were possible! He’s a great instructor and is very forgiving of new learners and their mishaps. He’s encouraging and relaxed in his style and enjoys being out on hacks as much as his horses. Anne is an absolute gem; she brightens any room she’s in. She’s funny, sweet, caring and an awesome cook (more about Anne’s cooking later). Anne also makes riding look easy, she’s a great rider and has a way of calming the most nervous of riders (ie: me).
The horses are great, they all have their personalities and are very patient. The horses are kept in the fields all year round with personal space to envy. They are very well taken care of and we (the guests) spoiled them rotten (you won’t be able to help yourself) – they’re so personable! They really enjoy going on hacks, are easy to ride, affectionate and like Derek, very forgiving.
The trails are amazing! I’m pretty sure you’ve never been on rides like these before. Although at times they can be challenging, they were a lot of fun. We went through very beautiful sceneries from flats, to hills to forests. Each day brought a new trail and each trail was a new adventure that makes you want more. The trails were so beautiful; it was sometimes difficult to take it all in. We were fortunate enough to experience riding in the snow and riding at night, which are both new challenges in themselves. With the instructions of Derek, the encouragement from Anne and the reassurance from the horses, the trails were never a problem. The days were relaxed and tailored to what we wanted to do, so we were out as long as we wanted or as little as we wanted.
After a few hours on a hack, relaxing in the gite was always welcomed. The fireplace was always on the go and there were always drinks before dinner. I really enjoyed the “come as you are” attitude to dinner; a few evenings we ate whilst still in our jodhpurs. Anne’s cooking is to die for! She makes several courses of both French and/or English cuisine every evening, always looks energetic and never stressed; I don’t know how she does it. During the evenings of the Christmas days, there were several activities and games that we played; despite everyone’s initial apprehension, the games were a lot of fun; the gifts were very nice too.
I had an amazing time; I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it so much. My comfort level around horses has improved immensely; I learned a lot about riding, horses and myself. As a result of this trip, I actively want to ride, improve on my skills and challenge myself. If I had my way, I would have several of Derek’s horses, Anne (because she’s so sweet) and Doogie (one of their Westies) – Derek needs Bertie (Doogie’s brother). Since I couldn’t fit any of them in my suitcase, I’ll have to go back!!
Read more about this ride here: Lot Valley Ride.