Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mi vacaciones Espana en fotos

I haven't posted about my riding holiday to Spain because, let's be frank, can you think of anything worse than sitting down at a friend's house flipping through photos while they regale you with stories about sun and fun? Me neither. Also, I was so enjoying the peace of riding through medieval villages and Mediterranean landscapes that I didn't think to take many pictures. My camera was usually buried in my saddlebag beneath lunch supplies and spare horse shoes anyway.

Lucky you, is all I can say. You get the short synopsis instead.

What I will tell you is I would do it again in a New York minute. But instead of three days, I would opt for the whole week's ride. Three days is just enough time for your muscles to stretch and your arse to go numb in the saddle. The pain was weirdly addictive.

Anyway, Barcelona was fine. Nice city, fantastic architecture - even though most old buildings now house fast food outlets. I had a view of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral through a Starbucks window. Kind of sad. I've lost my love of cities and found myself looking for pigeons, just to see some wildlife.

After a day in Barcelona we were picked up and driven to Can Jou - a village-sized, 40-horse farm owned by the same family for centuries. Our driver spoke almost no English so, armed with my refresher phrase book, I was excited for a chance to practice my Spanish. I needed more practice. The driver asked what I do in England. I'm pretty sure I responded that my wife and I farm pheasants in church.  

Can I point out that I took four years of high school Spanish, and was only 2 credits shy of a Spanish minor at university? 


There were four other women on the ride, and you could not have hand-picked nicer people with whom to spend a holiday. We all got to know each other over dinner and wine in a thatched barn, with mating pigeons carrying on over our heads. The owner, who also served the dinner, informed us that 'a man with a gun would come and shoot the pigeons in the morning' (HA! I know that much Spanish anyway). 

I got my opportunity to ride a PRE full Andalusian horse. This is Rey, my equine companion for the holiday.

A gentlemen, and fit enough to carry me and some fully laden saddlebags for hours over rough terrain. 

We crossed a few roads like this one, but quickly found ourselves in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

I started in the traditional 'stick up one's ass' riding position, but the horse soon put me right; he needed longer reins for his balance, and I needed slightly shorter stirrups for mine. This was trekking, not dressage.

Both we and the horses stopped midday to rest and feed. After years of enduring British summers, the hot Spanish sun felt like a miracle.

The horses closed their eyes while we ate sausage and cheese and discussed our horses' good and bad points, like we were at a teacher/student conference.

The dogs who opted to come with us, ignored our gossip in favour of a power nap.

It was about 6 hours out the first day. We returned to the farm, to check over our horses and hose the sweat off their backs and bellies, and to feed them a huge high-energy supper. These are athletes, not like my lethargic pair of grass nippers at home.

We had our own comfortable stable block, with beds and showers

And we found more time for talking. Elin and I talked about the culture and politics in her native Sweden. It sounds like a fantastic place to live. I've put it at the top of my 'Places to Visit' list, based solely on our conversations.

There are no photos of our next days' riding. Halfway out on our ride, a tremendous downpour had us riding for cover, and killed at least two cameras in our leather saddlebags. The rain was so hard it hurt the thin-skinned horses who napped and trotted sideways to take the brunt of the storm with their back ends. We were all cold and wet - none of us had wet weather gear - but decided that it only made the ride more of an adventure. The ride back, whenever we trotted, all you could hear was 'Slurp-squelch' 'Slurp-squelch' as our feet shifted in our water-filled boots. 

After hot showers we met in the barn for dinner again. It seemed that the man with the gun only hit one pigeon that morning - Mrs Pigeon. Her surviving male companion wasted no time grieving. He was already cooing and dancing, trying to entice a new lady friend, oblivious to the diners below him.

A final day in Barcelona visiting Park Guell, a final jug of Sangria, and we were on the plane back to England. 

The next day I ordered the new brochure from the company that specialises in riding holidays. There's one in the Carmargue region of France that looks like fun. Anyone want to join me?

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Podgelets All Grown Up

The Podgelets have grown up so fast. They will be ten weeks old this Friday. All the boys have gone to their new homes, with quite a few tears from me at each parting.

Both the girls are still here. The little black girl has been named Duma by her owner, which apparently means Cheetah in Swahili. Her new owner will take her home when he returns from Africa in a fortnight's time. So, I've pencilled 'More Tears' in the diary for that day.

Fraggle is already showing her smart but naughty streak. She loves attention and with four brothers and sisters competing for it, she felt she needed to gain some advantage. So, she learned to climb the kennel wire and be the first to greet you, a good foot higher than her siblings -

The scary thing is, she can climb down, too. 

I'm wondering now if I shouldn't change her name. Does anyone know the Swahili word for 'monkey'?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Is it a Chirkey then?

My hen turkeys couldn't wait for Trevor to arrive so they made do with sitting on some chicken eggs. I left them to have a go. After helping with this morning's pheasant hatch (3,900 chicks), I came home to find one more chick had hatched - a Buff Orpington chick - and turkey hen was the new mom.

They seem to understand each other's peeps and chirruping noises. The chick is robust enough, and mom seems careful not to tread on it. If the chick is well-mothered and survives, chalk another one up for interspecies bonding.

I have a second turkey hen sat on four eggs -

Well, technically, she's sat on a blind chicken that's sat on four eggs but the 'Mom Sandwich' (pat pending) is keeping the eggs warm and the hens happy, so again I'll let it play out. Nature always knows better than me.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Stag Party

It's 2nd June and I'm still watching what was supposed to be our 2012 holiday dinners wandering about the place. Our three hen turkeys got a free pass based on personality (I never met the goose we ate for Christmas). Person-ability and the fact that they have consistently laid turkey eggs, which turn out to be delicious and sell for a premium, made them a good addition to our poultry stock.

When spring came they started acting weird (from a non-turkey perspective) - laying down and hissing. If you'd walked close by a turkey hen, she would instantly "decompress", and arch her neck. This was the best poultry party trick ever. When people stopped by I would insist they come and see the turkeys that I'd trained to lie down like a dog. I'd walk close to a turkey hen, put out my hand and give the command "Lie Down Turkey!".

I wish I had photos of the looks on people's faces.

When no one was around, I'd walk up to a turkey and say "The power of Christ compels you!" a la The Exorcist movie, and then giggle like crazy when they flopped down. If I had those myotonic (fainting) goats I would never get any work done at all.

It seemed that this squatting was in preparation for mating, but we were short a stag turkey. Underkeeper Ian went to the poultry auction this morning and purchased one for the princely sum of £5 (plus 75 pence buyer's fee).

Meet Trevor -

Trevor is a large Norfolk Black stag turkey. I don't know his age, or anything about his background. For a fiver, he was worth taking a chance on.

Trevor rode home loose in the back of Ian's Land Rover, with an old camouflage coat for a bed. When I placed him on the lawn next to a hen turkey and he immediately started showing off -

And the hen's response? She just walked off to sit under a hedge. Who knew turkeys could be so fickle? 

I'm sure Trevor will settle in. He's only been here for an hour and he's already introducing himself to the others in the garden. The pups seem impressed with him.

"That's the biggest chicken I've ever seen...."

Most of the Buff Orpington hens are sitting on small clutches of eggs, and one turkey has commandeered a clutch of chicken eggs for herself. I'll leave them all broody for now. I'm expecting my annual delivery of 30 day-old meat chicken chicks when I return from Spain. I plan to divide them between these hens. It saves me rearing them under a light and gives the chicks a healthier, less stressful start on life. 

The rest of the flock is happy simply to enjoy the sunshine and free-range amenities.