Erica describes what led her to get her first horse in 2007 in her fifties, how she chose the breed after learning about the barefoot movement and given the sort of riding she likes to do as well as how she wanted to keep horses; how that led her, unplanned, into breeding them and owning two stallions with no prior experience, and why she has now stopped breeding and is focusing on riding and being with horses in a stable herd instead. She then describes the herd one-by-one, so you can go straight there if that’s all you want to know, or you want to remind yourself who’s who!
How it all began
It started for me (Erica) when I moved to Devon in the UK in my fifties. I had lived in cities prior to that after immigrating from Southern Africa when I was 15. In my childhood I had always loved horses and riding but I moved around a lot in Africa with a working mother, so I never had the opportunity to own my own horse. In Britain I rode a few times on holiday but on the whole it never recaptured the experience I had had in Africa of riding in big, open landscapes. I’ve never been drawn to competition, and my joy was to be at one with a horse in the natural world. So riding on a muddy bridlepath that didn’t really go anywhere, or going around an arena making a horse do exercises, was not my idea of freedom or feeling at one with a horse. Also, riding-school horses didn’t seem to enjoy it much either and I felt it was all rather grim – the horses either seemed switched-off or over-excited and I didn’t feel very relaxed or safe.
Having moved to Devon for other reasons I now found myself on the edge of Dartmoor, one of Britain’s national parks. Up on the moor it was windswept and wild with a magic and beauty all of its own. I gradually fell in love with it and left urban life behind. My youngest son was in a special school there (the reason I moved), for kids who couldn’t cope in mainstream school (like my youngest) or whose parents wanted an alternative (this was a democratic school, SANDS, but that’s another story!). There I met another parent, Ruth, who kept horses on the edge of the moor. I went riding with her. Then BANG! Ruth told me that if I wanted to get my own horse I could keep it with her. Once germinated, this idea would not leave me. I realised it was not too late – in my childhood I’d been told I’d never be able to get my own horse, but now my life was my own and I could get one for myself….
In 2005 I went back for the first time to the Cape where I’d been born, to visit my cousin from whom I’d been separated during the dark days of Apartheid and with whom I’d shared a love of horses. She lived then with her small herd on the Noordhoek peninsula and from her I learned about a different way of keeping and managing horses. She had trained in barefoot trimming and explained to me why horses had healthier feet if they didn’t wear shoes. Later I found out that Ruth did the same. Sue was sad when we passed riding stables and saw horses kept alone, caged in a stall – she said she could not bear to look. This opened my eyes. Now I also can’t bear to see a horse alone or kept in a stable. I feel that if people saw a grazing, herd animal that size kept alone in such a small cage in a zoo, there’d be an outcry, but somehow it’s OK if it’s a domesticated horse.
So I decided to buy a horse. But what horse?
The Rocky Mountain Horse
I began to do research on barefoot (unshod) horses. This was a fascinating journey. The pioneers of the movement for natural hooves for ridden horses did in-depth research on the anatomy of the hoof and its performance when unencumbered by a metal cast that distorts the growth of the hoof. As part of this the American advocates for barefoot trimming went to observe horses in the wild to learn how they lived and how their hooves performed. They studied the mustangs who roam in bands in the wild lands of the Rocky Mountains – and it was because of this googling that I happened upon the Rocky Mountain Horse (RMH). In fact, RMH don’t come from the Rockies, however. They come from the Eastern seaboard, the other big mountain range in the US, the Appalachians, in the south-east, Kentucky in particular. Once I discovered these horses, I thought, I want one of those! This started because they were reputed to have very good feet. Sensibly (not much else I did could really be deemed ‘sensible’, perhaps!) I decided that if I wanted to buy a horse and keep it barefoot, I should choose one that had good feet.
This is rather like the principle (which I also try to practise) that if you want to plant a garden, you’d do best to choose plants that thrive in your soil and climate, rather than going to a garden centre and choosing something you like, then discovering it’s not suited to your conditions and feeling disappointed when it doesn’t thrive. People tend to choose horses on the basis of their looks and because of fads for particular breeds. I was drawn to the western style of riding and in the UK at the time there was a fad for Quarter horses, but as it turns out these horses were bred for cattle-cutting on American ranches rather than for trail, and moreover because of mass production and the showing circuit they had become in-bred and had more than their fair share of genetic problems. In addition, they were relatively heavy horses with big hindquarters and small feet that did not perform particularly well barefoot. To take another example, thoroughbreds were bred for speed and tended to be more excitable and with more vulnerable legs and feet. I began to see that for the ideal barefoot trail horse you needed something medium-sized, forward-going but sensible and safe, with good feet and bone, versatile and with capacity for endurance: in other words, not a horse bred for a purpose that isn’t yours.
I also wanted a horse that would be suited to living out with run-in shelter, so it needed to be healthy and hardy. That meant an ‘easy keeper’, ie a horse that did not need to be coddled and that would survive well on grass and hay. BUT that also meant a horse that would not thrive on rich pasture, which is where so many horses in the countries like the UK, where grass is relatively rich, get into to trouble – they become overweight and the excess sugar in the grass makes them vulnerable to getting laminitis (a painful inflammation of the laminae in the hoof). So it’s not just the type or breed of horse that’s important, but the conditions in which you keep it. So that meant finding pasture that was good for horses rather than convenient for humans – ie with a variety of wild grasses, weeds and shrubs where horses could browse, natural shelter, trees and streams, extensive and hilly rather than flat. Conventional riders tend to prefer relatively small flat paddocks that are planted with a high-yield single grass variety because it’s easier for them to ‘catch’ their horses there and bring them in. (We don’t have to catch ours because they come up to us! They don’t dread being brought in and given attention or going out on a ride.)
Another thing I wanted was a type of horse that would be people-oriented and rewarding to love. It isn’t really fair to expect your horse to be affectionate just because you want the gratification of love returned, but the fact is that some horses are more into relating to people and are easier to handle than others. The RMH were reputed to be ‘in your pocket’ horses, as they say in America. So I liked that.
There was another thing. RMH were ‘gaited’. I’d never heard of this and was intrigued. It meant that they travelled with a different way of going, a type of four-beat running walk that meant you could have a smooth ride without having to rise to the trot. Wow! I was hooked. But where to get one? At that time there was only one breeder in the UK and the horses available in Europe were very expensive.
Importing Angel, my first horse
After consulting with a European breeder who was kind enough to advise me, I learned that I could import my own horse from the US, and save money by getting a mare bred to a stallion over there, importing her pregnant at no extra cost, then selling the foal and getting most of my money back. Clever ruse! And that could have worked. But what happened instead was that when I did this and saw the foal, I thought it was a stunner and I kept it. And then I ended up keeping him entire, getting a hundred per cent mortgage on my house and buying ten acres on Dartmoor, acquiring some more mares and becoming a breeder with two stallions. All as a total novice who had never even owned her own horse and who hadn’t really ridden for about forty years. Lots of fun. Or completely reckless and foolish. But it worked out, I learned a lot (!) and that’s what brought me here.
Amigo’s Blue Angel was that first horse. That was my first mistake (though again, a foolish thing that I don’t regret). She was only three years old, started too young and ridden too hard in order to be sold before maturity. It’s hard to make money breeding horses. If you try to produce and sell ridden horses, people don’t want to pay what it costs to produce them and it’s hard to cover costs let alone make a profit. Horses shouldn’t be started below four years old in my opinion and that of most experts on horse anatomy and development, because they aren’t physically mature and are likely to break down earlier than horses started later. They are mostly not psychologically mature either. But I don’t entirely blame the breeders – it’s the market. Buyers need to change their attitude too. A horse to whom you entrust your life and limb isn’t something on which you should try to economise. But let’s leave that for now.
I saw Angel in a video on the internet in 2007. My jaw dropped. She was a queen! Instant love. Good sense out of the window. She moved like a dream – she was chocolate coloured with blond mane and tail and she was noble and lovely. She gaited as if poured from a jug. Or so it seemed at the time. So I chose a stallion from the line-up at the ranch, she was put to him at liberty (I believe in both horses being free to choose) and she got pregnant first try (all my horses were highly fertile and I never had a failed breeding – indeed I had some unplanned ones!). Then she travelled from Kentucky to Oklahoma for a month’s quarantine, then to Houston to get in a crate lifted into a cargo plane, then flew to Amsterdam to do the paperwork for Europe, then over the channel to Kent, and eventually down to Devon. When she sauntered out of the horsebox in November and I saw her for the first time, my heart turned over. I couldn’t believe something so lovely was mine.
It wasn’t all sweetness and light after that. Angel was a spirited mare who hadn’t been sympathetically started, and as anyone wiser than I was at the time would tell you, don’t buy a young, inexperienced horse for your first ride if you are relatively novice yourself and an older rider to boot. But thus began my journey into natural horsemanship. They say, sometimes you don’t get the horse you want, but the horse you need… and I’ve no regrets, I still love her to bits, and she was my foundation mare. I had done my research and she’s from great bloodlines – for those to whom it means something, she was bred by Junior Robinson, a founder of the breed, by a famous stallion called Amigo Blue and out of a mare by Maple’s Squirrel, one of the five sons of Tobe (this all sounds like something out of the Bible!).
This will take too long if I tell you all about where the breed comes from, but let’s say they are Hillbilly horses, ie they were owned by farmers up in the Appalachian hills who wanted a versatile, all-round horse. The stallions needed to be docile, and those who weren’t sufficiently so would be gelded. That’s why the breed are the way they are, although of course since then (they were saved from going extinct in the 1980s) being bred for showing has increasingly changed them away from type (people would argue about that, but IMO showing tends to change all breeds for the worse). They are descended from horses imported from the British isles with the settlers to the New World. They are therefore representative of old genes that are virtually extinct in Britain; the breed registries in the UK ruled out the gaited way of going and that was that (see why I’m not so keen on the practices of registries and showing?). Before that, gaited horses, known sometimes as palfreys in the Middle Ages, were used for long-distance riding, for instance on pilgrimage – the Wife of Bath rode one in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Earlier, the Vikings took some away in their longboats to Iceland, where they have survived undiluted by any imports for 1,000 years. Icelandic horses ‘tolt’ as you may know, and also show the same signature chocolate colour. So it’s an amazing history. Imagine taking a horse across the North Sea in a longboat! Apparently they went one at a time in slings, to prevent the boat from capsizing. Nevertheless, many must have perished. After surviving that, they had to survive centuries of harsh winters, which is why they have developed through natural selection as well as breeding into a small, powerful horse.
Uhuru, the first foal
Angel’s foal born in the summer of 2008 was Uhuru. It was such a thrill to see my first foal, and Angel was a lovely young mother. I had hoped for a filly, but I was so delighted by him that I didn’t hurry to find a buyer. Then, as I learned more about the breed and the type, I began to feel that he was beautifully built and would make a great stallion of the more traditional type, solid and powerful. My plans changed. Because I couldn’t breed him to his mother, I decided to buy another mare in foal and breed him myself. I called him Uhuru, which means Freedom in Swahili. It was also the term used for independence in East Africa, ie freedom from colonialism, which was important to me in my youth – I was engaged in African studies and the solidarity movement for Southern Africa for many years. Black Uhuru!
I resolved to keep my fine black stallion free of confinement and being kept alone for as long as I was able, and to geld him if I could not succeed in that endeavour. It wasn’t easy! I had a lot to learn. People issued dire warnings but I used my own judgment and he has led a good life. He was finally gelded in 2016 after being bred to Sweetie and Darcey, whose foals, Herbie and Coltrane, were born six weeks after my arrival in France. They are precious as his last foals and so far I haven’t been willing to sell them either (which was the plan! Lol). Uhuru was sent away for training after gelding and he shows great promise as a trail horse, with great power and strength. However he is not a novice ride and needs to find his special person to bring out the best in him. He can do a fantastic gait and also trots and paces.
So I needed to import another mare…. That was Bit o’ Texas TaDance, now my main ride.
I imported TaDance from New Mexico in 2008. She was eight years old and bred to a beautiful chocolate stallion. She is a fine black horse, more stocky than Angel, and not quite so spirited, a wonderful, reliable trail horse and the lead mare of the herd. Angel by contrast is less dominant in the herd and conflict-avoidant, a lovely mare to have because she is easy-going with others. It was interesting to me to learn that the way horses are with each other does not necessarily translate into how they are with humans or under saddle. While rather fierce with the other horses, demanding a large personal space, and bossing up the herd with Uhuru, TaDance is very respectful to her human handlers and very light and responsive to ride. Although more heavily built than Angel she is graceful and forward-going under saddle with a fine, flagged tail. I always feel proud to ride her and grateful for the fine way she so willingly carries me.
TaDance’s first foal for me was a lovely black filly I called Midsummer’s Eve. I adored her. She only lived for a day because she had a very rare problem of a cyst in her throat that meant she inhaled milk, so she drowned. I fought to save her but she died in hospital after a tracheotomy in front of me and her mother. I agreed for TD to adopt an orphan foal at the hospital so we were separated for a while, but at least TD’s maternal instinct was satisfied. I was devastated and thought perhaps I should give up breeding because I couldn’t stand the grief. But I recovered somehow and I persisted.
TD had two further foals for me by Uhuru, both very fine black horses and taller than their parents. (Uhuru seems to carry a ‘tall’ gene). I sold them both to a friend who fell in love with the filly and persuaded me to part with them. They live with her on the farm in Devon where I lived before leaving for France.
After losing little Evie, who I still remember dearly, I then decided to buy my own land for the horses. I mortgaged my house and bought ten beautiful acres on the edge of the moor, steep in places, and with a little left over I imported another pregnant mare with a filly at foot. I was learning more about the breed, breeders and bloodlines, and was able to eke out my money.
Mindy and Maggie
Mindy and her little filly Maggie (Hart’s Magnificent Magnolia, by Pence’s Blue Boy) travelled the longest distance, all the way from Oregon on the north-west Pacific coast of the USA. Mindy was pregnant by the magnificent stallion The Comet, a buckskin, and she was smoky black (ie she carried a cream gene) so I had high hopes of the foal she might bear, both in terms of type and colour. She was 14 when I bought her and she stayed in Devon when I left – a friend at the farm there agreed to retire her for me in return for taking her filly by Uhuru, now a gorgeous big red mare called Havana Moon.
Maggie bore me four foals by Uhuru, including Orpheus who is in Scotland with Mark McBride, where he rides out on Lunan beach, often with just a neck rope, and goes on extreme trails in the mountains. It’s wonderful when you breed a horse that goes to a life like that – but you aren’t always so lucky. In the end, although I was thrilled to be able to sell fine mountain horses to friends who adore them, I found the whole thing of parting with them too stressful, and although I miss having foals – they are so delightful – I don’t miss the stress of finding the right buyer or not being certain about the future of a horse you sell. So, although I have the occasional regret, I’m not sorry I gave up breeding for a different, more stable and restful life with the herd.
Maggie’s last foal was Eos, another red filly, born in the same year as her mother had Havana – the year of the red fillies. If you don’t have your mares’ colour tested you can’t tell if they carry red and so you can be taken by surprise.
I had met another mother of a child at SANDS school who liked horses, and she came to ride with me. We became close friends. She later bought Maggie and her filly Eos from me. This was Sarah who supported me in moving to France.
Eos was born in 2016. She is a lovely shiny copper colour and was named Eos after the goddess of dawn who rides her rosy chariot across the morning sky. She was discovered on a chilly hillside one spring morning, tiny and perfect, astonishing us all with her colour and charming us with her beauty. We think she carries the silver gene that gives chocolate horses their signature colour, because she is a different colour red from Havana and she has highlights in her mane (silver doesn’t express on red).
Eos has been backed and ridden but is coming on slowly. She is bright and sensitive and rather attached to her mother Maggie. As with the other youngsters, we aren’t sure yet how she will be as a ridden horse. She shows great promise but may be a little more temperamental than her siblings. Each horse has their own personality that gradually unfolds as you get to train them and ride them.
After supporting me in my search for a farm in Normandy, Sarah and her husband David later decided to join me at La Volee, so when Sarah became free to do so, they moved here with her two horses that I had sold her and the herd was reunited. Sarah and David renovated a house on the farm and they now have a kitchen window overlooking the paddock in front of the big shelter where the horses get their hay in winter, and she can look out onto her horses living with the herd when she makes her breakfast. Joy all round!
Mindy’s foal by The Comet was born one lovely May morning in 2010. He did not disappoint! As I arrived at my land in Holne I saw a white shape on the ground and knew I had been lucky enough to have a double cream foal, as I had hoped. He also carried bay from his sire and so he was a rare perlino colour. He was like a little unicorn – buttermilk in colour with a tinge of ginger in his mane and tail. When he grew old enough to breed I moved him to live with Uhuru on a separate rented field. Then he went to Europe to be raised on loan as a stallion. He ended in the Czech Republic where he sired two fine horses, a mare and a stallion, both the highly desired silver buckskin colour and both bought by a Czech friend who is breeding his grand-get. I long to have one!
Moon River then travelled to a friend’s ranch in the Auvergne in France to stand stud. I had hopes of fame and fortune as his owner, but it was not to be. We discovered that he carried the gene for PSSM1, a condition that is variable but cannot be cured. This was devastating news for all concerned, and he had to be gelded and then returned to me. His two offspring were tested, and despite a 50% chance that they would also have the gene, they tested clear. So I have the pleasure of knowing that his line continues. I announced the results to the breed association and as a result the lines were tested and PSSM1 can now be bred out of the breed. It was a small satisfaction to know that we had helped the breed as a whole although it was a shocking blow for me and also for the kind friends in France, who had gone all the way to fetch him only for it to end like this.
As a young gelding Moon River did not show severe symptoms but he occasionally would tie up when out on a ride. He came with the herd to France and at first he seemed to do well on the relatively poor grazing here. But in his last two winters he fared poorly and he died of a mysterious and very severe bout of diarrhoea at the end of winter in 2021.
Moon River was an extraodinary horse. There was something rather other-worldly about him, as if he was just visiting on earth – and so it turned out to be. He was only 11 when he left us, after just a few days of illness borne with the utmost grace. Sometimes I can’t believe something so lovely and precious touched my life. It’s very hard to let go when you are not ready, and you can torment yourself with wondering if it was your fault. I try just to be grateful that I knew him at all. He seemed to have a very deep, centred sense of self and was very gentle with people and the foals, but he did not tolerate any rivalry from Uhuru over the mares and we had to keep them apart. Moon River was not the bigger or fitter horse but he was supreme.
Sometimes when I saw him appear out of the twilight I felt as if he were a spirit – he was breath-taking, ethereal. But he was also flesh and blood, a beautiful shape, solid and baroque. I would not write of him here except that he blessed our farm and left a feeling behind of looking after us all. His ashes are to be spread in a top corner of the farm, where he was found one morning watching over Darcey and her newborn foal, Coltrane. I hope you feel his gentle spirit there sometimes and the feeling of peace that he imparted.
Before I discovered Moon River had PSSM I started collecting chocolate mares to breed to him so as to have him as my breeding stallion when he returned from Europe. In particular I was looking forward to his get from Angel, who I couldn’t breed to her own son, Uhuru. I’ll always regret never having had the chance to see what they might have produced together. The two mares I added to the breeding herd were Sweetie and Darcey, who are now the two best riding mares for guests to use, because they can be ridden by novices, unlike Angel and Uhuru who need more experienced riders.
Sweetie is the only mare in my herd who was bred by the first RMH breeder in the UK – in fact she was the first RMH foal born in the UK, in 2006. She was owned by friends of mine who liked what I was trying to do with my breeding project and way of keeping horses. They kindly sold her to me for ‘mates’ rates’, for which I’m forever grateful. Sweetie is a shorter mare of the old type, and they felt she was perhaps too small for them. She is around 14.2 but very strong and can carry a man, although we don’t like her to carry very big or heavy riders. The breed standard is 14.2 to 16 hands, but in fact these were originally small horses (the Icelandics remained small), and outside horses were bred in to raise the height. In my opinion, shared by some others, this did not always improve the breed, and it would have been better to allow two classes – one for taller horses and one for the shorter, original type. Arguments over this issue amongst others led to the formation of another mountain horse registry, the KMSHA, which also allows ‘spotted’ horses and includes many equally good examples of the breed.
Sweetie bore me two foals by Uhuru, Arwen, with a friend in Kent, and Herbie, born here shortly after I arrived. Sweetie is a wonderful trail horse and inspires confidence in the most nervous of riders. For that reason I’ve had quite a few offers for her, but for the same reason she is not for sale!
The lovely Darcey, named after the ballerina Darcey Bussell, was bred by friends in the south of France, by their fine RMHA stallion Teitinger (now gelded) and out of a nice KMSHA mare. She caught my eye from the outset and I was delighted when I was able to acquire her as a young filly. She was easily trained for saddle by an intern who visited in Devon, and it’s been no problem to bring her on. Like Sweetie, she is a mainstay of our riding horses, very willing and well gaited, with a little more fizz than Sweetie but perfectly reliable and safe. She has a longer face than our RMH and a short back, with a very feminine beauty. Bless you, lovely Darcey, and thank you for our sweet Coltrane!
Demelza is a Cornish name and she is so called because her dam was a semi-feral Bodmin Moor hill pony. Like her dam she carries the genes for leopard spots (like Appaloosas) and roan. Although her dam, Autumn, was only about 13.2, Demelza is definitely a horse rather than a pony and she is exactly what I hoped for from the breeding by her sire, Uhuru. She is the only get in my herd from a second-string project I had for a while to breed hill ponies from the South-West to Uhuru; sadly, the owner of the Dartmoor pony herd did not continue and although he apparently had some fine foals out of the collaboration, he didn’t let me know what has become of them. Demelza was born in 2016.
Demelza not only looks different from the others but she shows no sign of gait (outcrosses do not always get the gaiting gene – now that this can be tested for, that may change if a parent with two copies of DMTR3 is used; I don’t know because I stopped following the breeding discussions). However, we have kept her despite some offers, because she is greatly loved, admired for her beauty and sweet nature, and is also (I’m pretty sure) unique in the world for colour and breeding. She and Arlo offset each other nicely and we quite like having a couple of horses here of a different colour and look, who may inspire some visitors to think of horses owned by Native Americans in the days of the Wild West. We reckon they’d look good next to a tipi if we can get one of those set up one day!
Arlo, named after Arlo Guthrie (son of Woody Guthrie) was also born in 2016. He is another outcross, but this time to a fine Tennessee Walker stallion (sadly, now gelded too and living in Germany; Arlo’s grandsire, Slim, still produces fine offspring at a well-regarded TWH ranch in Kentucky, which produces trail horses rather than big-lick show horses). Arlo’s dam is Angel and he is therefore half-brother to Uhuru. They are entirely different both in appearance and character, however. Arlo is a great favourite with many, being rather ‘soft’, very into people, and curious. We think he is very bright in a rather wily way and would likely make a great trick pony! He makes everyone smile with his antics. In the herd he gets bossed around quite a lot, often by his friend Demelza. He is conflict-avoidant like his mother but he loves wrestling with his nephews, especially Coltrane. We don’t know yet how he will be under saddle, though he has been started; he does not seem keen to go, but we expect that to change with time since he has fine, flowing movement at liberty and seems to have great gait. TWH x RMH are thought by many to make a great cross, and we are proud of Arlo because he too is unique, being a frame overo in colour pattern and a very rare cross in Europe.
Arlo was born in 2016 a couple of months after Demelza. The breeding was a snap decision after I learned that the TWH stallion was available in the New Forest and because after the gelding of my lovely Moon River I had no-one to whom I could put Arlo’s mother, Angel (Uhuru being her son). Given the disappointment I felt at never being able to have the longed-for foal by Angel and Moon River, this was a wonderful compensation and I’m so glad I did it.
Coltrane, by Uhuru out of Darcey, was the first foal born at La Volee, six weeks after I arrived in 2017. Thank heavens that Sarah and David had come over on a visit, because the next day or so Coltrane became suddenly very sick and had to have emergency treatment. He needed surgery to fix a problem with his bladder and was rushed to intensive care with his mom. After an anxious few days it was evident that he was going to make it and the surgery had been successful with no ill effects. Darcey put up with it all despite being a first-time mum and having to get in a horse-box to go to hospital, drips up and the lot! I had no horsebox or transport and nor did the vet, so I was lucky I’d managed to make friends by then who were prevailed upon to come over and trail them on a Sunday. I shudder to think what could have happened otherwise.
Coltrane has always been extra special because he had a scrape with death and had to be nursed. Like many foals who go through this he is very close to humans and is just the sweetest boy. He is pure black and from a distance resembles his father, but he has a short back like his mom and was slow to mature. It is hard to believe he is so big and strong now – we still think of him as a baby, but he is likely to turn out well on trail because he has the size and is very obliging. He was named after John Coltrane the jazz musician who had a deep spirit. Coltrane’s theme tune is A Few of my Favourite Things (the jazz improvisation not the Sound of Music version!).
Herbie was found in the field a few days after Coltrane was born. Because of the anxiety over his brother we only noted that we had a lovely chocolate foal out of Sweetie, who seemed to be fine. Later on when things calmed down I saw that Sweetie had done what I hoped for, produced the most perfect little chocolate horse. He had the sweetest attachment to Moon River, who was a gentle and caring godfather to the two boys when they were weaned. Herbie has grown up to be perhaps the best ‘typey’ RMH that I ever bred. No offence to the others, some of whom might be just as good looking or more so, but he is what mountain horses are supposed to be like – little tanks with good bone and great gait. It’s a breeder’s opinion and needn’t matter to anyone else! Herbie is a little bigger and stronger than his mum and we hope he’ll be a weight-carrier as well as just as good as she is in other ways. He might do a cracking gait under saddle because he certainly does at liberty!
Herbie has been started like the other youngsters but as yet he hasn’t been out on trail. He seems to need more reassurance than his brother, but we’ll see. A privilege of having a herd this size and so many youngsters to bring on is the opportunity to learn how different horses are even when you approach them in the same way – they are all individuals. Different people also click more with one horse than another. It’s an inter-species thing (as the great horse and animal trainer Marthe Kiley-Worthington would say).
Herbie is named after Herbie Hancock, another jazz musician, but a little more up-beat and less soulful than John Coltrane. His theme tune is Watermelon Man. 2017 was the year of the Jazz Boys, the last foals of the magnificent Uhuru. Thank you Uhuru for all the joy you have brought to me, to Sarah, and to other friends with your fine foals, and for the sweet way that you always wooed the mares, even the little Dartmoor ponies who seemed at first too small to accept you.
When I came to France with eight horses including two pregnant mares in a ten-horse lorry (including tack and equipment!) I didn’t have a clear idea of what I’d do with the horses. I intended to make a little money by selling the foals, which is why I bred them, but instead I kept them (notice any pattern there?), and rather than making money I had a big hospital bill! But with Sarah and David joining the farm and with the passage of time, we’ve come to feel that having a herd of horses who are a family themselves is a part of what makes this a special place. It is a home we share with them.
Sarah and I love riding from the farm on the local chemins (tracks) in the bocage and the woods – we have lots of shorter and longer routes in all directions around the farm. I am interested in developing some longer routes from here with overnight stays because I love trail riding and adventures on horseback. I’m willing to share this activity with some friends of the farm, but we don’t plan to become a commercial riding establishment for a number of reasons, including all that would be entailed on the legal side. I am not qualified as an escort and that is not how we plan to build our business, which is based on letting the farmhouse and other facilities to those who want holidays here or to attend courses and clinics. We have some planned activities with horses which can be found on other pages and more will be added in future. There are many ways of enjoying relating to horses, and riding them is only one of them!
We also take volunteers at the farm and some of them who are competent riders do ride with us. If that interests you, we can be found on Workaway and Help X. Just bear in mind that anyone who rides with us as a friend or volunteer has to do so at their own risk.
We hope that clinicians and others with their own creative ideas and who share our philosophy about relating to horses and the natural world will get in touch and help us to offer experiences with horses that will be new to us, too. Our horses are a responsibility of course, but they are also our inspiration and a source of therapy and reconnection to the world beyond ourselves. Long live the horse and a better way of sharing this world with them!