Qu’est ce que tu fais aujourd’hui? Murdered the mosquitoes of the Camargue, mostly. But I was on a very nice horse at the time.
It all began with a last minute query from Horse & Hound last week — could I go to the Camargue in the south of France for a riding holiday feature? Why certainly! Oh, and could I go before the end of May? Now normally I might shy away from such a tight deadline, but when you’re being sent to one of the most beautiful parts of Europe to ride with cowboys, it seems a bit churlish. So here I am.
I arrived at the luxurious Mas de Peint yesterday evening, but must confess that I didn’t see much before collapsing onto the pillows of my enormous bed — after my first ever driving experience in France (which reminded me somewhat of going on the dodgems), I wasn’t up to much else.
But as I opened my eyes this morning, I took a moment to appreciate my room… and oh my. Pale blue woodwork, a mezzanine bathroom with a beamed ceiling, charmingly rustic yet comfy furniture — I want to live here, please. And apparently the food is the best bit, so I’m rather looking forward to dinner tonight, especially after breakfast earlier — French pastries kick English pastries’ flaky little bottoms.
So after breakfast I jumped in my hire car and drove the short distance to the stables. I wasn’t being lazy, it is actually down a main road — the Mas de Peint estate covers 1300 acres and includes the hotel, stables, bar and a wedding venue.
This morning’s ride was a quiet one so that I could appreciate the scenery (and take many, many photographs), so I went out with a lady called Sandie, conversed in Franglais and enjoyed the comfort of a Western saddle. I am considering investing in one to improve my jumping position — I’d struggle to throw myself over the front end in one of those.
Although they breed Camargue horses on the estate, I was actually on a part-bred Camargue/Andalusian. While they still have Camargue horses for the tourists to ride, as the horses only make 13-14hands they are too small for a lot of people to ride in this day and age. I chose not to be offended by this explanation, as I do like to ride something larger anyway.
The Camargue is an ornithological reserve, so there are lots of birds to look at, but unfortunately lots of another winged creature that I’m not quite so keen on — mosquitoes. Everywhere. The wetlands are amazing, but apparently this is the worst time of year for the biting little buggers, so I did spend a fair amount of time swatting at myself. Luckily, the horses are used to being ridden with one hand on the reins.
We also spotted the bulls that are bred on the estate (see photo) and tomorrow I am going out with the gardians (cowboys) to help round them up. Apparently there is a lot of leaping around — before being allowed to go out with them, I was asked, “So, are you really a good rider?” — so I suspect I’ll be more worried about staying on than being bitten. God bless the Western saddle.