We always wanted to learn to look after horses and the season of Covid seemed to present a good opportunity to isolate in the middle of nowhere with lots of horses and barely any humans. We are coming to the end now of our two month stay on a horse breeding farm in the Belgium Ardenne. The horses we have cared for have become close to us, not necessarily because they love our softly spoken words, but because we give them their precious food. We just adore how they nuzzle up against us when we see them every day.
The 22 hectare farm has around 25 horses. Most are out in the pasture. We have looked after just a few who remain in the stables for a special diet and for vet treatment. It has been fascinating to see the horses treated by vets and farriers. The horses we have cared for have long, impossible to remember, pedigree names, and shorter nicknames, but we have opted to call them by entirely different names which seem to suit them better, and they don’t seemed to mind. We haven’t told their owners though!
- All of the horses are American Quarter Horses, which are typically used for rodeo, racing and Western riding shows. The entire farm in fact feels very American, as the owners dress with cowboy fashions, and country music is played throughout the day across the whole farm. The Wichita Lineman seems to be on the line all day long. We had never properly listened to country music in the past, and probably won’t in the future, but it has been fun or at least funny for a period. Numerous scientific studies have shown that horses respond to music, becoming calmer with classical and country music, while they seem to hate jazz and rock.
- Our horses, Theo and Donna, have adopted a daily custom with us. After we feed them, they always go off to the fields to play as they know that in the meantime, we are mucking out their stables. As soon as we are finished, and this cannot be a coincidence, they come back in to the stables, plant themselves in front of us, look into our eyes and give us the gift of a big fresh poop especially for us to collect. They then look at us very proudly and await our approval. We of course pat them on the back and say “Well Done”, and then off they go again feeling very proud of themselves for having helped us.
- Horses can see a few colours, particularly blue, white and black but red comes out the same as green to them. They are forever trying to nibble on the green wheelbarrow and particularly the red handles…of course, they mostly try it once the wheelbarrow is full of their soiled bedding and just love upsetting it and see the load fall onto the ground, ready for us to pick up once again. That’s when we swear they start laughing and trot away, manes and and tails cheerily flapping in their mirth.
- The public transport system here is about the worst we have experienced anywhere. We once waited by a bus stop for an hour only to discover that the bus stop is no longer operational. Of course, nothing on the stop itself shows that it has been decommissioned and locals passing by never said a word to us, though they no doubt had a good laugh among themselves. Another time, we tried to find the right bus stop and were led by a young local boy two kilometres in the opposite direction to where we wanted to go. When we finally arrived, it was of course the wrong stop for us and we ended up having to walk 6km back to the farm …that experience felt like an episode from It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
- Aside from the horses, we have also been looking after chickens, geese, guinea fowls and a peacock. One of the hens, a bantam, is very funny as, while all the others sleep together in a large coop, she has struck up a close friendship with Theo and Donna, so she has found for herself a cosy little bed in the stable and lays her eggs there. If someone disturbs her as she lays in her nest of hay, she stands up, totally the outraged queen and starts screaming her head off. How such a big voice can come out of such a little body is a total wonder, but as a result, out comes the rooster, all feathers askew, who charges full throttle at our legs and has deeply pierced our shins. A few stern words and a wagging finger or, nastier but so satisfying at the time, a quick twisting movement of both hands quickly draws him to reason.
- In Spring, at about the same time time as the foals are born, swallows come back from Africa, looking for a place to nest. They established themselves in the dark corners of the stables and store rooms. Arriving there at sunrise was a wonderful spectacle as the sun rays lay on their feathers. After moving in, laying eggs and keeping them warm, the chicks finally appeared, and they were famished…all the time. Fortunately, the huge and pressing business of feeding this little colony was made easier by having chosen to settle on a horse ranch. Horses attract flies, swallows eat the flies, everyone wins. Except us perhaps…guess who had to clean the floors and walls covered in droppings once their big migration back to Africa started in early September? In fact, it was fascinating to see that, by late August, the fledglings had learned to fly and there were drill assemblies in preparation for the migration.
Based on the latest virus charts, Germany seems to be the best option for us right now. Going elsewhere would mean having to quarantine. From the farm, we will go straight to Berlin, which has always been on our bucket list, as much for the cakes as for the museums.