The Universe Loves Delivering Surprises
I am a strong believer in all things happening for a reason. There are no coincidences in life, and when you start trusting the process and handing over your control, wonderful things can happen.
I have not used all my holiday allowance this year. Firstly, I wanted to carry some over for our awesome three week trip to Thailand next January, but I have also just been too busy. When I started to feel a little jaded I realised that I needed to take some time off. Now is a perfect opportunity as Esra is still in the mentoring stage of his new qualifications so would be able to take some time away with me.
We live on a beautiful island, full of natural wonders and history. I planned to take him up North to see the stunning highlands of Scotland. We knew where we wanted to go and we borrowed a tent and some other camping items. The forecast was good, mild weather, and the beauty of Scotland is you are allowed to wild camp. We had plans of parking the car, packing our rucksacks and eating hot dogs by fire light listening to only the sounds of the wild. Everything would be idyllic. As we got closer to the date however, the weather forecast started to change (who would have thought it on an island?) it wasn’t looking so warm now and there was a chance of rain, which quickly changed to a 50% chance on most days. Not one to give up, I was still determined to go, with the right tent and sleeping bags, it is still possible to have fun.
Then my friend Simon asked me to come over and stay with him and his wife Kate. They would love to see us and it would be their pleasure to cook for us, although they would be working during the day, there were plenty of opportunities to spend time together in the evenings. I haven’t seen Simon since he was about 10 years old. He was actually my brothers best friend at school. We found each other on Facebook a few years ago and have chatted on messenger a lot. He always has an encouraging word when he knows I’m having a tough day and he is one of those people who is just good to be around.
Bizarrely Es and I had only been talking about him the other day, as I said, no such thing as coincidences. I had said we should go out to see them, Simon had given me an open invitation a few times and I had never taken him up on the offer. Es had said simply “only if they have a Western saddle, I’m not riding a British Saddle”. I didn’t think they would have, I mean, who does? so when Simon offered again, I relayed Esra’s comment, to which he replied “we have Western saddles”. Oh! I replied on messenger, well, I only have 5 days holiday left this year and I’m using it for Scotland. “Yeah, yeah” came the typed response, followed by “where is your nearest airport?”. It turns out that Ryanair fly out of Bristol straight to Bezier, which is only an hour away from Simon. Within half an hour of our conversation I had booked two flights and we were going to the South of France.
Now, I call Es my cowboy, for all intent and purposes he is, but, and here is the funny thing, I have never actually seen him ride. In fact the only time I did ride when I was in America was whilst he was away on rotation. This would be the first time we have ever ridden together, my prim and proper English saddle, horse on the bit and his laid back armchair Western saddle with reigns hanging loose. I was excited, it would be a great first for us and where nicer than in the foothills of the Pyrenees?
Let me take a step back here, because I am assuming you know what the hell I am talking about. Simon runs a lovely hotel and riding centre in the South of France Domaine de Fraisse . They cater for autistic children and offer much needed respite for families plus therapeutic riding for the children. As an experienced instructor Kate his partner takes the riding classes, and Simon runs the business. Not only that, he also learned a whole foreign language to do it! they are my heroes and two very awesome and inspirational human beings and I feel blessed to know them.
Esra was beyond excited. He has not ventured into Europe yet, having not been here quite a year yet, and so was looking forward to seeing a whole new part of the world. We flew only two days after I booked and the journey was faultless. Bristol airport is such a lovely airport to fly from, and Ryanair were pleasant and professional. I recognised Simon instantly, even though I only had online photos to go from, he was a lot taller than when I last saw him, which took me by surprise, but then again, I’m not quite sure why.
We settled into our room and spent our first evening with them, drinking far too much red wine. I instantly fell in love with his wife Kate, there was nothing but an honest soul to her and I knew she was ‘my people’. Their son Charlie was also the most adorable kid I have ever met, and I don’t really do kids, but he was funny, polite and a joy to be with. He was particularly excited about meeting a ‘real cowboy’, but then a little disappointed when Es didn’t have a cowboy hat and lasso.
The next day we headed out to Carcasonne, a stunning medieval city, and a place I have always wanted to visit. Luckily as we are in late September it wasn’t very busy and we managed to find some on street parking and walk up to the walled city. I imagine that in the summer months it is heaving with tourists, this was echoed by the sheer amount of tourist shops within the city selling the usual fridge magnets and tea towels. We spent an idyllic few hours wandering around, hand in hand, in glorious hot sunshine, we couldn’t have been any happier. We got back to our room and spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool before another wonderful dinner cooked by the talented Kate (who will tell you she can’t cook) and more red wine.
On the Thursday we were going out for a hack with Kate, just Es and I. Neither of us had riding gear with us, so we just rode in our trainers and jeans. It was very amusing that Esra, much to his dislike, had to wear a helmet as it’s European law. He sulked a while over that one, having only ever ridden in a cowboy hat during his career, it upset his American pride. Nonetheless I assured him that he looked good in a hat, handsome as ever and he was still my cowboy. I don’t think he believed me, but it made him smile.
He rode Itaq, who is an old quarter horse, very similar to the horses he was used to riding and I chose Coquette an Appaloosa. Esra took the piss out of me, for some bizarre reason there is a ‘thing’ about Appaloosas and Piebalds in the states, which was reiterated when I posted the photos and his sister started calling me Pocahontas! but I don’t care, I chose her, she was my mare and I liked riding her.
Now they say when someone is an expert, they make things look easy, Es did just that. I was envious of his ability, but then again he was virtually born in a saddle and had many a horse throughout his childhood and into adult life. I was a little embarrassed by my rusty attempts as it had been a few years since I had been riding in earnest and at one point I had to ask Kate to slow the canter down as I was feeling a little uncomfortable. However, I didn’t fall off at that’s the main thing!
As a final note, one of the things I have always admired about Es is his positivity and his confidence. It’s not a prideful confidence, just a knowledge of self projected. I don’t think he realises how rare a quality that is, we can all fake it, but he owns it. He was not shy about attempting a new language, and although I giggled at his pronunciations (as did some of the French) he gave it gusto, and was not embarrassed to try. So much so, on our final day he took my phrase book and went off on his own to buy some cigarettes from the local shop. I am sure a lot of miming went on, together with pointing and nods, but I was utterly impressed at his dedication to trying.
All in all we had a wonderful week away, good company, good times and plenty of R&R. Back to work for me on Monday, I have taken a sneak peek at my emails, which made me baulk, but as it is still Saturday night I will worry about them on Monday morning.