In the Bleak Mid Winter
This beautiful plot of land, just short of three hectares (about six acres) became ours! Bordering on the countryside with bridle paths into the forest, views of the mountains (Monts du Cantal, in the Massif Centrale), yet a 5 minute walk into town. Our plan was to build a ranch and to create a natural environment for our horses and ponies, based on Jaime Jackson’s “Paddock Paradise”.
The Walnut Trees
These trees would be the focus point, for the planning of the “tracks”, for which all credit goes to David! With about one third building and two thirds agricultural land, the platform was leveled for the ranch (foreground of photo) to the town side. On the land leading into the countryside we would create our own interpretation of the “guide to natural horse boarding” mentioned in above. (JJ’s PP)
There was always going to be a pond on “JaxTrax”. David had remarked early days that the ground was very marshy in this furthermost corner of our plot. Although he agreed to share it with the horses, this was going to be his corner of paradise! Already on site, it wasn’t too difficult to convince the builders to diversify for a morning, and dig it out. It was so exciting to see the water coming up from the ground. Our hopes had been confirmed. Indeed there was a spring.
With a date now arranged for our three Exmoor ponies to arrive from the England (June 21st 2010), the pressure was on! These “living free” ponies were coming straight off the moor. We had to be certain we could contain them within our plot, until it became their home and they felt secure here. The posts in situ, but still so much work to install the electric fencing. David’s great friend John, offered his services and came across from the UK. They worked like troopers all day every day for a week in unbearable heat! I truly admired their tenacity.
Constructing the Shelters
We had three kit shelters delivered, one for the tracks, one for food, tack and general horse paraphernalia, and one for David’s Ducati! His preferred kind of horse power! Elliot and David worked hard to erect them all. Elliot was particularly motivated to finish the horse shelter, so that his Appaloosa Dream Girl could come home from livery.
David’s Corner of Paradise
The pond is filled with spring and rain water. Despite a very long dry summer, it has never dried out. David would have liked to put fish and plants in it, but has kindly compromised so that the horses can enjoy it too! He has put a bench and a parasol and a stone built fire (fenced off, when not in use) behind the pond. He likes to go here for some peace and quiet, along with a good book and a Gin & Tonic!
Exmoor Ponies Arrive in France
There is nothing like a deadline to get things done. The tracks were ready, though the ranch wasn’t advanced enough to be living on site. Elliot and I drove up to meet the transporters on the main road to guide them down to “JaxTrax” These beautiful little horses looked lost in this huge wagon. I couldn’t contain my excitement when the ramp came down. We had a little bonus on board! A colt, just a few weeks old. “Willow Warbler” had come off the moor with a “foal at foot”!
Nothing could have prepared me for how “wild” these ponies really were!
Ponies on Track
One by one the ponies led the transporters down the ramp and on to the tracks!! In fact they shot out at such speed that “Dovetail” broke loose. Luckily she jumped through the electric fence onto the tracks to be with her younger sister. To remove the lunge rope was no easy task, and finally the transporters wrapped it around a tree. The strength of the pony snapped the clip and she was released. Quite traumatic but no harm done thanks to their professionalism. The ponies were left to settle into their new home, and here you have the mother of all of them leading the way.
Ponies around the Pond
Exploring their territory, they soon came across the pond and all waded straight into it! No wonder really. They had just travelled from the south of England to the middle of France, arriving on an exceptionally hot day. Sadly it all happened so quickly we didn’t get a photo. They have always loved that spot in the far corner, I guess because it is the most private area.
Dream Girl comes Home
It was the following winter before we were able to live in the “studio” part of the house. Elliot’s Appaloosa Mare had been in livery. At last she came home, to join our small herd of Exmoor’s at “JaxTrax”. Elliot was delighted, as we all were, as he led her down the ramp.
A Happy “Appy” with her herd of Exmoor’s
Yes, you have got it in one, Dream Girl is the dominant one. She may look like an angel here, but she is particularly tough on poor “Willow” the brood mare. I think she wants her babies for herself! She has now brushed aside the two older one’s, perhaps because they don’t need her protection any more? At feeding time she sorts them out, chasing the three older ones away, allowing the two younger ones to eat from her ration! I am not sure who or what she is protecting them from – but she knows. It is fascinating to watch. I used to interfere, but now realize this is their “pecking order”.
Over by the pond, there was a natural “dip” in the lay of the land. It became their chosen spot for “rolling” when they came out of the pond. Over the past year or so they have rolled so much here, it has become quite deep. After a heavy rainfall it fills up and looks like this!
This is the start of their new spot for rolling. I guess in time it will end up like the previous one!
The walnut trees in Photos are the nearest point to the ranch, therefore the obvious place to make the “watering hole” This water is fresh daily, either collected rainwater from the gutters of the shelters, or in dry periods, from the house pipe. We have just had a tap put underground to solve the problem of frozen pipes in winter. I put it to the test last week and it works brilliantly.
“On the Rocks”
David laboriously moved all these stones by hand, from different areas of our land! Each time the ponies go to drink water, they have to walk over them. This has kept their hooves in good shape. Three of them could now have their hooves pared by a gentle and patient farrier, but I have work to do on the two older ones, to get to that stage. Dream Girl is still shod. I would like to try “barefoot” with the help of hoof boots, but as yet haven’t taken the leap.
I think David and Elliot must have got sick of me saying “ we’ll never get head collars on these ponies, let alone handle them.” I came home from work one day and there they were – three of them with head collars on! The brood mare was heavily in foal, so we decided to leave her until after the birth. Oh yes I forgot to mention – “Willow” had had a last fling just before coming off the moor!
Here Elliot is handling our little colt “Foxtor Finch”, showing him that the lunge whip is nothing to be afraid of.
We decided to put rings on the trees to attach the ponies. We figured they were sturdy enough to resist even the strongest of Exmoor’s! At first we put up hay nets in the tree, so they felt it was a good place to be. We never had any problem with the two older ones. They will stand for hours in the shadow of the trees. Only the young colt did that “leaning” on the rope they tend to. So I attached him next to Dream Girl, behind the shelter where I guess he felt safe, because he soon learnt to relax. I am never far away when they are attached though. This is “Eiderdown’s” tree.
She is the one I thought we would never be able to stroke, let alone catch. A real wild child! I will always remember the first time I led her. I felt so proud. It was such a huge achievement. We are still taking it very slowly, but she loves being tied up and groomed. I can pick out her feet and oil them too. She also accepts a numnah and surcingle on her back. However I am the only one she trusts for the moment. With her you get out what you put in. This is “Dovetail’s” tree.
I think my face says it all! A pony either side of me, this is my paradise.
Elliot “Pony Whispering”
Elliot took it upon himself one day to saddle up “Eiderdown”. He separated her from the others and went about it in his gentle manner, calm and patient at all times. When I came home from work, he had a saddle on her back! By all accounts, she accepted it without a battle. She has a lovely nature and has always enjoyed human contact. We hope to back her this year. She has accepted the bit, and goes well on a lunge line.
Lazy ,Sunny Afternoon
Dream Girl and Elliot. With all this attention on the Exmoor’s, she is getting a little reassurance that she is very special, and much loved too.
A Mother’s Love
May 14th 2011, “Willow Warbler” gave birth to “Galaxie”, a filly, just in time for Carol’s birthday the following day. First born at “JaxTrax”she has been a joy to handle from birth.
I’m a big Girl
Galaxie strides out ahead of Willow. But not for long…
Are we there yet ?!
Please wait for me Mum, my legs are shorter than yours
Curious Much ?
Mmmmmm that looks very interesting over there by the pond. Perhaps better finish this scattering of hay, then go and investigate!
We had planned to put the shelter on the tracks, but then discovered according to “French law” that because we were not farmers, we were not aloud to erect “farm buildings” on non building land. It is not ideal, but the shelter was erected in our home paddock. It does encourage “loafing” but they only go there to “siesta” or to look for hay when it is raining or exceptionally hot.
Trailer on Track
As I mentioned earlier, we have read JJ’s book PP, and adapted it to suit our own circumstances. He suggests that the tracks should be a private space for the horses with minimum intrusion. Because this is the first time we have handled truly “wild” horses, it has been in our interest to work within this safe space. We have used the trees to tie them, the tracks to lead them, and now we have parked the trailer on the track. For us it worked wonders. We left it there a month or two, put scatterings of hay on and around the ramps and bingo! We can now lead all of them in and out, then turn them around and walk back up the out ramp and down the in ramp. They think it is a great game.
“Galaxie” Oh, what a beautiful morning, Oh what a beautiful day, I have a wonderful feeling, Everything’s going my way!
Here we have all six of them, our little herd, with Dream Girl at the rear, driving them forward.
Brotherly Sisterly love
We are the babies. We two still have some growing to do, and that’s upwards!
Back on Track
Off we go again to join the others!
Just another day for you and me in Paradise!
Well all this walking, it’s great for the waistline, but a horse gets tired too you know!
A rough sketch of the tracks that our horse and ponies live on with access to the home paddock and shelter. Hay is scattered liberally on the tracks twice daily to encourage movement whilst eating as they do naturally. Fresh water, himalayan salt and mineral licks are permanently available. In order to drink fresh water they must walk over rocks. This keeps their hooves in trim. An interesting feature of our paddock paradise has been discovered by the ponies: they have exposed what appears to be a stone wall below ground the whole length of the middle track.