Monthly Archives: April 2013

Sunshine and Wildflowers in Tuscany

It is a glorious day here in Montaione, wildflowers are everywhere now, and the sun is shining brightly. Since todau is the final calm before the long weekend ‘storm’ (we are at full capacity all weekend) I escaped the office on my lunch break with Shakir to ride a new route that I had scoped out by foot last week.

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The ride uses part of the old medieval road that took farmers, merchants and soldiers between the fortressed castle of Castelfalfi and the village of Montaione. Parts of the road still have old stone cobbles, and there are dramatic views in each direction.

The grass is so long right  now that it covers some hidden dangers, such as a deep ditch that we almost walked right into. Luckily since he arrived Shakir has become much better, and as soon as saw the ditch underfoot  and asked him to back up, he reinbacked perfectly, and performed a very good rollback to turn literally on his heels on the narrow trail. Franco often uses the example of trail ride hazzards to explain why the rollback is so important  and this morning was a classic example of a technical movements practicality outside of the arena.

We rode down through the olive groves and crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon between Montaione and Castellares land. I had a brief chat with an elderly man cutting wood, and we carried on to the old water mill and finally Casa Cheta,a beautiful holiday home hidden in the middle of romantic olive groves and wild woods.

As we rode back up to base a fallen tree blocked our path, and I was so glad to have this nimble mountain goat of a horse with me. I took off his bridle and we literally had to negotiate a steep metre high climb followed by twenty meters of pushing through thick forest and low brambles to get around the said obstacle. He acted like a little dog: quietly, patiently picking his way through all that blocked his path, and then popped a wee jump at the end to get back down from the ledge.

It was a lovely ride, and when he got home he enjoyed a long shower and when cool, some grain and hay in his box as thanks for a lovely ride.

Shakir now is ready to be used for clients out on the trails, and I hope they enjoy riding him as much as I have over the past couple of months.

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Turnout Time


Its that time of the year again, and to make the most of a quiet week of riding we turned out the majority of the horses into the big turnout field at the top of the property. This year the donkeys are out with the horses too. I turned out my two geldings with everyone else, and one in particular was not too fussed on the donkeys initially. I thought it was really sweet however, that the geriartric thirteen hand pony that has lived with them the past two years at the stables threw himself between donkey victim and big mean 16hh horse and fiercly defended his girls. Everytime my horse came near them he would fly at him, and eventually his authority was firmly established.

It is a beautiful sight to see these horses together. All colors, shapes and sizes – and they really deserve the grass and sunshine after this long, hard and rainy winter which has delayed their turnout period considerably.


How they have changed!


The ugly ducklings that turned into swans. Take a look how our 2010 foals have changed in two years. My favorite are the two bottom photos!












Se il cavallo é buono e bello, non guardar razza e mantello

The title says it all. If the horse is good and attractive, one shouldnt care about breed or color.

This last week with the weather still playing up until Wednesday, the sturdy Argentine horses proved their worth in the sometimes muddy and slippery trail.

The lovely Danish couple riding with us every day handled the difficult terrain earlier in the week well and especially enjoyed the riding on the last days when the sun finally decided it was time to emerge from his winter hibernation.

The sun it seems is here to stay, and all this week we are expecting temperatures of 20-26 degrees. Yesterday I took a really sweet girl from Livorno riding in the morning, and at the end of the ride I has already been sun burnt on my shoulders. I enjoyed a wonderful bbq lunch in the sunshine after the ride with great company, cold beer and tasty food. Summer has arrived we decided, and today the weather has reached a lovely 26 degrees. It’s about time!

I wrote in a former post that a dog had been abandoned at Castellare recently, we also have a selection of cats that have all been dumped over the years, and now live happily semi wild (all are sterilized by the local vet) and fed by the sweet ladies in the restaurant. So, it was a surprise for Matteo and Franco to find a pony stallion waiting in one of the turnout paddocks on Tuesday morning when they arrived at work.

The pony wasnt abandoned however, he had decided on Monday when we rode through his owners cattle farm that the mare I was riding looked pretty good, and followed us all the way home back to Castellare.

The experience is laughable now, but wasnt much fun at the time. The two geldings that the lovely danes were riding, did not like the cocky little pony following them, and were extremely aggressive to him.
The mare I was riding was no happier to have him near her – but there was no way to convince him to leave us alone, nor anyway to catch him.
The mare kicked, the geldings lunged, in the end I jumped off and tried to chase him away… no luck. Finally when one of the geldings started to get worked up, the riders dismounted and I took the irritated mare at a gallop all the way back to the farm, with pony following along like a lovestruck valentine. Back at the farm however, even though everything was open, I couldnt find a soul to take responsibility for the little pint-sized Italian stallion.
Huge Maremmano sheepdogs on chains growled at me from under abandoned cars, a huge sow and her eight piglet grunted from their pen, and curious Chianina cattle peered at us from their stalls. Chickens ran about, as did a selection of straggled felines; but their was no sign of human life to be found.
After cursing a few choice words about the irresponsibility of the owners, I rode back to the others and got them back in the saddle. I instructed them to ride ahead, and the little haflinger mare proved how amazing she is by keeping back with the stallion the whole ride home. For over an hour, at walk, trot and even a few short bursts of canter the pony followed at the mares heels. Towards the end of the ride he slotted himself at the back like a seasoned trekking horse, and he started to warm on me. He was pretty cute actually, and really just lonely. Back at the stables, I whistled for Jack my border collie to help catch him. Jack rounded him into a small space between tractor and tacking area, and I managed to get one of Balu’s (our Shetland pony)headcollars over his little head. Then I managed to pop him into the stallions turnout field for the night until we got in touch with the owner.

The next day around 11am a huge cattle truck turned up, and though it took the two burley men that came with it a good twenty minutes to catch their little friend, he was eventually loaded up and taken home. ‘Sorry about that’, one of the men said to me ‘The little guy needs some company’.

Later in the week we rode up to Barbialla for lunch in the sun, and then on to Riccardo Niggi and his wife Ruth’s beautiful Tuscan farmhouse and workshop. Riccardo and his family were making traditional pizzas in the wood oven outside, and drinking some lovely wine. We stopped, tied the horses and had a glass of wine while we wandered through his workshop. Marg and Lars even decided to buy an Ettruscan style horse head and Florentine souvenir. Then we saddled up and headed back to the stables.  You can see below how green the area is right now. With the sun this week the colors are getting more vibrant by the day, and the grass is growing incredibly fast. I feel sorry for the gardeners that I know right now, as there work load is going to be immense since everyone is behind due to the previous weeks of heavy rain.



Sadly on sadder note, yesterday morning we had to put to sleep Gemini, the founding stallion of Castellare di Tonda. At 28 years of age, his legs gave out on him, and he the vet decided it was better to just let him go. It was a very sad experience to be part of, I sat with him throughout and It seemed at least to me, that his soul left in peace. He was a mighty stallion that stood only 15hh, he won or was placed in some of the biggest reining events in the world and was an important QH stallion in Italy during the 90’s.

My next post will be all about him. A tribute to an amazing little horse with a lion sized heart.


Video on Castellare di Tonda

A sweet little video about highlighting our farm holiday’s, accommodation and activities available onsite.

Update on the Castellare Di Tonda dog

Last post I wrote about a little dog that was abandoned at the Castellare di Tonda reception on a cold rainy Sunday morning at the start of March.

The sad story of little ‘Libera’ began when her owner left her here in the middle of a spate of heavy and particularly scary electrical storms. She found refuge in a doorway next to the reception, and the lovely cooks in the restaurant prepared her a makeshift bed and fed her leftovers every evening.
Eventually she started to make a nuisance of herself at the bar (jumping on tables etc) and was taken down to the stables where she literally did adopt me. She would follow me feeding horses, catching horses, grooming horses and even on rides out through the estate. We started to feed her down at the stables, and at night she was closed in an empty box. Libera became the stable horse.

The vet was called to check if she had a microchip, which she didn’t. Then the local police were called, and recommended we take her to the local dog shelter. The owners of Castellare were away on holiday when little Libera turned up, but when they returned they immediately supported our efforts to care for this loving little dog, and refused to turn her into the dog shelter.

Straight away Sandra purchased Libera a brand new kennel and cushioned dog bed, and Alessio built her a huge covered dog run near the stables. She was brought brand new dishes, and a big sack of dog food. Libera is let free every morning, but when tourists are around she is put into her dog run.

She is cared for by everyone on the farm, and until we find her a permanent solution, she is safe, happy and loved here. A nice happy ending to yet a dog that has so much love and loyalty to give.