Monthly Archives: August 2013

The dog days of summer are coming to an end

The dog days of summer are officially between early July and early September when summer is at its hottest.  During the Roman empire it was said that Serius (the dog star) rose and set with the sun, and it was thought that this star’s red glow contributed to the summer heat.

As we head towards the end of August, the weather is dropping a few degrees every day. The evenings now are comfortable; not quite cool, but almost at the point where a shawl or light long sleeved top would be needed.

Today the farrier is here, preparing many of the horses that have been on rest over the summer for next weeks trekking Group. From Sunday through to the end of October we are busy again with groups, and the horses will also be pulled out for the September Christiane Slawik course.

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The vineyards around Tuscany have now been taped with electric fencing to keep out the wild boar as the vendemia takes place. Soon the rows of vines all over the region will be humming with activity as groups of workers busily pick the grapes, and tractors pull loads of dripping grapes back and forth to the cellars. The smell of fermenting grapes is strong at this time, and many of the smaller roads are stained red with dripping grape juice. It is a lovely time, and marks the end of the famous dog days, and the start of fall.

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Early starts to beat the August heat

The last couple of weeks have been very hot here in Montaione, and though we are not doing any full day rides due to the heat in the middle of the day, we have been doing some nice long morning rides with early departures.

Earlier this week an Italian guest asked about an early ride today. He was quickly joined by a lovely German guest who had ridden with me three times last week too, and this morning we had a friendly dutch girl join in as well. The wind came up last night, and there was still a little of it around this morning, making the crisp morning even fresher. The horses worked exceptionally well, and the climate was perfect for a long and fairly adventurous ride through Castelfalfi, down the Capello del Lup and into the Bosco Armeno trail. The dry heat has turned the tufo trails into sand, and today with the horses feeling keen, many of the canters churned the dust up so much that the last horse almost seemed to be a vision of a desert film.  It has been months since I felt my horse so energetic, and the three behind me were equally keen – all due to the wonderful change in temperature.

We are extremely lucky to have the forest trails of the Valle del Carfalo right on our doorstep, and the Italian guy behind me today exclaimed throughout the ride, how it really was like something out of paradise to ride in an area so pristine and cool in the middle of August.

Brownie our new Quarter Horse gelding has been out all week, and is getting really good at negotiating some of the steeper hills. Brownie comes from a breeding farm in the north of Italy, where the hills are not so difficult, so the last couple of months have been a sort of trail ‘boot camp’ for him.  He is always a big favorite among his riders though, and is one of the sweetest horses in the stable – always wanting cuddles. In typical Quarter Horse style, he excels at the uphill starts, and vineyard canters.


This afternoon Iza and Cate have their weekly ‘Kinder Reit Woche’ children performing in front of their parents in the indoor arena. It is always interesting to see how these kids can put together a show with only 7 days of riding; especially since many have had very little equestrian experience prior to their arrival.

Its a very exciting afternoon for them, with serious mane plaiting, pony washing and determined practice drills before their parents arrival. After the show all the kids receive a diploma and then have a party out on the grass in front of the stables with fizzy drinks and pizza made in the restaurant.

This year the Kinder course has been really popular, with 6-9 horse mad kids signed up every week. It is always nice to see so much horse passion with these kids. They really love everything to do with horses, from the paddock to the riding – and the horses at CT genuinely like kids too. Check out Otto below playing with little Filippo’s hat. Too cute!

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Listen to your horse

I put this story in brief on my facebook page Yesterday, and it received so much attention, that I thought it only fitting to write on the blog too.
I have two preferred guide horses at Castellare. One is my own gelding Navarro, a 12 year old Sardinian Anglo Arab that has probably seen more of Tuscany than any horse in the country and the other is Shamal, a palomino criollo with a flowing White mane and a crooked ear.

Of course other horses get ridden out, often it’s important that the young horses learn to ride up front early in their careers – and I have another horse that needs to get out on the trails for his own mental health…but if I have a big group, or I am riding outside of the estate I prefer to have either of these horses under me.

Navarro is hotter than Shamal, his arabian blood comes out occassionally, and if hes a little fresh he can spook at silly things, or pull at the canter. What I love about him though, is his courage. If I point this little horse into the middle of a group of cattle, or down a steep gully he will charge through like a tractor. He is not a heavy horse, and quite fine and elegant looking – but he will take on any challenge as long as his cardinal rule is obeyed. ‘Let me do my job, and dont interfere!’ Shamal is slightly older, and wiser. Less cocky but still very much a dominant horse when out on a ride. You could fire a rifle off his back, and he would stand firm. Not an overly affectionate horse (much like Navarro) he is a horse that commands respect.

Some horses need riding, others need a bit of guidance, and others need only subtle ‘suggesting’.
Navarro and Shamal are two of the latter. Two fairly misunderstood horses, that are really two of the smartest.

Try and take up a strong contact with either, attempt to boss them about, or use too much leg, and the ride will be spent at an irritating jog, with head tossing and pulling. Horse and rider will argue, and both will return sweaty, grumpy and tired.
These two horses know their job too well, and dont need your help. Let them do the thinking (perhaps with only an occasional check not to stride ahead so fast, to choose an alternate trail, or to pick up/drop the pace) and these horses are perfect. In another life, I think these two horses probably were war horses. They work with a professionalism and keeness that sets them apart from the others. Neither will accept riding at the back of the group, but they know that at times they will be expected to change positions briefly, accept other horses riding off, or be the last out when closing a gate. They get that. Thats part of their job.

Two days ago, riding out with a group, Shamal quite literally saved my life. Cantering along a sand path that has never caused me any concern (an old road lined with trees, that I have ridden weekly for the past two years) Shamal without warning leapt to the side of a small hole in the dirt (on the side of the trail). As he leapt, one back leg touched the right side of the hole which proceeded to completely crumble. He pulled up quickly, allowing me time to alert the others behind to stop. I jumped off, and went to inspect the now very large hole in the middle of the road. It was an underground tunnel, brick lined inside – possibily used during the war, or even beforehand for storage. The roof had weakened and started to cave, and Shamal with his superb animal instict had known that something was amiss. His lightning fast reflexes had quite literally saved both of us, and allerted the others to the danger underfoot. A horse like this, really is worth his weight in gold. As I rode home from that ride, I have never felt more gratitude to an animal in my life.

But how many times have horses saved me in the past without me realising? How often are those aprehensions of their valid?

So the moral of this post. When in doubt. Trust your horse!