Bandit, understandably, got off the trailer a bit wobbly. He had endured a 4-day trip with an 8-hour drive through Paris traffic. I was certain he would want to head to his stall and take a nap. I was wrong. Arriving at a new barn in completely unfamiliar surroundings had given him a second wind. So what’s a curious horse to do? Explore of course! We walked around the grounds as he inspected every inch of the property. There were blades of grass to munch, new horses to meet, paddocks to inspect. I don’t know what language horses speak or if it changes from country to country but Bandit knew he wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
After snacking on some carrots, we finally adjourned to his stall. Everything was different. They used straw instead of shavings and as far as I know Bandit had never experienced that. (But after feeling how cushiony it is I can not understand why it isn’t used more in the states. Seriously, it’s that awesome.) Much to my chagrin, Bandit immediately set to eating it. So, upon returning home that evening, I conducted an exhaustive search online about the potential side effects of excessive straw eating which inevitably led to my having nightmares about him colicing during the night. All in all, it was a rough few days.
I awoke early the next morning and headed over to the barn. I spent a lot of time with him to help him understand that this was his new home. I do believe that he thought I had abandoned him. It was important to me that he know he was here to stay. But in fact, it wasn’t necessary. I have never seen a horse adjust to new surroundings so quickly and completely. (He had even figured out the straw thing by morning) He loved everything about the place, the new food, his paddock, the other horses. You would have thought he was born in France. He even took to eating baguettes. The horses here eat dried baguettes. They have bins full. I was certain it wasn’t something Bandit would like, but he made me into a liar when one of the women from the barn gave him one. She said to me. “Tu pense que Bandit voudrait une baguette?” ‘Do you think Bandit would like a baguette?’ I said knowingly, “No I doubt it. The horses don’t eat that in the states.” I still haven’t gotten the egg off my face. The staff at the barn was amazing and because Bandit is such a character he made friends quickly. The kids adore him. Despite the language barrier, everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
I sold my show saddle before leaving New York to help defray the cost of getting Bandit to France which meant once Bandit was acclimated, I didn’t have anything to ride in. And no, riding without a saddle was not an option. Bandit is a Quarter Horse. It’s an American breed not often found outside of the United States. Quarter Horses are revered for being sturdy and level headed and Bandit is no exception but at 25 years old, he was not overly inclined towards working. (Not that working was ever something that he was big on) But, after Bandit and I stopped showing, I could never justify working him too hard given his age. He was in semi-retirement and he knew it. So, I wasn’t in a great rush to get a new saddle. But I was anxious to find my place in the barn and make some new friends. My social life in the states revolved around two things, riding and tennis and it just made sense that I should begin my attempts at assimilation in the places I was most familiar. Making new friends is hard especially as an adult. Starting with a common interest just makes it that much easier.
What I learned very quickly was that the equestrians here are hardcore. Darkness, rain, cold, none of that matters. They ride regardless. Back in New York, all it took was a little drizzle to convince me to stow my breeches for another day. Granted, not everyone at the barn in New York was as much of a wuss as I am but still, I was impressed. I have not yet reached that level of hardcoreness but I am working on it.
After searching for about a week, I located a place that sold western saddles. To say the western discipline isn’t popular here would be a huge understatement. The shop was about 30 minutes from where I lived so I took a mini road trip. It was a small place with a myriad of western paraphernalia most of which seemed like it belonged more in a John Wayne movie than it did in real life – stereotypical kitsch you would find in just about any nondescript movie of the week. The shop owner was very friendly and he did have a number of used western saddles for sale. We chatted for a bit while I checked out the options but none of the saddles really struck my fancy and they cost almost twice as much here as they did in the states because they were a commodity. So, I left the shop empty handed.
It was lucky for me that the winter was exceptionally mild. It gave us both time to adjust. I went online and found an inexpensive faux leather saddle. Our showing days were over so I really only needed something serviceable for the little bit of riding I was doing. When it arrived 2 weeks later, we were ready to go.
The barn had three riding rings – one for dressage and flat work, another for jumping and the third was the indoor. I was a bit nervous and unsure of how Bandit would react. To be on the safe side we stayed quietly hidden in the indoor just in case things went awry. But true to form he made me proud. There were still a million things to do and learn. I needed a new vet and a new farrier and to get his paperwork in order (spoiler alert – that is STILL not finished). But I was lucky to meet people at the barn who were willing to help me find my way. The car had arrived just a few days earlier carrying all of his blankets and supplies. We would get organized eventually but it was going to take some time.
Christmas was around the corner and my present was to have my family all together and in one piece. With Bandit here, France really felt like home. It was time to start my new life in earnest.