I don’t know about you but I am kind of glad that 2020 is over. Never in a million years did I see myself living abroad during a global health pandemic. Like everyone else I’m sure I have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions this year. It’s been long, boring and stressful.

There have been such low points but also crazy highs. I’ll share a little recap of my year with you….

My Low Points

The first lockdown was very strict in France. I lived in an apartment on the first floor with no outside space. I was driven crazy by my neighbours opposite sitting in their window all day everyday. It felt like they could see my every move. They were there ALL the time.

During the first lockdown I didn’t work at all. I was child minding at the time, so with the schools shut and everyone staying at home I was not required. I lost 2 of my 3 work contracts as those families did not continue my contract with me after. (The kids in France only actually went back to school for 2 weeks before the summer holidays).

But the thing that caused me the most sadness was not being able to go to the stables. The FFE (Féderation Français Equitation) closed all stables and yards so unless you kept your horses at home you could not see your horse at all. I was still sharing Mya then. I missed her so much. I missed the fresh air, I missed riding, I missed the freedom that I took for granted before and I realised that even though I have had long periods of non-horsey time in my adult life. That was now a thing of the past. I needed horses now. It was no longer optional.

The joy of being able to see Mya again was long awaited. I wasn’t working still when we came out of lockdown and I was so so excited. I have a lot of time to fill and now I could fill it with horsey time. Yay! But it was short-lived within 4 days we had the news that Mya had damaged an old injury on her hind leg and had to be retired from work permanently. I was devastated. I was so upset that I didn’t have a horse to ride, so worried about that meant for Mya’s future, so so sad for Mya’s owner my friend Kate. It also left a big cloud of gaping uncertainty for me. I had decided during lockdown that horses were the most important part of my life and now I suddenly didn’t have a horse. What was I going to do? I couldn’t buy a horse as I had a whole 6 hours of work a week at that point. My husband had been put on partial furlough (he is an aerospace engineer). So what now?

The High Points

Well, thats where the cob shaped angel that is Smartie appeared in my life. It happened so quickly and I am so happy it did. Kate’s friend Fiona was moving away and needed someone to look after her 2 horses Lissy and Smartie whilst she searched for a new house and stables for the horses. Katie was going to look after Lissy but only if Smartie could come with her. So Kate suggested that I take Smartie. An old cob. Hmm she didn’t really sound like my cup of tea I thought at the time.

Smartie cheered me right up and gave me a purpose again. Mentally the lockdown had been challenging but having a new horse that needed my care quickly got me back outside to where I love to be. It also gave me the kick up the bum to do something about the other things in my life that I felt needed changing. After all I’d had a lot of time to think about this! I just kept thinking I can not do another lockdown again in that apartment and I can’t continue not working, so we moved to a much more modern apartment that has a lovely terrace and a little garden with no one over looking us. It is pure bliss! I was also able to find a job being a Life Assistant to older people in their homes so I have pretty much worked full time since the beginning of September. My first proper French job!! I am back being busy again! Don’t ever wish that away my friends! It turns out having nothing at all to do is a lot worse!!

Smartie

Smartie is a true school mistress. She had quite a lot of health requirements to deal with including terrible sweet itch, arthritis and COPD. So as she was the first older horse I have cared for I realised our pace of life would be a lot slower than I was used to. But I had nothing but time on my hands! I hogged her and fully clipped her on day one. I then spent my days spending as much time applying cream to her itchy skin as I did actually riding her.

We had the best time all summer hacking around the fields. I even taught my husband to ride on her and she has been a lovely horse to look after. Smartie stayed with us right up until the second lockdown lifted in mid December here. I am so thankful to her owner for letting me look after her as my own for that time. She was great for me and also James’ relationship with the horses has totally changed now. I now have a husband that is an excellent groom & that wants to come to the stables with me. It’s really nice!

The ‘New’ Normal is a little dull…

The Summer passed quietly. We didn’t go away as Covid was still very much there but a lot of people did. Which unfortunately brought a second wave of cases to France this Autumn. We had a second lockdown at the end of October until Mid December but for me this was nothing like the first one. I was working full time still and most importantly the stables stayed open!! We also were put into a curfew before that, restaurants, bars & gyms have been shut since October. The curfew/lockdowns have made it difficult to see any friends but to honest I don’t mind as long as I can go to the stables! I am busy again now working all day and taking care of the horses so although life is a little dull & has been for a while here I am just so grateful for my work and horses this time around.

Gracie

So what else should I do during this roller coaster of a year? I hear you say. Buy a lightly backed 4 year old horse of course! I bought Gracie off the owner of the yard where Mya and Smartie are. I actually bought her on the first day of the second lockdown which wasn’t ideal. I had spent months planning and chatting to the previous owner and it just all came about then. She actually nicely offered to postpone the sale as back then we weren’t sure we could still come to the stables or not. But James and I decided just to jump right in. We had done a lot of waiting around for restrictions to lift this year so decided just to make the best of the situation and go for it!

So for about 6 weeks I had 2 horses! Something which was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be. 1 is a lot of work. 2 well, good job it was lockdown as I had no time for anything other than work and quite honestly that just got in the way of riding time!

Horse Mutilations

So now I had 2 horses in lockdown. I was dreading Smartie leaving, Gracie is amazing but back then I didn’t know her and the thought of bringing on a youngster after having a school mistress was very daunting! So I decided to send Gracie to my instructors yard for a month to be backed properly and get her to a point where I could actually bring her on and ride her myself. It was around this time that my flights home for Christmas were cancelled. I was also struggling with being away from my family for even longer than the year it had already been. Then just to throw another spanner in the works a horse was attacked very near our yard.

A little bit of background to this is that someone or actually I think it’s a group of sick people have been killing or violently injuring horses all over France this year. It’s reported to be an online dare on the dark web, but no one actually knows why these attacks have been taking place. It started in the north of France last winter and now gradually has moved further south and seemingly reached our area in November. Reports of horses ears being cut off, eyes gauged out, slashed down the sides with a knife. Real unbelievable horror stories. The police advised our yard to start night patrols to keep our horses safe. Then someone started flying a large drone over the stables in the area including over our yard every night. The night it happened at our yard there were 24 gendarmerie & a helicopter trying to catch the drone but it fled. It was then spotted nearly every night over various stables and yards in the area for 6 long weeks. It was thought it was related to the horse attacks but it was never proven. Everyone took it in turns to sleep in a camper van overnight at our yard and do 2 hourly nightly patrols of all the horses. The neighbourhood worked closely with the police and set up a close knit surveillance team. No other attacks were made in the area. But it was a scary time!! The amount of worry was unreal & I would often cry just thinking about any of our horses being hurt.

I had moved Gracie away from this close knit surveillance team too so really didn’t know if that was the best thing to do or not. The worry weighed heavy on me. It worked out ok in the end of course, as she is now back from my instructors yard and she is now a horse that I can ride. The progress she made there in a month was incredible. So I really did think it was the best decision but it felt very difficult at the time.

Smartie is now living about 3 hours away at home with her owner and Gracie and I are getting to know each other more and more each day now she is back at my yard and ridable.

What a Year!

So I am not sure I have ever experienced such stress and boredom at the same time as I did in 2020. I hope 2021 is bit more level.

Brexit of course has happened which to me is so so sad. This is something else that makes living abroad far more tricky now. However like Covid I am sure we will find a way to deal with it and things I hope will get back to normal soon. There is now a vaccine for Covid -19 which is a massive breakthrough so I hope to get vaccinated soon and fly home to see my family after that. I am grateful that my family and friends have been well during this time and hope all who are close to you have been too.

To round up I am so so glad that I have had the horses as an outlet this year. Although it’s been stressful they have really gotten me through a tough year. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them.

I also want to say thank you to the In Due Horse community. Having a network of lovely people around really did make things easier. Thank you to everyone who follows the blog and me. I really appreciate it!

Happy new year from me and I really hope that 2021 is safe and healthy for everyone!

Louise xxx

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