Meet the ‘Neigh’ bours……


Just your average Saturday morning

I love a challenge. I love doing anything for the first time that I’ve never done before. “What’s the point in living if you don’t feel alive” as a Bond villain once said (answers on a postcard peeps!) And if you can’t do things you don’t do at home when you are in your French holiday home, then when can you? Which is how I came to take up horseriding….And force my sons to do so too.

In the next village to ours, Lafitole – population 454 (a throbbing metropolis compared to Gensac with its population of 85 and that includes us!) is a Riding Stable. And not just any riding stable but a WESTERN riding stable. I had hoped this meant people like Ray Krebbs from Dallas would be wandering around in Stetsons, but what it actually means is you ride on horses with western saddles – and the technique is a bit different to English riding. Sadly, no bucking broncos or inter-famial fights at annual BBQs – well not so I’ve experienced yet!

Growing up in relatively rural Northumberland, I was surrounded by girls at school who rode. Who were obsessed with horses – many of them had their own ponies and I was determined not to join their gang. Like Lena Dunham to their Blake Lively, this was not a pursuit for me. And so, I stubbornly got to the age of 42 without having learnt to ride. The last time I was on a horse was probably when I went outward bounding with the school aged 12. But a chance meeting at our local wood (this is how we roll in SW rural france!) with Sonia who runs Western Paradise, the riding stables in Lafitole, persuaded me that we should all give it a go.

So on Saturday mornings when in France, I began dropping the boys off with Sonia and a collection of french children (mainly girls but I have told the boys this is because there are NO boys in Lafitole or Gensac except them.) They don’t seem convinced but as they don’t speak good enough french they cannot confirm or deny this and those french girls boss them around in french so much they are terrified to object.


The only boys in the village!

And then one Saturday, Sonia suggested I come too and saddled up a larger horse for me to ride around the fields of Lafitole with her and six children including my own. And I loved sitting on a horse and riding around our neighbourhood. Through sunflower fields in Summer and woods in winter. Shouting Bonjour to locals as we ride past. Down to the lake where we play Pooh Sticks but this time on horseback and while we ride, I teach Sonia english to help with her ex pat customers and she teaches me french for saddle, bridle and reigns (all useful stuff should I find myself in Kentucky with a frenchman) and we chat about her baby or my boys.


A horse called ‘Chanel’

And although my boys complain a bit about ‘having to go horseriding’ I think deep down they quite like the ritual and when Sonia and the bossy french girls make them groom the horses before and after, clean the bits with toothbrushes and carry the heavy saddles back to the saddlery, I’m convinced this is all what constitutes – life experience. Plus, it stops them playing Minecraft or watching youtube. And it means that I have a ‘friend’ in France. A french friend who I look forward to seeing for a chat, in french. Now if only I could find a paragliding centre nearby…..


A load of old pony!








Lets look on the postive!


You’re welcome

I am sometimes accused of moaning. I know? Fancy that. My husband says I complain too much about things and says I need to be more ‘half full’. My friend, and former boss Meribeth who is Canadian and thus I suspect born with inherent positivity starts most sentences with “you know, you gotta look at the positive..” and I really do try. And our great friends Johnny and Ana Maria who were about to arrive at Maison Blanche for New Year are great examples of ‘happy people’. Maybe they moan behind closed doors – in fact maybe they are both perpetually morose when not round at our house or entertaining us at theirs, but I doubt it. Ana Maria is Columbian and refers to everyone as ‘my darling’ or ‘amore’. Perhaps if we had one word for ‘loved one’ in english maybe we’d all be happier and more positive.

And so our gorgeous, positive friends came to stay for new year and they were the perfect guests to see our ‘almost quite nice’ house as they are fellow lovers of renovation projects AND some of the most stylish people I know when it comes to interiors. And, er relentlessly positive. They loved our newly decorated dining room. They cooed over our half finished salon with the peeling walls and no floors. Ana Maria played Cluedo for hours with the boys (they have two boys Thomas and Alberto who my kids have known since they were all born in houses next door to one another – not literally – it wasn’t Angela’s Ashes, we just lived next door to each other at that time!) and we even persuaded all our children to look positively on a massive walk around a frozen lake at Gavarnie


It is THIS much fun here honestly kids

And even when it rained and was cold and wet Peter managed to achieve the one thing he’d wanted to do since we got the house – host a screening of The Italian Job using his 16mm projector. I bought the projector quite cheaply on ebay as a gift for him not realising that to buy 16mm film is ferociously expensive. As a consequence, The Italian Job is the only film we have and setting it all up requires a lot of effort, so we’d never actually bothered – until now! And the boys all snuggled under a duvet in our half renovated salon while Michael Caine attempted to ‘blow the bloody doors off’ and the adults opened a bottle of champagne to see in the New Year. And even I was forced to admit that things really had turned out nice again.