Day 20 - Vallée d'Olmo

A different kind of saddle 

For nearly three weeks in January, we took a break from riding our bicycles and decided to ride out part of the winter in the countryside commune of Vallée d’Olmo, near Porticcio in southern Corsica. We were “Wwoofing” at the home of Marie Jo and Hugues, a Corsican couple who are beekeepers and horse breeders. Corsican horses are hardy mountain horses, full of personality but not flighty – the perfect horse to trek across rocky mountain terrain. They're a similar build to the horses we'll be riding on our 600km trek across Albania in a few months, so we jumped at the opportunity to spend time in the saddle with them.

 

Maquis trekking

 

Each morning we took care of the horses, bringing them in and out of the pasture, preparing their stalls, feeding and tending to those who needed extra care. Quentin, being a débutant shadowed Marie Jo, absorbing all the explications and terminology that comes along with life shared with horses. Learning a new language at thirty isn’t easy, but he’ll soon be fluent in horse.

 

After lunch one day shortly after arrival Marie Jo announced with a big smile, “So this afternoon we go out in the maquis?”

Exchanging glances with Quentin, I asked, “By foot?”

No, no! On the horses!”

 

So, we tacked up and began the task of navigating through the seemingly impenetrable brush. In this part of Corsica, the maquis, or brush, can grow more than 3 meters high and often the trails are washed out and soft from winter rains. For Quentin, this was one of his first real trail rides. Sink or swim, ride or die I guess. He learned to let the horses chose their way over the terrain and to keep his balance on steep slopes while we slowly weaved our way out of the valley.

All at once, the brush opened up and we were perched atop a hill, overlooking the valley and the ocean. During our trek the sun had begun to set – a magnificent sight, drenching the tall grass in golden rays before disappearing down into the sea. The happy munching of the grazing horses let us know they appreciated the snack break more than the scenery.

 

As night fell we walked ahead of our horses, although they probably knew they way home better than we did. I tried to let my horse linger and have a few extra mouthfuls of grass. I wondered if he enjoyed the excursion as much as I did. I think I got my answer the next morning, when he saw me working in the barn. He left the herd and came to the fence, bright eyes peeking out from behind his long forelock asking, “So we going out in the maquis?”