I have been known to make less than complimentary remarks about the French. However, when it comes to flaunting Anglophone notions of Health and Safety, I will stand up and applaud them. Where else but in France would I be able to waltz into a riding stables and ask to rent a couple of steeds for an hour or two?
A few weeks ago, without having to provide evidence of equestrian skill, leave a phone number or even look vaguely horsey, I was able to set up a Sunday morning hack for me and a friend. I suppose the logic being, that if I were stupid enough to take a horse out when it’s been twenty years since I rode, well….
When we arrived bright and early at the stables, our horses were all tacked up and ready to go. I chose the brown one - ‘Rosa’ - the white one didn’t look as pretty. Oh how my shallow selection would come back to haunt me.
We clopped off but had to stop further down the drive as my saddle had slipped. I dismounted, sorted it, and prepared to re-mount. Rosa eyed me interestedly. As my foot found its position in the stirrup I heaved myself up. Rosa quickly turned in a tight circle, and I bounced back down. I tried again. Rosa turned on a sixpence again. It’s important that a horse knows who’s in charge so I scolded Rosa and she bowed her head.
On my third attempt I launched upwards, and as my centre of gravity shifted to the point of no return, so did the clever Rosa. I did a sort of slow motion lunge across the saddle, slipped neatly over it and landed head first on the ground with a thud. Bearing in mind we had not yet left the stables, it was all very humiliating. I ended up having to tie her up before I could get back on.
Now slightly giggly, Fran and I clopped down the drive again. We were flying solo in the Norman countryside with just a map and two feisty horses to show us the way. Our map led us alongside rolling fields, over country lanes and on into another forest. Recalcitrant Rosa was not keen to enter the second forest. She dragged her heels and attempted to turn back. I dug deep into my repertoire of equestrian savoir faire, ‘Ya! Giddy up!’ and forced her on.
We broke into a trot, but then pulled up as a tree had fallen across the path. It had landed on another tree and was making a barrier that was about a metre and a half off the floor. We dithered for a minute, then Fran turned her horse left, off the path, scrambled up into the trees, skirted the barrier and rejoined the path. I kicked my steed on to do the same.
Rosa was not liking this off piste action. As she scrambled down the bank to rejoin the path, I bent my head low to avoid some overhanging branches, taking my eye off the hoof for a nanno second. Quick-witted Rosa saw her chance. As she rejoined the path, instead of following Fran left, she turned smartly right – back towards the fallen tree – and broke into a fast trot. She reached the tree in a flash, ducked her head, scraped under and carried on.
Reflex is a wonderful thing. I saw Rosa’s withers disappearing beneath the tree, I saw the tree coming up to meet my solar plexus, felt my thighs being compressed between the saddle and the tree, and I did the only reasonable thing; I let go of Rosa and embraced the tree. As Rosa headed for home, I was left dangling from the branch, legs flailing and backside throbbing.
Whereas Fran had contained her giggles with my first mishap, she was helpless with my second. She couldn’t speak for cackling. Humiliation, however, was the last thing on my mind; I was losing sight of Rosa. Fran was clearly of no use to me and I was forced to limp after my mount.
Rosa was not finished with me yet. She appeared to be ambling, but kept glancing back over her withers to see where I was. When she saw me break into a run, she began to trot. When I stopped running, she stopped trotting. With Fran’s howls echoing behind me, I had to resort to creeping up on Rosa in a sort of tiptoeing run, like Tom to his Jerry, until I could get close enough to grab her. As I struggled to re-mount her, she eyed me balefully, ‘Bloody English Novice’ she was thinking.
The rest of the ride passed off without mishap. This was because we allowed Rosa to lead us back to the stables; she flatly refused to go anywhere else.
That evening I served up my spiced apple sorbet. We showered it with fine Normandy Calvados and giggled helplessly as we re-lived our morning. In terms of value for money, it was the best 20 euros I’ve spent in a long time. This one is for you Rosa; for cunning, for determination and for giving me an unforgettable ride.
Rosa's Spiced Apple Sorbet
This is so easy to make, and with the apple season coming up, what a fine way to get rid of your surplus. The sorbet is quite sweet, but when teamed with the fiery Calvados, it has balance and poise. A bit like me in the saddle.
0.25tsp xanthan gum (not strictly necessary, but gives it a bit more of a 'wow! where did you buy this?' feel)
5 medium eating apples
3 tbsps calvados
about 3tbsps water
2-4 mace blades (depending on taste)
2 star anise
3 cinammon sticks
1 vanilla pod
1-2 tbsps lemon juice
0.5 tsp mixed spice
0.5 tsp ground nutmeg (or a good grating of whole nutmeg)
Calvados to serve
- Put the sugar and xanthan gum into a large saucepan and add the water. Bring to the boil, giving it the odd stir to dissolve the sugar and xanthan gum. Set aside and leave to cool
- Peel, core and slice the apples and place in a medium saucepan. Add the 3tbsps of Calvados, the lemon juice and water and set over a gentle heat, uncovered. Add a splash more water as it cooks if you think it's going dry or sticking
- As the apples warm up, stir, and add the mace blades, star anise and cinammon sticks. Slice the vanilla pod down its length and add to the saucepan
- Leave the apples and spices to simmer, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes, stirring every now and then. Remove from the heat
- Lift the vanilla pod out and scrape out all the seeds onto a plate, put the seeds back in the apple mix
- Remove the mace blades, star anise and cinammon sticks. Add the mixed spice and ground nutmeg
- Use a hand blender to whizz it all up to a pulp, or if you want a more textured sorbet, you could use a potato masher (I must try that next time)
- Pour the cooled sugar, water and xanthan gum mixture into the apple mix and stir
- Pour into an ice cream container and freeze for at least 24 hours
- About 45-60 mins before you wish to serve this, remove the tub from the freezer. Let it defrost for about 15-20 mins and then use a hand blender to make it smooth. Return it to the freezer for about 30 mins and then it should be ready to serve
- Place it in some pretty ice cream glasses and slosh over the Calvados
- Raise your sloshed sorbet to Rosa, and to failed equestrians everywhere