Riding to the Field of Stars
Though we never get used to seeing miracles at The Long Riders' Guild, we have come across our fair share of them. Equestrian travellers who we have given up for dead, suddenly ride out of some God-forsaken jungle and contact us. Rare equestrian travel books that have supposedly been "lost" to the public for three generations show up unexpectedly in the mail with no note nor return address attached. Yes, we've seen a few mysteries around here.
But the sudden appearance of Hjoerdis Rickert, and her attached story, is the latest miracle associated with The Long Riders' Guild. A few minutes before finishing this, the revised second edition of the Guild website, an email came in. Source unknown. Sender unknown. The computers were due to be shut down that instant. The work was done. The website was, for all intents and purposes, completed. Then something, some invisible intuitive hunch, told us to spend a nano-second to investigate this seemingly unimportant email.
What we discovered was this startling story of a tiny nine-year-old Swedish child who had ridden 1,200 miles across the mountains of two countries! Suddenly it didn't matter how tired we were, or how hard we had worked to bring this vision called The Long Riders' Guild into existence. Here was a stranger whose message summed up everything we believed in - a Long Rider by instinct who summoned up the courage to take a life-changing journey on a horse that she loved.
Hjoerdis' journey at such a tender age makes her the youngest person ever to qualify for membership of The Long Riders' Guild. So here, Reader, is a last-minute gift from Hjoerdis Rickert to you.
In 1986 and 1987 my parents, Susanne and Herbert, and I did a long hike that lasted over 4 months and took us over roughly 1,200 miles along the medieval pilgrim route through France and Spain to Santiago de Compostella. In French this trail is known as the “ Chemin de St Jaques”. I was 9 and 10 years old at the time and already a big horse enthusiast. We began the pilgrimage in Le Puy in central SW France, intending to walk only a few days along the historic route. Somehow we just ended up continuing on day after day. Compostella incidentally means pasture of the stars: campo=field, stella=star.
During the first days of hiking we saw many hoof tracks, and I dreamt, as always, of having a horse. After several days of this and overnighting at pilgrims hostels or private homes along the way, we began to think that we might like to do more of the pilgrimage. Inspired by these hoof prints, and my dreamery, my parents found themselves considering buying a horse for me. I was elated. Every day we asked local people about horses for sale and were introduced to several very sweet steeds. None were quite right. “Fleche,” meaning arrow in French, was a beautiful but very old white mare. I was saddened that she could not join us. Another farmer introduced us to his stout, strong, and super gentle Breton mare, “Bichette”. He sat me up on her bareback and then ran up and down the road with her to show off her nice trot. It was like riding on a sofa she was so soft. I desperately wanted her but she was carrying a foal, and this would not have been practical along our pilgrimage. So it was not to be.
|She was only nine years old, but that didn't stop little Hjoerdis Rickert from riding her beloved horse Oualipo across the mountains of two countries in search of a dream! Hjoerdis is seen here on her horse Oualipo, accompanied by their two dog-pals, Grizzly and Tyler.|
Some days later we came across a
riding stable, the Club Equestre de Nasbinals. We inquired whether they might
have a horse to sell. They didn’t but they agreed to rent us a horse
reasonably for several days and to come pick it up some days and distance later.
And so it was that we met “Oualipo.”
He was the only horse the stables trusted to go without other horses
along. How exactly they came up with his funny name we will never know,
none-the-less horses are given names according to the alphabet and year in
France. Oualipo was born in an “O” year and this, at least, is the origin of
the first letter. I was enamored
with him. Oualipo was a 7 year old
Cheval de Selle Francais, chestnut in color, gentle and kindly but spirited in
demeanor. He took quickly to us and our two large dogs, Tyler, a large Alaskan
Malamute, and Grizzly, a big Sheepdog from the Caucasus.
Nearly a week later Monsieur Moisset came to pick Oualipo up in Espallion.
I was sick with the flu in bed upstairs in the hostel and sad. But somehow my
parents were able to convince Monsieur Moisset to sell Oualipo to us, along with
all his tack, saddlebags, etc. I was the happiest girl alive!
We continued on along the
Pilgrimage to the very end and over the 2 1/2 months that followed Oualipo
provided plenty of exciting and sometimes frightening adventures for us. On
several occasions he broke out of his overnight lodging.
One particularly funny incident occurred in the town square of a small
village in Spain. My mother had, as usual, washed our socks in the hostel sink.
She would often hang them from her pack to dry. On this morning, however she
chose to tie the wet socks from the stirrups of Oualipo’s saddle. Everything
was fine until he moved and the wet socks waved against his side. At the strange
touch, he reared and nearly took off through the square.
Kids would often crowd around us as
we came into the many small villages in Spain; they came to pet the horse and
the dogs, and I would soon find friends to play.
It was my job to find a place for
Oualipo every night. I quickly learned French in this manner and met many very
kind people. Some of his more creative overnight shelters included a chicken
coop, pig stalls, the yard of a cloister, and a huge empty livestock auction
hall. Most often, however, he stayed in pastures or stables with other horses or
donkeys. On one occasion I had to walk him through a woman’s house down a tile
hallway to a coal room for the night.
My mother had to lead Oualipo through the larger cities of Pamplona and Leon in Spain. She had always been frightened of horses and she was very brave especially considering that Oualipo was terrified of semi trucks and would often rear up. In Pamplona my mother was scolded by a policeman for walking on the sidewalk. Since there were so many semi trucks, she really had no choice. So she scolded him back vigorously, “…..stupido, stupido!!” in her limited and often invented Spanish, which seemed very much to please the locals. She endured many other trying incidents. Once Oualipo was frightened of goats that he could barely see in the fog. So my mother took him on a detour through a very muddy plowed field. In the process, Oualipo stepped on Grizzly the dog’s paw, who then bit Oualipo. It all resulted in my mother getting knocked and dragged into the mud, breaking her glasses and cutting her face bloody. Quite a sight.
|This map shows the 1,200 mile route which Hjoerdis Rickert rode along. This ancient pilgrim's route runs from France, to the legendary Saint James Cathedral in Santiago, Spain.|
Oualipo gained a special liking of
my father and would often try to race after him if my father was ahead and
disappeared around a bend in the trail. On remote trails we could let him run
freely and he would follow right along like a dog.
After our pilgrimage was over, my
father rode in a freight train compartment with him and the dogs back to France.
Every time they went through a tunnel Oualipo would kick the rickety train
compartment’s wooden walls. It seems for most of the time they were in the
caboose car of a very long train. My father often feared that the train would
bounce off its tracks, so bumpy was the ride.
We later had Oualipo trailered to a friend’s riding stable in Cahors in
south-central France. Cécile, the young woman in charge of the place, has
written to me faithfully over the years. Oualipo long participated in the
“Etrier de Begoux” stable’s activities and even won several plaques for
competing in Endurance “Raids” until some years ago when he went lame. Then
Cécile found a nice pasture for his retirement. So Oualipo is now in his own
“Campostella.” He is around 22 years old now and still lives on this pasture
enjoying his old age with two donkey friends. I hope to have a chance to visit
him again before too long.
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