After several days of good food, lots of wine, shopping, art and music in Paris we took a train south through France to Carcassone, a picturesque medieval fortified city, where we were met by the owner of the tour, and taken to her farm.
Our first day of riding was my 40th Birthday, and a guide came along to assess our ability and common sense. Could he trust us alone to care for their horses and find our way for the next five days? I had filled out a form outlining my riding experience, and mailed it along with my fee. They matched me with a skittish little mare named "Personne" ("Nobody".) I hoped she would settle down. She did not feel particularly trustworthy. Admittedly, it does take a while to get to know a horse, and for the horse to get to know the rider. I should know, because when I was a little girl, my first pony would head straight for low tree branches, brushing me off. My second pony would trot along briskly, and with no fair warning, she’d dip her head to grab a quick mouthful of grass, at which point I would usually tumble down her neck and land right in front of her. Fortunately she was small, and I did not have far to climb, so I’d get right back on and keep going.
In France we were able to ride for days through private lands, from town to town, tie up our horses and wander through historic sites. Such a ride would be very difficult to organize back home. As we rode up a narrow track with columns of cypress trees on the right and a tower of stone in the meadow to the left our guide told us that the area had once been called the “Center of the Celestial Universe.” The entire region was home to ruins enhanced by local stories and legends, and our route was to follow the mountain trails formerly used by Cathars who were fleeing religious persecution. I appreciate ruins, envisioning the untold stories of hopes, fears and dreams. The ruins we passed were most likely rebuilt from other, more ancient ruins.