Aug 20, 2015

Get Back on the Horse: Galopin


Conventional wisdom says when you fall off a horse, you should get right back on. Unless, of course, you are lying in agony in the ground, about to faint and/or vomit, with pain shooting through your hip and shoulder. Then, when you try to get right back on the horse, the guide tells you, "Madame, I applaud your courage, but you're in no shape to ride a horse."

It all starts with the thought that Pippa was only six when we visited Mont Saint Michel and doesn't remember it at all. While we can't go back and re-do everything she's forgotten, this is one thing I really want her to remember, so while I'm in Normandy with the girls this summer, visiting friends, I arrange for a three-hour tour, on horse-back, in the shadow of Mont Saint Michel.

"A three hour tour; a three hour tour." If the Gilligan's Island theme is now running through your head, that's à propos, because there is something a little ominous about this ride, at least for me.

In many respects, this is up there with the most glorious horse-back rides I've ever done. We get to gallop through the fields, and the view is magnificent. The weather is gorgeous, and there are, literally, lambs gamboling in the fields at the foot of the island-abbey.

The fields of hay around the farm, and around the farm-land, are glowing gold in the sun.

It's all pretty darn perfect, right up until the point, just over half-way through, when we are running at a cantor (which does not exist in French: here, it's either a "trot" or a "gallop", though my American self insists I'm doing something between the two). My horse (named either Rennes, after the city, or Reine, meaning "Queen" -- I never ask about the spelling) suddenly and violently lowers her head to deal with a fly around her ankles that's driving her crazy.

I cannot hold her in, and I feel myself fly up, up, and flip over head first onto the hard ground. I have enough time in the air to be genuinely terrified, think of Christopher Reeves' horrible accident, and fervently wish I could turn back time.

I land a tiny bit on my head, but mostly on my right shoulder and hip. Minutes go by before I can speak, and many before I can stand up without the danger of fainting. I say I want to get back on the horse, because I'm not so much afraid of riding the horse, as I am afraid of becoming afraid to ride the horse. But when I pull myself up into the saddle (of a different horse, who is much mellower, evidently), I turn all white from the pain in my shoulder and start to get nauseated, at which point, the guide gets me down and calls a 4x4 to pick me up.

The girls are riding behind me, and Gigi sees the entire thing. I hear her calling, "Arrêtez!" ("Stop!") as I'm lying on the ground, though she remembers saying it in English. Gigi is both very observant and highly empathetic -- so much so that even when she was a baby, if I hurt myself and said "Ouch!", she would start to cry. She is right there at my side -- "Mommy, are you OK?!" -- worried and nurturing. Although, having said that, she also comes over to me again after a few minutes and takes the camera out of my pocket. I think, with almost perverse pride, that she's going to take a picture of the situation, but instead she checks the time; our family's horse whisperer doesn't want to miss out on too much riding time.

Pippa, meanwhile, doesn't notice me flying through the air, and while I know deep down she cares, she appears remarkably unaffected by the sight of her mother writhing on the ground. As I leave the group, she yells to me, "It's a good thing you were wearing a helmet!" And of course, that is exactly why we wear the helmets, despite the fact that we seem to now have a 50-50 chance of getting lice from them (this year, it is Gigi's turn, as we discover a week or so after the ride).

The guide leaves me in the care of a by-stander, who happens to be a doctor, till my 4x4 rescue ride arrives, while she gallops off into the fields with the other riders, including Gigi and Pippa.


So, the irony is that I wanted to make sure Pippa remembers Mont Saint Michel, but I think it will mostly be an unforgettable incident for me, and for Gigi.

And, it really is unforgettable, not just because I have pain for two weeks (but not the hip I landed on -- the other hip) until I visit a magic-hands osteopath. Mostly, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy every minute of the ride, ride up until the fall. My guide tells me there's a French saying that "a great horse-back rider must fall 100 times." I will happily settle for being a mediocre horse-back rider if it means I can avoid the other 99 falls, but I suspect the reason I fall in the first place is because I'm a mediocre rider. So, if I want to be a better ride and avoid falls, I'm just going to have get right back on the horse. Once all the pain is gone.


Galopin is a classic, soft, raw goats' milk cheese. It's wet and fluffy and very white, with a flavor so mild you still get hints of the milky sugars. There's a very slight saltiness to it, but you would never call it a savory cheese. It's so watery, in fact, that the fat content is 19%; this does not mean it's a low fat cheese but rather that so much of its weight is water, the percentage of fat content looks low.

Galopin isn't much to speak of plain, but it's lovely spread on a piece of bread with some honey drizzled on top -- like a lighter, less thick, sweeter yet tangier cream cheese.

We're galloping by Mont St. Michel on our horses, until, of course, the galloping stops short because mine is a real galopin ("rascal"). Originally I don't know which cheese to use for this incident, since I've already used the cheese Crémeux du Mont Saint Michel, but then I see this and decide that the choice is as easy as falling off a horse: Galopin, the cheese, is in honor of my galloping galopin.


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