Sorry for my silence of late; I've been that horrible combination of incredibly busy with not very exciting tasks like writing papers and trying to get my life together before I head home for spring break in a few days. So, I haven't much worth writing about.
I got a nice break from all the work though, yesterday, when I got to make a trip up to the National Stud in Newmarket. Newmarket is one of the racing meccas of Britain, if not the world, and is home to the famous Newmarket Heath: 2000 acres of gently rolling, unspoiled, unplowed grassland that has to be some of the most beautiful riding country I've ever seen in my entire life. I walked two miles out and two miles back along the heath and, in the dappled sunlight that left big cloud footprints over the gloriously green plain, got actual chills. It really felt like hallowed ground. Also, even after those four miles my feet weren't sore at all! The ground was springy without being deep, and was the best turf I've ever walked on. I was just dying to steal a horse and get out galloping myself.
(One of the pictures I attempted of the heath, all of which TOTALLY failed to capture how awesome it was - this only shows a quarter or less than what I could actually see)
I joined up with a tour at the stud, and we headed out to ogle the fields full of mares and foals. Most of the foals were in the 6 week-range, making them big enough to be pretty sprightly and athletic, but still young enough that they generally followed their moms around and still had all their foal fur. I haven't seen a foal in a few years, and it was just great. I was really wishing I could run out and give one a big hug, though!!
(One of the foals in the European Quarantine area for horses coming over from the continent to be bred)
(There were a ton of little kids on my tour - I really, REALLY don't like children in general, but even I couldn't get over how adorable they were around the foals)
(Apparently this mare is £100.000 - the money involved in race horses is sooo unreal)
(Adorable beyond words!!)
(This mare was a ham)
After the foals, we headed up to the stallion barn. Unlike at some other studs I've been to, they didn't bring the stallions out to show us, which I was ok with because I respect their want to give the horses some down time (though there was some grumbling from other folks on the tour!). We did get to tour the covering area though, which was very cool (I haven't visited a stud since I was probably 8 or 9 in Kentucky, so I have a slightly more sophisticated understanding of the process now!) and got to see the stallions chilling in their stalls.
(The weathervane on the top of the stallion barn: a horse racing a greyhound, meant to symbolize strength and stamina)
My favorite part of all, however, had to have been the last stop of the trip. We got visit Amberleigh House, the 2004 Grand National winner, who is now retired at the stud. Here is a link of him being a total badass, winning the 2001 Tote Becher Handicap Chase as a 33-1 long shot.
(What a handsome man)
He was a super friendly old man, and we were allowed to feed him mints and give him a pat. Getting to give him a big pat and a good face rub reminded me very bittersweetly of how disconnected from horses I've been this term, and made me even more happy that I'll be going home in just a few days to see my horses of my own. I've been very happy in general here in England, but there is something so undeniably magical about being around a horse that I miss terribly when I'm away from them. I feel like I've lost the part of myself that really makes me who I am.
After that, we drove around the rest of the facility and then headed back. It was another hour walk and three hour train to get back to Oxford, but very much worth it! This was my last outing of the term, and definitely one of the best. Hopefully a good omen for the spring to come =)
In other news, it's Kiki's 7th birthday tomorrow!! She is super lucky to have been born on π Day (3.14), which, if I had realized when I named her, I admit I probably would have gone all dorky and incorporated in some way. She's probably lucky that I didn't!! I'm sad I won't be able to enjoy it with her (amazing to think that one year ago today we were celebrating our very first horse show together at Three Day Ranch, where she was perfect!! Of course), but I'll try to bring a few extra carrots to make it up to her when I see her in less than a week (!!!!!).