Feeling The Burn

Quite literally!

The sun was out, it was gloriously warm, and I wore shorts. I put on factor 50 suncream but alas, it was not enough. I burned. Not only did I burn, I burned phenomenally. My legs are super pink, but also patchy. It’s a really good look…

Oh, and it hurts too. Damnit.

This weekend heralded the return of the Royal Three Counties Show. I love it. We go every year, and usually for a few things in particular. I was disappointed to see that the Devils Horsemen were not in attendance this year, as they are usually one of my highlights. Their stunts and showmanship is awesome and you can get really good photos like this one I took last year:

So to find that they weren’t putting on a show this year was a shame. We did see the wonderful Jive Pony again, who put my vaulting skills to shame with their bouncing and leaping and hoppity jumpy skipping around. And they do have one of the best lungeing horses I’ve ever seen, with a lunge line not even being required – he just cantered his circle perfectly, while a girl stood with a whip just in case. Clever boy.

One of our other highlights every year is the Xtreme Falconry display team. They always bring a number of birds, and put on a fantastic show. They’re also very interesting to talk to, and their commentary during their shows is full of information about the birds as well as entertainment. Probably their most famous bird is Talisman. She’s a Bateleur Eagle, originating from Africa. For those of you who don’t know, they look like this:

She’s absolutely beautiful and a real character at that. Impressive enough to watch a rather large eagle wing her way around the arena, swooping long and low as she locks on to a hunk of meat. Even more impressive to discover that she is the grand old age of forty-five! For an eagle…that’s pretty old. In the wild they’d normally get to around twenty-five. But her handler is hoping that this lady will keep going into her sixties, as in captivity they generally have a much longer lifespan. As she proves. Because although she’s an older gal, she doesn’t show it.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about Talisman is her relationships with the people in her life. Today we were told about her slightly dodgy start to life, and the hardships she endured along with the many people she tried to take a chunk out of. Her current handler managed to create a bond with her by imitating the behaviour of a male eagle in the wild. The effects of this are that she is now, essentially, bonded to him for life. These are birds that will mate for life, and she has chosen her human handler as her mate, because he found a way of getting through to her. Unfortunately, this means she can’t breed as any male eagle that comes near her risks severe maiming. It does, however, lend itself to beautiful moments like this:

Not something you see every day. The trust between them is wonderful. Following this touching display of affection, her handler then allowed the audience to witness the other side of her temperament. Her “I want to kill and eat you” side. His colleague is, for some reason, not at all liked by this bird, so of course the poor man was made to show us all just how much she hates him. No sooner had he walked into the ring than she did this:

Which is a threat display. She then bowed her head before coming back up into this pose, tilting her head back and letting out a shriek. According to her handler, that cry was her final warning of, “Come any closer and I’ll rip your face off” so Pete, the man in the bottom left corner in the picture, slowly backed away until she smoothed her ruffled feathers again.

Really quite amazing to be able to watch the different sides of that stunning bird, seeing the kind of behaviour she would exhibit in the wild to other eagles, but to humans. I hope very much that she will continue to be as strong and captivating for many many years to come, and I will certainly be returning to the Three Counties whenever I can in the hope of seeing her again.

Aside from Talisman, the lack of stunt riders and discovering that my parents and I should become livestock judges (we picked out the winners of several classes on the spot, before the judge echoed our decisions) I was also able to get my horsey fix. I wasn’t entirely sure how it was going to come about, because there weren’t a lot of equestrian displays going on, and watching the showing classes seemed a little strange when I didn’t know anyone in them. I caught a bit of the side-saddle class but only because one particularly naughty pony made it impossible to ignore him as he shied away from a blade of grass and started rearing. His lady stayed on though, and he was made to carry on.

My real horsey fix, however, was in going to the heavy horse village. There, we met some truly gorgeous gentlemen. Unfortunately it didn’t occur to me to take any pictures, I think probably because I was too busy talking to them and giving them much needed withers scratches. There were six stunning giants that I had never seen the like of before. Ranging from 18.3hh to 19.2hh, the Canadian Belgians were beautiful. A couple of them were sulking, but most of them were more than happy to have some fuss. So I rubbed foreheads, massaged ears (when they were brought low enough) and scratched withers. Other people around were getting the giggles watching these massive horses start leaning into the stable frames with their lips quivering away in bliss. And my dad got the hang of the wither scratch, using his height to the horses’ advantage. Lovely boys!

We also met a magnificent Pecheron called Norman. He was only around 18hh (only..haha) but the really striking thing about him was his coat. Beautiful dapple grey, but in a starburst pattern. Totally incredible. I fell in love with him instantly, despite him dribbling water down my arm. We were able to chat with his owners when we met him, so we learned a fair bit about him and their other Pecherons. It was Normans first show this year, so I hope he does well in his class tomorrow. If anyone is going along, he’ll be pulling the brewery cart in the heavy horse singles trade class. Cheer him on for me. Beautiful chap.

It’s really a matter of weighing up the pros and cons I guess. Bright pink ouchy legs vs. Bateleur Eagle, snuggling some Canadian Belgians and chatting to Norman.

No brainer!

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