Week 32: Horse

Boxing Day bread

Boxing Day bread array

The mystery horse on the path down to the river from in front of our house

A mystery horse on the path down to the river from in front of our house


On 21 December, a horse moved into our spot in the valley. I’ve never had anything to do with horses and I was a little wary of him; he seemed unperturbed by me. I assumed an owner was near by.

The next day, and the day after, the horse was still there with no owner in sight. Puzzling. He didn’t look very young; perhaps he was no longer required. Had he been abandoned? I was no longer wary but concerned for him. I’d approached him and he’d come towards me. He seemed so mild and gentle for such a massive creature. I reasoned he couldn’t have been abandoned. Not only did he look well cared for, his mane nicely trimmed, but also it would be impossible to cast off a horse without anyone knowing about it. In every fold of these valleys there is a house, and the people – certainly the Portuguese, and probably the foreigners as well – know everything that goes on.

‘I see you’ve bought a horse,’ said Eleuterio.

It was Christmas Eve and he had come to give us gifts: his own olive oil in an old bourbon bottle and a loaf of Maria’s freshly made bread, still warm. I was so touched I could hardly speak. I can say little enough in Portuguese as it is. Husband explained about the horse mystery and Eleuterio began to puzzle it out.

Gifts from Eleuterio and Maria on Christmas Eve

Gifts from Eleuterio and Maria on Christmas Eve

He returned later with a bucket of beautiful deep-orange oranges, having established that we didn’t already have a glut of our own. We have plenty of grapefruit and lemons, but few oranges. Then he and Husband went to work on the pump at the well by the river: Husband provided the new materials, Eleuterio the expertise and labour. (More on pumps and water issues to come.)

Later still on Christmas Eve we heard a tinkle from one of the two tiny ceramic bells that hang from the pomegranate trees in front as our concession towards seasonal decoration. Eleuterio again, and he had worked it out: the son and daughter-in-law of the Sensibles had lived here for a while and she had had a horse. She sold it; the man who bought it couldn’t afford the upkeep so he’d brought it back and quietly dropped it off, mistaking who we were.

We went to sleep on Christmas Eve wondering what on earth you do with a horse. I woke up on Christmas Day thinking: horses like carrots. I went down the path towards the river and looked for Horse. When I found him, I called him over; he came, huge head hanging low. I was too scared at first to feed him the carrots directly, but I got braver. He took the food infinitely gingerly from my hand. I began to understand how people can love horses.

Horse coming to me for food for the first time

Christmas Day: Horse coming to me for food for the first time

Back in the house, we heard the sound of people coming up our road. It’s a dead end and no one comes here unless to see us (or our holidaying neighbours, when they are here; we haven’t met them yet) or because they’ve taken a wrong turn. The three English people apologised for disturbing us on Christmas Day, then:

‘Have you by any chance seen a horse?’

So we learnt on Christmas Day that a horse called – unbelievably – Jingle had, four days earlier, shed his horse collar, jumped the fence and run off. He lived two kilometres away. Judging by the timing, he had come straight here. And why not? This is such a lovely spot, with pasture to graze and water to drink. Clever Horse.

They’d been looking for him ever since and now, at last, had found him. I felt sad, but there was nothing for it.

Except that when we came back from Christmas lunch, Horse was still here. The owner had given us his number and I phoned him; they hadn’t been able to capture him.

By Boxing Day we were out of carrots and apples. I went down to the river anyway to see Horse. He heard me coming and emerged from the morning mist over the river, backlit by the rising sun.

Boxing Day morning. 'What, no carrots?'

Boxing Day morning. ‘What, no carrots?’

We were out for the day, things to do, not least getting in horse-catering supplies, and as soon as we got back I went to see him, this time with morsels to feed him.

Getting back with food for Horse on Boxing Day evening

Getting back with carrots for Horse on Boxing Day evening

And so it has been every day since then. I feed Horse morsels, and I worry about him. Is he all right? Is he hungry? Is he lonely? Has he decided to go somewhere else? One day the hunt came by and Horse shot off. I was abject. Two hours later he was back. The next day some rather aggressive dogs chased him off. An hour later he was back, unruffled. I mostly call him ‘Horse’ and he answers to that. Now, if I walk down to the river he comes to say hello even if I haven’t got a bag of carrot pieces – though I often have. I also talk to his owner, who visits him twice a day, bringing hay and horse pellets, trying to pick the right moment to get the horse collar back on and take him home.

I promised to write about the important issues of water and fuel but at the moment I am preoccupied with Horse. I hope for a happy ending, which will ultimately be Horse back where he belongs – just not quite yet, please.

Horse under an alfarroba (carob) tree. He shelters under these trees at night

Horse under an alfarroba (carob) tree. He shelters under these trees at night


  1. Pen

    What a lovely person you are. I hope that if I ever find myself destitute I shall find myself in your magic valley, but please could you add some greenery to the carrots or I might turn orange! You local friends sound wonderful in a way that doesn’t seem to happen over here any more. A good move – have very happy New Year, Pen xx

  2. Hazel

    Now I am SERIOUSLY jealous!!! I have always loved horses, ridden them and never owned one since the ancestral family pony, Bunty, died in 1960 or thereabouts. Jingle looks very pretty and completely at home on your domain: I do hope he’s still there when we turn up. Quite a lot of equines are fond of peppermints — specifically Polos. I’ve only tried them on one — a popular gesture at the time, it seemed. Maybe Portuguese horses/ponies (he looks fairly small in the pix) don’t know about Polos. It’s v. v. cold here and slippery on the pavements. Thick frost. Must go out and purchase a pair of slip-proof boots. O to be in Portugal now that winter is here . . . xx

  3. Edith (Post author)

    Horse (aka Jingle) is a Lusitano. He’s been rolling in the mud and got a ‘tan’; he’s really a grey, I’m told. He’s a good jumper – hence the escape – but hasn’t been ridden for five years. He won’t let anybody ride him now. He’s fifteen, which I guess is quite old.

  4. Jayna

    What a lovely Xmas surprise, even if temporary. Enjoying your stories as you get settled in your new life. Happy new year!!

  5. fatma nedjib

    Wow, what a beautiful entry this week. Don’t know why, but it brought tears to my eyes. The pictures really bring it to life. How very very lovely of Eleuterio. And Horse. The wonderful Horse: you are truly blessed. Happy New Year to you.

  6. Janet M

    What a beautiful horse. There is something fascinating about an independent animal seeking his own paradise. I would keep feeding him carrots. I keep a bag of horse treat (oats and molasses) for my local deer.

  7. Sue

    Oh what a fabulous, seasonal story. Totally magical. Thanks for sharing Mari. Hope 2015 brings more wonderful things for you and husband.



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