• James Parry

Parrywinkle, June 23, 2016

With the clock ticking down to Le Festival au Galop in St. Lazare, a celebration of all things equine, did I ever share with you the tale – or should that read tail - of the day I thought I was going to be a 'gonner' while riding a stunning Palomino in sun-kissed Jamaica? No? Then here goes. And every word of it true!

About 30 years ago, my beautiful Sunshine and I were visiting our friend, Torontonian Peter Smith, who had retired there after a successful career in the travel business to own a vast wild and jungle-like plantation far away from the now-congested tourism strips along the coast.

He had recently rented parts of it out for many scenes and locations that would subsequently appear in the 1973 blockbuster, Papillion, starring Dustin Hoffman and the late Steve McQueen with signed autographs and movie memorabilia to prove it.

Well, after a brilliant brunch following our arrival, Peter asked if we would like to visit some of the now obviously abandoned sets. Including many that substituted for the infamous Devil’s Island and the squalid leper colony there. “They are much easier to get to on horseback,” said Peter. “Can you ride?”

Gulp. “Sure,” I replied, having watched countless westerns and figuring myself to have been a bit of a cowboy in a former life. “Saddle me up.”

And so he asked his head horse boss or top wrangler - whatever the exact title may have been at the time - to do just that. Upon our arrival at the stables, there was my marvelous mount for the afternoon. A perfect Palomino called Goldie. “Oh, I'm so sorry,” said Peter to my surprise. “They have put on a Western saddle and stirrups. You obviously come from England originally so would you prefer an English one?”

Cool as a Clint Eastwood stare under the blazing sun, I drawled, “Not at all Peter. That suits me just fine.” An ad hoc answer that probably saved my life. Permit me to explain.

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GALLOPING GOLDIE - For after plodding around the estate and the sets for three hours or so - wow, as a movie buff, what an experience - we were approaching the home stretch across a vast field with a Y-fork at the end. One going to the manor house. The other to the narrow one-lane road that led to who knows where! I asked if I could open Goldie up and let her run. Permission granted, we sailed like the wind at full gallop. A truly magnificent moment and thrill of a lifetime.

Until, that is, I tried to slow her down and turn her to the right back to the stable. No reaction. Zip. Instead and still flat out, she jumped a low hedge and raced right down the middle of a narrow one-lane road adjacent to the property. Oncoming cars, and even a tourist bus, careened off to the side blasting their horns like hell.

My feet planted firmly in the big stirrups and holding on for dear life to the saddle pommel - nonexistent on an English saddle - I tried everything I could to restrain her. And then a miracle. Just a few hundred yards from a sharp bend in the road, she suddenly stopped. Completely tuckered out. Foam-flecked. Wobbly, but stationary. Riders from the estate arrived seconds later. Turned out the bit between Goldie's teeth had somehow got stuck as we raced across the field. She was totally unresponsive and just figured that I was enjoying it as much as she was! And yes, bit fixed, I did ride her home. As gentle as a lamb, she was, and obviously delighted with her day in the sun with some crazy rider from Canada!

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HORSE TALE RESCUE - Why am I mentioning this? Because this past week, I met another beautiful and very special Palomino - this time named Smouch - living a new life in a completely volunteer-run refuge for unwanted or abandoned horses called A Horse Tale Rescue on Chemin Murphy just off Route Harwood in Vaudreuil-Dorion.

In other paddocks, I met the rest of the current 12-strong herd. Including Ulysses, a magnificent white Percheron who retired from pulling a calèche in Old Montreal earlier this year because of health problems that are now on the mend. Also Guinness, who used to be a former guard donkey in a cow field and now renowned for his so-called love shoves. Don't ask!

All were personally introduced to me by Marie Choquette Bilas, director of finance and whose husband, Steve Bilas, is the president of this amazing non-profit charitable organization. Both of whom, together with their dedicated team of sponsors and volunteers, are gearing up for their Annual Fundraising BBQ on Thursday, July 30, at which they hope to collect enough funds to buy sufficient food and hay for the winter. Oh yes, they will also have a table on July 2 and 3 at Le Festival au Galop to promote their organization and other upcoming fundraising events including the Halloween Haunted Barn and a Comedy Fest Night.

Says Marie, who also volunteers at the Palliative Care Residence on Como Gardens in Hudson, “With approximately 100 dedicated members and volunteers, we have established an organization now almost three years old that is trying to make a difference. In essence, we rescue, re-home and provide a loving and caring forever-home for those we can save for however long or short their lives may be with us.”

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HELPING OTHERS - And it's not only the horses that benefit, adds Marie, “As we strive to help these majestic creatures, we have also found that they in turn have helped some of our members. And we have seen firsthand results in helping children and adults with various life challenges such as ADD/ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome, Asperger’s and Autism, as well as other ailments both physical and psychological.

“And our vision is to further expand our reach by introducing equine contact and therapeutic services to help people in need for such therapy that has been proven to help certain handicaps and conditions, and we believe this will further help us achieve our goal and give back to the community even more.”

To learn more check out www.AHTrescue.org, e-mail info@horsetale.org, or drop by their table at Le Festival au Galop. And hope to see you there. Sure promises to be one heck of a ride!

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CELEBRATING SUMMER - And it certainly was one heck of a free performance under a big tent at the Hudson Main Road lakefront home of Dwight Tobin and Brenda Sanford on Sunday afternoon, June 19, celebrating the official arrival of summer when courtesy of Luc Boulanger and his classical musicians and two sopranos - assembled specifically for this memorable concert - thrilled some 100 guests with their multi-faceted repertoire ranging from Bach to Tchaikovsky.

Why Hudson? I asked Luc who has been self-financing and directing such concerts for the past five years in other communities throughout the province. “Because my brother, John and his wife, Alice, recently moved here. And what a wonderful setting it is for our annual celebration encompassing in musical interpretation poetry, ballet, opera and serenades that are timeless.”

A sheer delight. And do hope that they will be back next year!

And that's a wrap!

E-mail: creation@videotron.ca

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