An interview with Carole Balestri, by Maren Amdal
Last year, we sold a harness to a sweet lady in Bordeaux region of France. She found us online, after having researched and fallen in love with the Hyperbike and, after lots more research, she decided the ComfyFit was going to be the best harness to go along with her new cart. Carole Balestri began corresponding with Janie, sharing ideas and pictures and feedback, and later with me, too, as I began redesigning the new Chimacum Tack website. She was warm and friendly and willing to share ideas – it was easy to imagine we could be friends. So, when other travel plans brought me to Europe this summer, I sent Carole a note that I would be on that side of the Atlantic and she replied, “You must come to France!”
Carole is a woman of many talents, having run several businesses, and approaches things with a can-do artisan perspective on life. Originally from a small island off the coast of Scotland, she now lives in a glorious 16th-century fortified farmhouse about an hour from the city of Bordeaux in one of the most famous wine regions in the world. Along with her sister, Elizabeth, her brother-in-law Richard, and their mum, Joyce, they tend 21 hectares, 10 equines, 2 dogs, 2 cats, numerous wild owls, deer, bats, and other wildlife, and during summer months they welcome anywhere from 2-8 guests per night in their lovely, meticulously refurbished and well-appointed B&B. Called a “gîte” in the French style, Haras de la Tour is a perfect place to spend a week, and Carole and her family couldn’t be more warm and welcoming. I enjoyed divine meals, spectacular wine, and a relaxing week in paradise.
How lucky am I, to have had an opportunity to come visit their beautiful farmstead, and befriend this lovely family!? I sat down with Carole for a few questions on our final night, having been the beneficiary of such warm hospitality:
Tell me about you farm and your animals?
We fell in love with the farm before even visiting. It corresponded to all we were looking for to recreate a family environment: enough land and prairies for the horses, private and quiet, and enough lodging space so that each of us has our privacy.
When did you first get involved with horses?
We have been involved with horses as long as I remember. When we were young my mother was a riding teacher in a nearby yard so we were lucky to be in constant contact with the horses. My first experience with mini horses was about 9 years ago and I’ve never looked back!
How long have you been driving?
Since my minis were castrated they needed a job. The ground training was accomplished by my sister who has followed the natural horsemanship movement over the last 18 years. Driving just became another game for them to learn. We have another couple of shetlands who joined the family a few months back and who will also be trained for driving. I’m personally green to driving, but am lucky to be assisted by a French coach-woman, Aurélia, who was part of the French National Driving Team.
How did you come to find out about Hyperbike? ComfyFit?
I used to have a Shetland and we drove her with a very basic sulky. Not being interested in competition and road driving, the terrain here could only correspond to a cart which could withstand rough cross country conditions and light enough to cope with hilly conditions. There was only one which outstood and fulfilled my needs; the HyperBike, which I found through searching on the internet. After putting the first one through its paces, we expect to get a few more, hopefully this coming year to be able to trail with guests and friends. The ComfyFit seemed the natural choice through excellent reviews on the internet. After speaking with Janie Amdal at Chimacum Tack, I was totally convinced. She has a very professional and natural attitude, just like Bob Graham from HyperBikes. Nothing seems to be problem and very open to personal requests; no blinkers and bitless? Sure! Astounding customer service, which can only be obtained these days by custom shops.
What makes these the best tools for your use?
For driving, it is of the utmost importance to choose the right quality from the start. It’s just like a good saddle. The comfort of the horse is primordial to a safe drive or ride.
With whom do you learn, here?
I was fortunate to meet Aurélia, who lives close by. She is more used to the big boys (draft horses) and I think she was delighted to be introduced to the mini world – mini horses, small high-quality carts, and wee tack.
What do you wish you’d known when you started out?
My only regret is wasting money on cheaper gear which I have never used! At the end of the day, the wrong buy makes it expensive in the long run, and not cheap at all!
As a horsewoman in this rural part of France, Carole is eager to share her new-found love of Hyperbiking with her mini horse, Timmy. She has graciously offered to share with others, and along with Aurélia, they would welcome local drivers to join them for adventures on her farm. She plans someday to have another Hyperbike for guests and friends to use together.
Wouldn’t it be fun to plan a Hyperbiking trip to France with HorseDriver friends from around the world?! If you’d be interested in an adventure to Bordeaux, let me know by sending me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I can hardly wait for my next adventure at Haras de la Tour!
P.S. Here are just a few more pictures to share the beauty of Haras with you…