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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Cheval de Merens Revisited
Cheval de Merens Revisited

Merens mares in high mountain meadow.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

An Obsession Driven Odyssey

by Mickie Proulx of Valdez, AK

Dear SFJ,

In the Fall ’97 issue of SFJ you printed an article on the Cheval de Merens, the all black horse of the French Pyrenees. I was immediately obsessed by their beautiful stature, a very strong draft-type-looking horse with powerful legs and long flowing manes and tails. The article sent me running for maps to locate France and the Ariege Valley, the central location for the Merens. After making contact with the writer of the article and being told of the major Merens horse show in August, plane reservations were made. How exciting to go see hundreds of these beauties first hand. We went to France solely to see the horses but France ended up being a great place to vacation with ancient castles, cathedrals, underground rivers and prehistoric caves.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Castle at Foix.

Cheval de Merens means “horse of Merens.” Merens is a small village nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains and is the birthplace of the breed. To get to the Pyrenees Mountains you fly to Paris, there you can either drive south twelve hours or take a commuter plane to the city of Toulouse. In Toulouse you can rent a car and in an hour or so you’re in the mountains. The Pyrenees Mountains lie along the border of Spain, extending 270 miles and reaching 11,200 feet in height. It’s a beautiful area with many high meadows where most Merens are left to somewhat survive on their own.

The horse show is held every August and runs for seven days. The best mares with foals, one, two and three year olds are brought down from the mountains to compete. During the week the show is held in a different village daily. The best four or five horses in each class are selected to go to the three days of final showing in picturesque Boulan. What a way to see France!

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Oxen downtown Foix.

Much emphasis is put on the mare and foal classes, where they are shown and judged as a pair. There are classes for best one-, two- and three-year-old fillies and colts, and classes for three year olds under saddle where the rider is not judged at all. The colts vie for points towards their “authorization.” Many strict exams must be passed before they can be recognized as a stud. It was refreshing to see the horses being judged without all the sterling silver and flashing American fashions that seem to take over the show rings in the U.S.A.

The weekend was exciting with trick riders, acrobatics, racing, driving, and a most impressive demonstration of the sure-footed Merens being ridden down steep, rocky embankments into the show grounds. A hearty group of Italians rode their Merens from Italy, over the Alps (about 500 miles), to join in the festivities. They were celebrating their country’s 20th anniversary of Merens ownership.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Trailride in the Pyrenees.

The show ground vendors offered great French cuisine, breads, wines, souvenirs and leather goods. To top off the Sunday show a baby Merens was raffled off.

We noticed the French to be very kind and hospitable. There are 5-Star Bed & Breakfast’s available in the Ariege. Soffie’s B&B, located right in Merens, has a view of the world. Ivan Quinquis’ B&B, in the village of Biert, offers trail rides where you can ride a Merens into the mountains.

The highlight of our trip was visiting “Helene’s Happy Horse Farm.” Owned and operated by Kevin Henshall & Helene Sapy. Their sprawling old French-style farm is in the farming village of Lafajole and surrounded by huge fields of sunflowers. Kevin took the time to introduce us to all fifty of his Merens horses, including his four stallions. They all had personalities! And gorgeous! We were able to watch Kevin work with his horses and ready his stallion, Galurin, for the show (he took Champion).

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Hiking in the Pyrenees, looking for mares.

We discovered that Helene and Kevin have the reputation of being the top breeders of Merens. They were very patient with our inability to speak any French (they speak English). We inquired as to which horses were available for purchase and we had it narrowed down to a half dozen that we thought we should bring home with us. The prices of the horses are reasonable but the cost of airfare and quarantine … well, we had to leave them with Kevin for now.

There is only one Merens mare in the United States belonging to a lady in Oregon. How unfortunate for us Americans. Maybe someday we’ll be blessed with them here in the states.

Ahh … meanwhile, I’ll continue to dream of those versatile black mountain horses high in the Pyrenees.

Voila‘! Extraordinaire!!
Mickie Proulx
Valdez, AK

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Mare and foal at Luzerac.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Mares & foals.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Merens foal at Luzerac showground.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Stallion Polisson Lafitte.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Merens stallion.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Pierré with just authorized stallion Giboulé.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Young acrobats.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Happy Italian rider after crossing the Alps.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Hobo – my favorite 2 year old colt.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Competitor in Stallion’s class Bouan.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Driving demonstration – Bouan.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Nicole & her stallion from Amsterdam.

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Beautiful Grasses

What follow are a series of magnificent hundred-year old botanist’s watercolors depicting several useful grass varieties. Artworks such as this are found on the pages of Small Farmer’s Journal quite regularly and may be part of the reason that the small farm world considers this unusual magazine to be one of the world’s periodical gold standards.

Peach

Peach

by:
from issue:

The Peach is a showy tree when in bloom. There are double-flowered varieties, which are as handsome as the dwarf flowering almond, and they are more showy because of the greater size of the tree. The flowers of the Peach are naturally variable in both size and color. Peach-growers are aware that there are small-flowered and large-flowered varieties. The character of the flower is as characteristic of the variety as size or color of fruit is.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

by:
from issue:

There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

An Introduction Into Plant Polyculture

An excerpt from What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden
Companion Planting for Beginners

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Mullein Indigenous Friend to All

Mullein: Indigenous Friend to All

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from issue:

Mullein is a hardy native, soft and sturdy requiring no extra effort to thrive on your part. Whether you care to make your own medicines or not, consider mullein’s value to bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, who are needing nectar and nourishment that is toxin free and safe to consume. In this case, all you have to do is… nothing. What could be simpler?

Swallow

Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

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from issue:

Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

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from issue:

Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.

Lost Apples

Lost Apples

The mindboggling agricultural plant and animal diversity, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have been a treasure trove which mankind worked tirelessy to maintain. Such has not been the case. Alas, much has been lost, perhaps forever. Here are images and information on a handful of apple varieties from a valuable hundred year old text in our library.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Bamboo A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

Bamboo: A Multipurpose Agroforestry Crop

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from issue:

The bamboos are gaining increased attention as an alternative crop with multiple uses and benefits: 1) domestic use around the farm (e.g., vegetable stakes, trellis poles, shade laths); 2) commercial production for use in construction, food, and the arts (e.g., concrete reinforcement, fishing poles, furniture, crafts, edible bamboo shoots, musical instruments); and 3) ornamental, landscape, and conservation uses (e.g., specimen plants, screens, hedges, riparian buffer zone).

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

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from issue:

After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

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from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT