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Vicki in Greece

Vicki in Greece

To close out our sabbatical on a joyous note before moving into our new home and starting up our business again, Vicki and I took a trip to Greece to visit her sister, Agnes, in Athens, where we were also invited to carry out The Equine Touch on a few horses by a number of interested organisations and individuals, a visit which has helped to consolidate the joy I have come to feel over the past year.


Festive Greece

My first and last visit to Greece occurred in the company of Vicki, her twin sister, Agathe, and a couple of the latter’s female friends, when we visited Agnes, her family and the country to renew old acquaintances, attend some of the equestrian events of the 2004 Olympic Games, and indulge in tourist pleasures. One of the highlights, as I recall, was seeing Holland’s Anky van Grunsven win the kür (dressage to music) on her dark brown gelding, Saliniero, and take the dressage gold medal in Athens. We had paid a significant sum to view this feat in the flesh and now, eight years later, it hits me how much I have changed since then, as a far larger sum would be required to get me to attend a similar event.

At the time Vicki and I also played tourist on visits to the Acropolis, Mount Olympus, the ruins of Mycenae, and the suspended monasteries of the Meteora, amongst other things. What struck us at the time was that, although all was well with the economy, or so it seemed, there were relatively few other tourists wherever we went, so few in fact that far from having to wait in queues, we had our pick of the facilities. Perhaps this was an omen of things to come. At the time we did not give this much thought, as we were enjoying one of our best holidays together.


Suffering Greece

Now eight years on we have seen a Greece which has been ravaged by the unrestrained looting of its resources by a motley oligarchy of unscrupulous business moguls and their political sycophants in government. As in the case of a growing number of European countries, profit has been privatised to the advantage of a minute few and loss has been socialised at the expense of the great many. The response of Europe’s so-called leaders has taken the form of a rearguard action to protect the gains of the super wealthy even if it means plunging ordinary people into poverty. Greece is at the cutting edge of this cynical pantomime.

Someone should tell them: 'Tourists go to Greece to see the ruins, not a wasteland!'

Someone should tell them: 'The ruins of Greece are supposed to be ancient, not modern!'

The results are everywhere to be seen in the growing number of beggars and pedlars on the streets, the vacant shops, the mushrooming soup kitchens, the numerous concrete shells of unfinished real estate projects, the sharp increase in black market practices, and so forth and so forth. Yet there is hope. The people have not been crushed. Their spirit is still buoyant and they are still welcoming tourists with courtesy, service and excellent English by southern European standards. And as major banking institutions in the wealthy heart of Europe – France, Germany, the Netherlands and other wealthy countries – wobble under their exposure to sovereign debt in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and more ominously Italy and Spain (the third and fourth largest economies of the European Union), sanity is slowly returning as is evidenced by the Socialist Party’s recent political victories in France with its plan to claw back privatised profit from those earning a million euros or more per annum, and its insistence on policies which promote economic growth as opposed to the prevailing malpractice of turning countries such as Greece into impoverished wastelands. The ruins of Greece are supposed to be ancient, not modern.


The islands

When we left Greece eight years ago, Vicki and I resolved to return at some stage to visit the islands. We have and this time we were fortunate to fit in far too brief a visit to two of the about 200 islands that are inhabited: Santorini and Crete.

Santorini: clutching the edge of plunging cliffs

Santorini: clutching the edge of plunging cliffs

The guide books are lyrical about Santorini and with good reason. Being the remnant of an old, partially submerged volcanic caldera, the islands that make up Santorini present stunning scenery. Throw in a collection of white towns sprinkled with blue-domed churches clutching the edge of plunging cliffs, and even the most technically challenged are capable of taking spectacular photographs featuring jaw-dropping vistas. And if the prospect of boredom threatens as you laze in the sun between splashes in the sea or a cliff-side swimming pool, you may care to inspect the excavations of the ancient Minoan site of Akrotiri, go on a wine trail or take in one of the art galleries to be found on Santorini.

Crete, the largest of Greece’s numerous islands, was a very different

Crete: the Nida Valley

Crete: the Nida Valley

experience. Having only a very limited period of time on such a large island meant that our visit was confined to little more than a sniff at what it has to offer. Not to be deterred, however, Vicki and I sought to ensure that it was as big a sniff as we could muster. It took us from the Venetian fort guarding the old harbour of Heraklion to the Nida Valley some 1400 metres above sea level below the snow-flecked slopes of the island’s Mount Ida (at 2456 metres the island’s highest), from the chaos of its bustling commercial capital to the quiet traditional shepherding of rural Crete. It also took us to a village called Bali nestling around a charming cove and to the ruins of the ancient Minoan settlement of Knossos.


Riding for the disabled

Our visit to Greece would not have been complete without any interaction with equines. Thanks to Agnes, news of our involvement in The Equine Touch had spread to the Athens branch of the Therapeutic Riding Association of Greece (TRAG), an organisation which offers horse riding to the disabled, and to a riding school run by her friend Fabienne close to the capital’s airport. This must have struck a chord, because we were invited to carry out Equine Touch sessions on a number of horses at both centres.

Agnes at the TRAG centre in Athens

Agnes at the TRAG centre in Athens

Agnes serves as a volunteer at the TRAG’s Athens branch, where we received a warm, enthusiastic welcome from her fellow volunteers and Dimitra Karouzaki, the centre’s manager. We had the opportunity to carry out Equine Touch sessions on three horses over two days just over a week apart. Each time we were surrounded by keenly interested volunteers, as the horses demonstrated their relief and appreciation of the session by relaxing completely by the end of it to the point of almost falling asleep.



I was privileged to work twice on a bay gelding called Rigo, who was clearly suffering from an impaired left hip to the point where it was not possible to use him in sessions for the disabled. Each time he relaxed completely and during the second session his responses revealed that he was experiencing significantly less pain than during the first.

Yet the equine with whom I really managed to connect in the course of an Equine Touch session, was a 14-year-old black gelding Irish sporthorse called Max. He is stabled at Fabienne’s equestrian centre, where Vicki and I went following our return from the islands accompanied by Agnes and Katerina, a TRAG volunteer from Switzerland, who keenly attended as many of our Equine Touch sessions as she could.

Max with Katerina, Fabienne, Andrew and Vicki

Max with Katerina, Fabienne, Andrew and Vicki

Fabienne told us that Max, who is used for dressage lessons and trail riding, objects to having his withers and girth areas touched. The Equine Touch session confirmed that he was not only apprehensive about being touched in those areas but was also very sensitive in parts of his neck and back and somewhat less so in the stifle area on both sides. Vicki and I put together a programme of procedures to address these areas of concern but stopped after the first, as Max responded so completely to it that he stood there utterly relaxed with his head lowered and lower lip soft, as he readjusted his body and licked, chewed and yawned. All of us were amazed.

A few days ago Agnes spoke to Vicki on the phone and mentioned that Fabienne was wildly enthusiastic. Apparently, Max has responded so well to the session that he is much better. Fabienne would like us to return to Greece, carry out some more sessions and teach her how to perform The Equine Touch. Unfortunately, we are not yet professional practitioners, much less certified instructors. There is something to aim for in this respect, I suppose.



We have a new one, a home, that is. It is an ugly thing, unless you have a special fondness for the interior decoration fads of the 1970s. Yet there are relatively few homes in the Netherlands that can match it for its setting. Wherever we stand inside or outside and look around, there is not a neighbour to be seen. We are surrounded by sprawling gardens and lawns tucked away within an island of trees of varying shades of beauty, and almost all play host to the myriads of birds that come visiting.

Yet there is more. Behind the house there are two very large fenced enclosures. One has a large pond bending between curved grassy banks, a small shrubbed island in its middle tied to one of its banks by an arching wooden bridge. The foliage and trees on the land conceal much of the fence and afford protection to the clusters of water lilies scattered in islets across the water through which two white swans glide keeping pace with their human admirers on the land. From time to time they are joined by a couple of geese, while a male peacock struts in splendour on the grassy verge.

Home: paradise in the back yard

Home: paradise in the back yard

The other enclosure contains a small wooden shed surrounded by level grassy stretches which are home to an orphaned fallow deer inherited with the property. The shed in turn is home to seven pigeons, two hens and a rooster.

Vicki and I have taken on the task of caring for all of these creatures. It is a task we welcome in the absence of any creatures of our own around or in our home.

Our home is rather bare at present as we await the arrival of our household effects from Australia. At this point in time they are in a container on a ship bobbing around on the ocean. Will they make it to the Netherlands, find their way into the home of a Somali pirate or end up somewhere else? What will be, will be.

In the meantime there is much to do. Life at the livery yard is beginning to sort itself out and we are now able to resume our training with Pip and Anaïs. We are recreating our home and have decided to do so in the Netherlands for the time being. And as we near the end of our sabbatical, we are setting up our business again and I am beginning to review what the past year has brought. But more about that next time.

Andrew in a pensive moment on Santorini

8 Responses to “Greece, Equines for the Disabled, Max and Home”

  1. Dear Andrew,

    Like a fairy tale that picture of the pond and the swan…….and the colours are mystical.
    Perhaps it will be the beginning of your and Vicky’s fairy tale “Once upon a time…….
    and they lived hapilly ever after”.

    Take care

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Geerteke

      The colours do indeed appear to be mystical. Perhaps this could be the start of our fairytale, although there are times when I look at Vicki and think of how fortunate I am, because my fairytale with her began close to 30 years ago.

      Be well!

  2. Laraine says:

    I makes my heart smile when I hear how the Equine Touch is helping the horses and mending their pain, there are so many animals out there in pain and people blind to the fact, God bless you are your sort of people focused on helping.
    I love your back yard how peaceful it looks.

    • Andrew says:

      Dear Laraine

      You are so right about there being so many animals out there in pain and people blind to the fact. Methinks though that being blind to the fact is also a mask of the pain that those people would feel if they were entirely honest with themselves and recognise the pain experienced by their animals. It takes courage to tear the mask away.

      Our backyard is indeed peaceful. Enjoy it, we shall.

      Take care!

      • Laraine says:

        Hopefully next year in April we will get a chance to see it for ourselves, all depending on how far from Amsterdam and where we come to shore after the river cruise, but would be nice to say Hi before we head off to Scotland.

  3. Mary Joyce Hardey says:

    Hello Vick & Andrew!
    Agnes is my best friend, from way back in Washington 1972…..
    I still live in the shadow of Washington, now happily retired and busy cleaning up after a freek storm last week, that threw a tree on my roof etcetc.
    Your pond looks like the Monet paintings, do you need some kois in it? I have a couple extra’s!
    I am impressed by your work with horses!!! Keep up the good work
    Would love to see Vicky again after 38 years??
    All the best ,
    Mary Joyce

    • Vicki says:

      Hey Mary Joyce, how great to read your message! Goodness, is it really 38! years ago we met? Time flies… If you ever visit Holland, please let us know. It would be wonderful to catch up.
      I wonder if your kois would last here in our pond – apparently a large heron comes fishing now and then and it may also have taken two of the newly born goslings..
      Doing Equine Touch is so rewarding, not just for the horse but also the practitioner, it somehow puts me in a different space!
      All the best,

  4. Dear Andrew & Vicky, my new website is LIVE now – you are invited to visit and tell me what you think or feel.

    By the way had you heard that Francois Pignon’s youngest brother died from a attack at the age of 29. He was as good as his 2 older brothers. He left a young wife and 2 kids.
    So terribly sad.