hiring help for horses is enough to throw you

Occasionally there was an enigmatic missive that left me scratching my head. Iris wrote: “I have not question for the moment because your profil is very explicative. I will see you soon.” Or not.

Jo, our first helper, was Dutch, and used to talk about herself in the third person. “Jo is going to Jo’s place,” she would announce, “because Jo has to dry her clotheses, and Jo has had enough of you all!”

Once, driving to an event in Queensland, going down a steep hill towing a horse float, a massive diamond python was draped across the entire gravel road. With three horses perched like mountain goats behind me, it had to move – and fast – not a word usually associated with pythons.

“Jo will do it!” Jo declared, and with the help of a stick and a few strong pushes, Jo did. Later, safely camped at the grounds but still rattled, I managed to drop a saucepan and spill our entire dinner on the ground.

Occasionally I misjudged my applicants. Lulled into a false feeling of security by Jo, I agreed to host a young Dutch couple. It turned out they were both terrified of horses. As soon as the horses hove into view at a brisk trot, eager for their dinner, the pair would run in the opposite direction, carrying the feed buckets with them, leaving the horses with no option but to follow at an ever-increasing pace.

Add Benny Hill music to the scene and you get the drift. “Put the buckets down!” I’d yell. “PUT the buckets DOWN!”

Three of our longest stayers all had names that started with A. Aurelie had virtually no English when she arrived: “I am a Post Box,” she told me in a message, which I fortunately translated as meaning she was outside the Post Office. She was with us for a year. Then there was Amandine, who also stayed a year, who was one of the few helpers to share my love of the big huntsman spiders that had made their home inside the house – we had Bert, Bertha and Freda at one point.

Our last A before Astrid was Andreou, a Spaniard who was taking a break from his job in human resources, who once put a horse on rug back-to-front with the tail end at the neck. You could actually see the horse laughing. He could also fit a mobile phone into his mouth sideways and if you rang his number, his face would light up like a Christmas tree.

Over the years, there were so many – Nina, who rode like an angel and drove like the devil; the vegan couple from the US who lectured us all; my daughter whispering to me: “Can’t they see they’re wearing leather shoes?!” Michaela, who made the best tiramisu I’ve ever tasted; and dozens more.

They brought their youth, energy and the outside world to us and for that, I’m forever grateful. But there were limits. Back in email land, one young man noted that: “Most of my spare time would be integrating my dog Jake with your animals and family … the challenge will be that he’s not so used to other dogs and needs guidance and training around them …” I said no.

The best email ever came from a young Chinese couple: “Hi Candy! Our dearest friend from Australia! A brief introduction about ourselves: we are both undergraduate students from Beijing. With driver’s licence at hand and passion for being outside, we are also looking forward to take you on a journey of Chinese traditions, by cooking Chinese cuisine and singing Chinese songs.”

Ten years on, I still sometimes regret that I didn’t give them a go.

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