AT the Journée Champêtre à Loubejac, Simone and I had set up the table for the snacks, or the casse-croûtes, as they are called for both the horses and their riders, writes Carol Miers.
A month earlier, the discussion around the choice of casse-croûte had taken a good twenty minutes at the commitée de fête meeting. Its English translation is explicit meaning broken crust, and not grimy crust as I had thought, as in 'crasse-croûte'.
Before long, under chestnuts beside the chevaux and pedestrian route the tables were set up and people trickled in, lashing their horses on one of two ropes hitched between trees at the back of the glade.
I could see the snack's importance when, dismounting from horses or laying their walking poles aside, people milled around the table as they might have done since the 16th century, the flagons of a rough brew replaced by the neat bidon of red wine.
It was a gentle stroll today, those more ambitious had gone on an 'endurance' or long distance ride, an unusual double booking for that Sunday I heard. Yet the Journée Champêtre was still an important day being since the 18th century a type of garden party and missing today only the orchestra behind the trees.
The day was important enough for some to have come from 50km and those without a horse trailer had even ridden the day before, in order to rest their horses overnight before taking them out on another stretch.
Napoleon would not have gone into battle with these horses as they were friendly and placid, being a mix of breeds and characters and all well-mannered, silently nuzzling branches and chewing on beech leaves.
It was also a display, especially when young women riders rode in parading matching bridles. They had braided their horses' manes and interwoven ribbons in their tails.
Others had designer saddles, complete with pockets and straps for accessories. There was a collection of horse tack that included stirrups with toe-cages and shin protectors, all with colour schemes that tied rider to horse.
A saddle underblanket matched to a riding gilet and a pony's halter. Some wore a traditional equestrian riding helmet, but others were more carbon fibre, bicycle style.
Annelise arrived and had nothing on her hands. Her horse pulled all the way and she showed me the blisters on her pink swollen fingers and palms. Fortunately Jean-Luc the blacksmith helped. After a cigarette, baguette and brie she left kitted out with his thick pair of gloves.
Jaqueline's husband, now out of pilot uniform was dressed in jodphurs and boots. He joined the charming group under the trees having left his horse with the ten or so tied between trees. Most of the horses had a light load, only one or two had to bear a little more.
Everybody chatted, reacted to news, took messages and exchanged conversations of their travels, work and studies. Marcine was in tears as her horse had a swollen knee joint. Her father arrived in a truck to collect Piquard who cannot continue.
"I have had no trouble with her before," Marcine said, giving her some sweets. After unsaddling she continued on another steed to finish the last 8km. But what future for Piquard? Maybe they could sell her as a brood mare, her father said, but Marcine would be upset, or maybe Piquard will be for younger children, an operation would make a difference but what about the cost?
Then at the back, Flo waited while her mother went to collect the horse box for RS was now lame. RS's name is branded on her rump. Flo reminded me repeatedly that she was a sixteen year old Spanish mare and not a stallion. Quano, her mother's horse was a cross with a cheval de trait used traditionally for pulling loads. Towering over me this was an ancient working breed.
Getting ready to go, Marie from Cenac showed me the GPS strapped to her wrist for marking out the boucle online. She and Jean-Marc left with their white terrier running around the horses hoofs and trailing behind.
The tables got cleared away. Flo's mother arrived with the horse box. The path returned to its privacy.
Originally, casse-croûte was a tool for grinding down bread into crumbs and later it turned into a worker's snack.
For the journée champêtre, they had added boutin, Sylvie's French sausage, or paté and brie with red wine or juice. Officially the entrance fee was by ticket but if they had forgotten to hand it over nobody minded.
When the land owner arrived later to check if it was as he had requested, left clean and tidy, the only sign would be the tether rope I had forgotten to untie.