My bull is a show jumping celebrity! When Sabine Rouas, 43, saw how much her bull Aston loved watching her horse clear jumps, she had an unusual idea...
Since she was a teenager, Sabine and her beloved horse Underwood had competed in show-jumping and dressage competitions all over her native France.
When Underwood died in 2009, she was utterly distraught.
'I was devastated for a long time,' she says.
'Even seeing a horse on the television would set me off sobbing. At the same time I desperately missed the company of animals.'
Living in rural France, Sabine was surrounded by animals, and became particularly keen on a herd of cows in a field behind her house, spending hours watching them from her window.
Eventually she plucked up the courage to ask the farmer's permission to help out with the herd.
'He looked bemused but didn't turn down the free labour,' she laughs.
'I was amazed by how full of character the cows were -- aloof like cats, but also enjoying a fuss when the mood took them.'
Sabine was particularly fond of a cow branded with the number 309, who would wander over for a back scratch whenever she saw her.
Knowing that 309 was getting old upset Sabine -- soon, 309 would stop producing milk and would be sent to the slaughterhouse.
'I told my husband Yannick I wanted to buy her and he agreed, but there was a lot of red tape,' says Sabine.
'The farmer was happy for us to take her off his hands, but by the time we got her, she was pregnant.'
Sabine was by the cow's side as she gave birth to a baby bullock -- watching the little calf suckle from his mum, Sabine knew she was hooked, he wobbled towards her and was soon following her around.
'He must have heard my voice in the womb and formed a bond,' says Sabine.
'We named him Aston, as in Aston Martin, because 309 is a type of Peugeot and we wanted to go one better for the younger generation!
Being a male, he would have been destined for food after three months on the farm -- farmers don't want to keep a male.'
Aston was affectionate and good fun, although he did have his boisterous moments, even trying to spear Yannick when he saw him as a love rival!
Around this time, Sabine started to feel as if she was ready to own a horse again and soon adopted an eight-year-old pony called Samy.
'When I lead Samy into the stable beside Aston's, he was mooing like there was no tomorrow, and I'd learnt enough about his sounds to realise this wasn't a friendly hello,' says Sabine.
'But it wasn't long before they were rubbing noses affectionately over the stable doors.'
Sabine began to train Samy, practising jumps and dainty dressage, and was amused by how Aston would watch attentively.
'I think he wondered why any sane animal would choose to jump over things,' says Sabine, 'but he'd carry on watching, so one day I said, "If you're so interested Aston, why don't you have a go."
I popped his halter on and lead him towards a low jump.'
Aston cleared the jump easily and looked at Sabine for approval.
'When I gave him an apple, he suddenly understood the joy of jumping!' she laughs.
'So I used a few more apples to bribe him to wear a saddle (made from a bit of carpet and elastic!), then I began riding him.'
Sabine was astonished to realise that, in many ways, Aston was easier to train than a horse.
Bright, clever and eager to learn, the bull was surprisingly coordinated, and Sabine soon began to teach him dressage too.
'He has a real knack for it, and the only thing that's stopped us entering him in competitions is the fact he's a cow,' says Sabine.
'But we began to take him to local farm shows to show off his skills.'
Just like a horse, Aston quickly mastered trotting, galloping, going backwards and turning around on command, responding only to Sabine's voice.
Despite being 1.3 tonnes, it took just 18 months to teach him to leap over 1m high horse jumps in their dressage ring -- with Sabine on his back!
Last summer, Sabine and Yannick even took Aston to a show in Belgium.
They arrived the night before and set up their tent next to Aston's horse box, but as they settled down for the night, Aston began to moo forlornly.
'I realised he'd never been away from home before, and the sound of a big, strong bull crying so sadly broke my heart,' she says.
'So I unzipped the tent and climbed into the horsebox.
I settled down beside him in my sleeping bag and he stopped crying.
Honestly, I've never slept better or felt safer in my life.'
These days, Aston is a celebrity, with a full calender of bookings and 11,000 followers onFacebook.
He's also a diva -- when Sabine takes apples down to the yard, he'll pick only the juiciest, shiniest fruits and reject the rest.
'We get a good reaction wherever we go,' says Sabine.
'Mostly people are really surprised and initially they can be a bit scared because he's much bigger than a horse.
Even people working in farming are sometimes wary of him.
Most people -- even farmers -- don't like to get too close to cows with horns.
'But once they see his real nature, and see him doing the exercises, they often say, "Oh, he's really quite beautiful,"' says Sabine.
'I really hope one day he'll be allowed to compete in dressage against the horses.
But for now I'm just so proud of how far my lad has come.'
Baby Aston was the cutest
Sabine began by putting a saddle on Aston and riding him
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|Title Annotation:||News,Real Life Stories|
|Publication:||Daily Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Mar 7, 2019|
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