I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my first holiday alone, my first trekking break nor my first time driving myself to Wales, so it’s not really surprising that I was somewhat tense beforehand.
My journey there did not go entirely as I had hoped as the route I followed bore little resemblance to the one I had planned and, I suspect, was not what the sat nav had in mind either. However, after the first hour of the sat nav and I seemingly taking it in turns to make obscure and possibly ill-advised directional decisions, we came to an agreement that the only way to continue was cross-country and we worked as a team after that. I was surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed the drive because it was a refreshing change to do some driving that kept me more engaged than my largely motorway based commuting. Crossing the border into Wales I was delighted to find a band of heavy rain marking the border – I liked that there was a clear visual marker, even if rain is not the most concrete sign of a political boundary.
Having not driven in Wales since my driving test the dual language signs were as welcome a sign as the change in landscape. As I racked my brains to try to remember the best way to drive through a ford in case I came across one, the hills rose around me and the sheep became more plentiful. (Luckily I didn’t come across any fords in my Fiesta, only once I was mounted on horseback, but I’m getting ahead of myself …)
I arrived at Caeiago in a state of some exhaustion but was quickly settled with a cup of (peppermint) tea, having dragged my many bags and belongings into my comfortable room. Dinner was at 8 and it was delicious and plentiful, to my relief. Unfortunately there was no mobile network signal so I was initially unable to let Mr Sparrowgrass know I’d arrived, but my hosts offered the use of their land-line for this important task and Mr S was told he could ring back on it in future. I noticed later that there was a payphone in the hall that they could have pointed me to rather than taking it on their phone bill but kindness and trust seem to be the norm at Caeiago. I was the only person staying at Caeiago that weekend but I was told there would be other people on the rides who were non-residential.
I spent a somewhat restless night wondering what the next day’s ride had in store for me. I was not sure whether I would be expected to canter; this was the main focus of my worries. I had made my hosts aware that I was struggling with cantering in my riding school and did not believe I could do it but was not sure whether this meant I would be excused cantering or if I would be expected to have a go (and maybe fall off, hopefully not on my head this time, having already had to replace my helmet once this month). Eventually the long night was over and it was time to go out and meet my horse and learn to brush her.
Meeting Annie and brushing her helped calm me down as I had a focus and a chilled out horse to take my mind off things. I cannot say I did a good job of grooming her, as the mud I’d missed in her mane bugged me for the rest of the day, but I did learn a lot about the way a horse is put together and also that I didn’t need to be nervous around her – Annie will put up with just about anything without complaint!
Next on the agenda was a wonderful cooked breakfast. Again, this helped with the nerves :). Then it was time to tack up the horses. As I didn’t know what I was doing with Annie’s tack I watched a staff member do this with the promise that I could try the next day. Then it was time to get ready for the ride, which considering the weather meant layering on the waterproofs as well as packing our sandwiches into a bumbag and getting the usual hat/boots/half-chaps paraphernalia on as well.
I came down from my room to find a couple of other riders clustered around the front door. One mentioned fairly early in the conversation that she was worried about cantering and having trouble with cantering in her riding lessons! It was such a relief not to be alone in this and my new friend seemed to feel the same way. The third rider was a regular at Caeiago and did her best to assuage our fears.
So we headed out and mounted up. The long stirrups for trekking felt really weird at first but I could see the advantages. I couldn’t believe how fast and bouncy Annie’s trot is and quickly had to learn to keep up with it. We headed up into the wet misty hills and I remembered how much I love Wales, especially in the rain. This was why I had come here. We went on for a bit and then one of the trek leaders came along-side me and said, “We’re going to have a short canter the other side of that gate.” Oh. Right. Canter. Me? He said, “I’ll be in front of you watching the whole time. Forget everything you’ve been taught and just don’t lose your stirrups. You’ll be fine.” And he was right. I was fine. Annie knew to canter when the horse in front did, so I didn’t worry about asking her for the canter; I just hooked a few fingers under the front of my saddle and went with her. In the enclosed bridle-path I didn’t need to steer or even worry about stopping her – when the horse in front blocked the way she’d have to stop. The other rider with cantering concerns was also fine.
That was the first of many canters of the two days. On subsequent ones I let go of the saddle and even urged Annie on faster (although it has to be said that some of the time she overruled that and continued at the pace she initially chose – she’s a very sensible horse). By lunchtime of the first day I had no more fears about the riding and I was even beginning to relax in conversation with the other riders and staff. From then on it was a dream holiday.
We may not have climbed every mountain or forded every stream, but it certainly felt like we tried. We saw red kites on a couple of occasions and very few other human beings. I looked forward to longer and longer canters and loved them all.
Having previously only ridden for one hour at a time the total of 10 hours across the weekend did take its toll and I would have struggled to get back on a horse for a third day but even so it was very difficult to leave. I will definitely be going back to Caeiago and thoroughly recommend it to anyone wanting a riding holiday. You do need to be an adult and have riding experience, preferably including canter :D, but if you fit that category then I really recommend going to Caeiago where I know you’ll have a wonderful time. You can find their website hereor look them up on facebook.