About a fortnight ago I turned up to ride after work one day and found that evening had been taken over with an in-house jumping competition. I had known there were some going on but hadn’t paid them much attention. I hadn’t realised that meant there’d be no schools to ride in. Luckily I knew that on the previous weekend a couple of the teens had ridden on “the track” – which is basically a short path around the edge of some of the turnout fields. Officially this had not been opened for the year (it’s unavailable during the winter) but if they’d used it, surely I could. I was a bit hazy though on exactly where it went and when we were allowed to use it.
I made enquiries and it turned out that the owner was happy for me to use it at my own risk – before they officially open it for the year they check the rabbits haven’t dug any holes in the path that a horse could put a leg down. Also I was told we’re not allowed to go faster than a trot on the bit that goes alongside the outdoor schools. As I barely intended to go beyond a walk at all on our first solo foray outside the school this was not likely to inconvenience me!
I checked with one of the teens that had used it at the weekend and they’d not found any rabbit holes and assured me it was not possible to get lost, so I tacked up. I was nervous because I didn’t know how he’d be to ride outside the school. Apart from the one hack on the road with a staff member, quite some time ago, I haven’t ridden outside the school because there haven’t been any options other than the school or the roads. I was also nervous because although I’d been assured I couldn’t get lost, I didn’t know where the track went or how long it was. Now I’ve ridden it I see it’s very short and you’re barely out of sight of the schools/yard, so it’s really not that scary, but new things are always a challenge for me.
So I opened the gates, mounted by climbing on the wall (it felt really odd to mount outside the school, but he was relatively well-behaved and I got on OK) and headed out down the track. Down the track – it was the first time I’d ridden him on any sort of slope which again made me a little less than relaxed and he was worried about a woodpile that might contain monsters (visible in the picture above on the left of the track), but although we were both a bit tense there were no real issues. I asked him to bend away from the woodpile as we passed it, with limited success. We got to the bottom corner after a few hundred meters. The path went to the right, but to the left the sun was glinting off a little brook. Apparently this was very concerning for the woolly-boy, who thought there were almost certainly crocodiles in it,
but after a brief discussion I convinced him we weren’t going that way anyway and it was safe to proceed along the path. After another few hundred meters we found a pheasant in the middle of the path in front of us. Knowing how pheasants will leave it to the last minute and then fly up in a horse’s face, I was probably more worried by the pheasant than he was – he was curious about it. I slowed our walk to give the pheasant maximum opportunity to leave before we were on top of it, and with a minimum of fuss the bird took itself off into the bushes, much to my relief. Another few hundred meters on we could see and hear two dogs running off the lead, but it turned out they could not reach us, being separated from us by a narrow strip of fenced-off field. After all of that I was feeling pretty confident that I didn’t have to worry too much about how he’d react to things – yes we’d come across things he didn’t feel confident with, but the strongest reaction he’d given to all of this was stopping near the crocodiles. I was in no danger of hitting the floor at any point, which in a way was the question I’d needed answering. I hadn’t known how he’d be when we were out and about and something a bit scary came along. Now I know that he’s fine, I can be more confident, which in turn will make him more confident.
We carried on following the path and in no time at all we were alongside the schools and the jump competition and then back to the beginning. A very short ride, so we did another lap. This time I got him to bend away from the woodpile and keep going near the crocodiles. We had a little trot up the hill and finished the lap with me feeling confident that I will be safe on him even when we meet the unexpected.
I did leave the ride with the idea he has strong feelings about water. He did not like the tiny “crocodile wallow”, he does not like it when the tap in his stable is turned on, he doesn’t like his sweat patches being rinsed off and he doesn’t like fly spray on him even if you spray it on your hand and then wipe it on him. This does not bode well for washing him. I’ll let you know how that goes…