One of the instructors asked if I wanted to come out on a trip to a wooded ride which took place last weekend. She had one more space on the lorry – did we want to go? Just an hour or so walking round with a handful of adults from the main yard. Yes, why not? It would be the first time we’d gone anywhere and we didn’t really know how he’d be about travelling, but if we don’t try we won’t know. They lent me some travel boots and a tail guard and we went.
We took one big lorry with 3 horses in and the little one with 2. We went in the little one, which was new to the yard, and so the instructor driving hadn’t driven it before. After we’d put our tack on she loaded the working livery horse that she would be riding first, and he loaded OK but then started kicking, so there was a bit of a rush to load Drifter and be on our way. Drifter loaded nicely and was happy to find the haynet waiting for him.
Time to get going. Unfortunately at this point it looked like we might not be going anywhere as the driver could not find first gear. And pulling away uphill with 2 horses in the back in 3rd was not going to work. Just as we were trying to work out if we could try any tricks to get off the hill, we finally found 1st gear and headed off, with the driver muttering that she wouldn’t be stopping again until we got there. I’d like to say here that she is a safe driver fully certified for big vehicles and animal transporting and if she’d been driving a vehicle she knew there would have been no issues. However… we pulled out onto the main road in second …. onto the roundabout in third (downhill, luckily) and headed for the motorway. On the slip road she tried for 5th … and the knob of the gear-stick came off in her hand. She shoved it back on and we stayed in 4th for the rest of the motorway part of the journey. Throughout she managed to drive smoothly and the horses in the back were fine (there was a little camera and screen system so you could watch them from the cab). As well as her at the wheel one of the teens was there as a working helper. Her horse was awaiting vet attention so she wasn’t riding but was coming round on foot in case a second staff member was needed. She nearly wet herself laughing at all the gear change issues. Eventually we arrived in one piece. The big lorry had beaten us (they had 5th gear, after all) but not by much. We unloaded the horses and tacked up. As I’ve only tacked up in a stable before I found it rather worrying, but the teen did mine, dropping the head collar around his neck as she put the bridle on so that we had hold of him at all times.
After much faffing, toilet trips, paying, signing disclaimers, all 5 of us were mounted: me and woolly-boy, who was eager to get moving, the instructor on the working horse, Springy (the horse I wanted to buy initially) with his female owner, his male owner on a school horse and another lady (who was the one whose horse took such a dislike to the judges table in the Easter show that she was hard pressed to do a test at all). I don’t really know her or her horse, but obviously her horse is not always as brave as he might be.
We set off. Initially we were near the back of the ride, but Drifter expressed a preference for moving fast, so we ended up second, behind Springy. I thought we walked very fast, but we can’t keep up with Springy when he’s swinging along.
It was a hot day. In Cornwall a few days before it had been sunny with a cutting wind. Back in the Midlands it was just hot. Unfortunately in the rush to leave I’d left his fly ears and fly spray behind, but it was only towards the end that flies became a problem, luckily.
We walked along in the sunshine. At first I was tense, worried about keeping a good distance from the horse in front, tense from the gear issues on the journey and just generally unsure of what to expect. I felt much better once we’d come to second place in the ride, because then Drifter was happier and also because when we’d been at the back the teen on foot was walking alongside us and I was constantly concerned with reminding him to leave her space and not squish her into the trees. Now we could just get on with being outside.
We came to a place where a tiny stream crossed the path. There was a little footbridge for humans and a muddy down-and-up path beside the bridge for horses. Springy refused to cross. He backed into other horses, spun and tried to get away. Someone else tried to give them a lead through but he refused again. We went. Drifter wasn’t entirely fond of the idea but didn’t put up much argument. Springy refused again. The instructor came across as a lead. He refused to follow. Eventually the instructor had to get off and haul him across from the ground. After several attempts the instructor went through the muddy up and down and Springy went over the narrow footbridge. I was glad I had Drifter and not Springy. We carried on and I enjoyed my calm brave little horse. There was one point where the ride had a little trot, but otherwise we only walked. I would have liked to have trotted more.
The path went alongside a field with a herd of young cows in it. I was unconcerned, pretty sure Drifter would look at them but not really react apart from that. Springy stopped. Springy was not going past the cows. So we took the lead. I got him bending away from the cow field and listening to me. He wasn’t particularly happy about the cows, but he did what I asked and we led everyone past the scary cows. The track took us past 2 long sides of this field and the herd of cows followed us. Springy was not happy. Springy’s rider was not happy. I was proud of my brave boy and we carried on, letting everyone behind us worry about the cows if they wanted to, but setting a good example. As soon as we were past the cows Springy rushed into the lead again, leaving us behind.
On that site there is a cross-country course. At various intervals we saw bits of the course. At one point near the end we came to a clearing with a “mountain” in it. A part of the cross-country course, it was a steep sloping mound of earth with a flat top so you would ride up, across and down the steep far side. The instructor shouted did anyone want to go over it and I didn’t realise she was serious. She asked if I wanted to do it, but I hadn’t really got my head around what it was, so I sort of gave Drifter a half-hearted “you can if you want” sort of an aid and he declined. Springy’s other owner (call him C) took her up on it and I was able watch and then I thought we could do it. I asked the instructor if I could go back round for another go and she said yes and asked C to give us a lead. C did … at a canter, but that was fine – Drifter trotted but came back to walk and we went nicely up, across and down. Simple as, although I think I needed to lean back further on the steep downhill slope. We were nearly back at the car park but there was one last adventure – the water crossing. The instructor was surprised to find that it was full of water – it must have been recently filled for a competition – so it was pretty deep. I assumed that Drifter’s general dislike of water meant we wouldn’t be able to do this, but again C went through it. The instructor gave us a lead through and Drifter went through the deep water without much persuading. It was a pretty big bit of water and he went through it with seeming enjoyment, once he was in. So there you are. There is no logic to horses. Crocodiles live in puddles, fly spray is too wet for him, but water 3 horse lengths across and 2 wide, up over his knees? Oh that’s fine! Of course it might well have been a welcome chance to cool off a bit.
As we got back to the car park we realised that the other lady’s horse, who is skewbald, had got really badly sunburned on his neck. His mane is extremely thin and his winter clip hasn’t grown out, perhaps because he’s not as young as he might be. His white neck was bright pink in a wide stripe after only an hour’s ride. I had long sleeves and a hat on but I realised that afternoon I felt a bit unwell from too much sun on the back of my neck. The ride had felt quite short, but if it had been longer I think we would all have suffered.
We gave the horses a drink, untacked and loaded the vans. Again Drifter loaded very nicely. On the way back the instructor did much better with the gears, although we still had to take the motorway in 4th, and we got back without incident. When unloaded Drifter gave some ear-splitting calls to let everyone know he was back and happily headed for his stable.
If there’s another trip offered we’ll go again (finances permitting) although I do wish there was more trotting. Drifter likes to trot! There was a second trip run for the teens which was walk, trot & canter. I wouldn’t have felt confident to go for that for our first trip out, but maybe next time I will, if there’s space for us and our canter work goes well.
Image 1 courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image 2 courtesy of Tom Curtis / FreeDigitalPhotos.net