Caeiago in Spring

I went back to Caeiago for a great weekend in March. I realise I should have got round to blogging about it before now, but, well, it didn’t happen. So here’s the post you should have had a bit sooner.

For my second trip to Caeiago I had a bit more of an idea what to expect than on my first visit, so I was considerably less stressed from the outset. This time on the journey there I overruled the sat nav and used motorways wherever possible. Unfortunately this meant I encountered a large number of speed restrictions, traffic cones and closed lanes which pushed my journey time up considerably, but I still arrived in time for dinner, which was the important thing! I have to say I found the cross-country route I took last time rather more visually appealing and more interesting to drive, and given a choice of motorways with road works or A roads without, I think I’d take the A roads.

But, as I said, I arrived in time for dinner somewhat less anxious than I’d been on my previous visit. I’d escaped to Wales again! Any doubt that I’d managed this feat was dispelled by one of my hosts, Roddy, and his friend, a fellow dinner-guest, speaking Welsh. People tend not to do that in other places. Of course in much of Wales they tend not speak much Welsh either, but Caeiago is far enough west that you can be sure it’s Wales. If you’re still not sure it’s Wales, then visit, as I did, in the height of the daffodil season and realise that the garish mass plantings you see on English urban roundabouts and verges are supposed to be an imitation of the nodding grace found in the banked verges of Wales. (This is the bit where you hope I’ve taken a picture of the daffodils, but I have failed in that mission, so you’ll just have to imagine it. Or if you can’t imagine it, I recommend you go to Caeiago in March next year and see for yourself.)

So after a lovely dinner and entertaining conversation (in English, of course) I retired to my pleasant room. It was a  lovely light room with windows on both sides. That night I dreamt there was a piano in the en suite, but upon waking I discovered this was not true, which was a relief as I was feeling awkward about explaining to my hosts, Lesley and Roddy, that it just isn’t right to keep a piano in an en suite.

The morning dawned damply and progressed on steadily to torrential rail by lunchtime. This is why I was wearing my fetching raincoat and my pony, Ffion, was dripping, as you can see in the picture. I also had my waterproof trousers on- an absolute must for weather like this. Ffion took care of me for the day and we had some lovely canters and a great day, despite the weather. Also being ridden on the trek was Ffion’s daughter, Mai. She was out learning the job, ridden by Carol. Unfortunately there is no love lost between Ffion and Mai and Ffion took every opportunity to pull faces at her daughter during the ride. It was good to see Carol there because I met her on my last visit to Caeiago, when she was a regular customer, and now she is riding with them as staff.

On the ride back the weather eased and we dried out a bit, before we got back to tea and homemade cakes. An afternoon walk took us nearly up to dinner time, and so to bed.

Breakfast is always a treat at Caeiago (although so are all the other meals), but on Sunday it was especially good, as I looked up from my cooked breakfast and out of the window to see a red kite soaring towards the house with the morning sun lighting up the colours on its feathers.

On the Sunday I rode Jay. Jay was ticklish to groom but I got her properly brushed in the end. Most of the horses I’d ridden so far, both at Caeiago and elsewhere, are used to beginner riders and used to interpreting inept leg and hand movements. Jay was less used to this and if I gave a poor command I didn’t get the response. If I gave her a signal she understood, she was very responsive; if not, she was confused. This meant she was giving me really good feedback on how well I was riding, although it took me a little while to adjust to this! When I rode her well I had an excellent ride and especially enjoyed cantering her. One of the big things I like about trekking is that you learn how to ride from your horse. Jay was a good teacher! In lessons you have to learn from a human more than from your horse because of the restricted time frame. It’s quicker for a human to tell a human “your leg’s in the wrong place” than for a horse to communicate with the human by not responding well until it’s right! When you go out for the day and you’ve got so much longer on the horse they have plenty of time to teach you how they prefer to be ridden and what they think of various aspects of your riding.

We had a nicer day weather-wise on Sunday, the only unpleasant part being the hail that came just as we were finishing our picnic lunch, a few minutes before this picture was taken. We saw red kites again, and a pair of nesting buzzards as well as hundreds of tiny lambs, fewer days old than they could count on their legs, who stared at the horses, not sure if they were friend or foe, before bouncing back to their mothers.

And so we returned and it was time for afternoon tea and then time for me to leave. Another weekend at Caeiago gone so fast. But at least this time I know that I’ve got a 4 day visit in August to look forward to!

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Ah yes, this is the part where I do my bit of advertising for Caeiago. If you’re looking for a trekking holiday and you’re an adult with some riding experience, go to Caeiago. It’s great. You won’t regret it. If you read the reviews on Tripadvisor you’ll see that everyone agrees, so, get over to their website and book it now. http://www.horseridingholidaysgb.co.uk/

A weekend riding with Caeiago

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.