On Wednesday, the morning after the dressage, I had to get over my tiredness and pack. That afternoon my mother and I would be heading for Carmarthenshire, Caeiago and 2 days of trekking. (I may have omitted her arrival in the previous post – she came to stay on Tuesday, arriving just after I’d finished cleaning my tack.)
Despite the fact that I had put no previous thought into my packing (and usually I would start writing a list weeks in advance) I managed to get a reasonable spread of garments into a case and we set off after lunch. As our previous visit had included us getting very very wet (water sloshing in boots, underwear wringing wet despite head-to-toe waterproofs) I took spares of everything and my mother had collected a pile of old newspapers for drying wet boots.
The journey was fairly uneventful, although there was one point on the motorway where I managed to be happily overtaking people and then realised that I’d missed my junction (the sat nav may have mentioned it but I wasn’t paying attention to the sat nav) and in a little under 4 hours we arrived at Caeiago.
This was my fourth visit (I see though that I never blogged about my 3rd visit. Possibly because I got a bad cold when I was there, didn’t manage to ride everyday and wasn’t well enough to drive home on the day planned and then didn’t feel well enough to blog for a bit!). If you want to re-read the posts about my first and second visits they are here and here. In many holiday destinations having visited four times would make you a very frequent visiter, but at Caeiago it is the norm to come back time and time again. Whenever I meet any other guest there and ask if they’ve been before, I now expect the answer to be that they’ve been coming back for 7 years, or 10 years. The current record (among people I’ve met) is held by a man who said he first came as a child (they no longer cater to children but did in the past) and has been visiting and riding there for 30 years! You might assume he’s local, but no, he comes from Germany!
So on only my fourth visit I am really a newcomer 🙂 Despite that, I’m starting to feel like a part of the Caeiago community. One of other guests was a lady we met there last year, and it was lovely to see her again and renew that connection.
We were well fed and before bed we filled in our cooked breakfast tick-sheet form and then it was horse o’clock – Lesley came to tell us who was riding which horse in the morning. I was to ride Jenna, a new horse for me. I also showed everyone pictures of my Drifter – as when I last visited them I didn’t have a horse of my own. Perhaps at this point I should mention that I know in some ways it is strange to leave my horse at home and go and ride someone else’s, but 5 hours of safe, picturesque hacking with awesome canters just isn’t possible where I live, so if I want that I have to go elsewhere for it. Also, the trip was my birthday present from my mother.
The morning came and I got up before breakfast to meet and groom Jenna. As I groomed I could not help comparing her to my own horse. I did not think her confirmation was as good as his and I think she is probably substantially older than him. I don’t think she’s as tall or as round. I missed him and, although I know the Caeiago horses and ponies are all good I felt a fear that I might not enjoy riding a horse that wasn’t my little woolly-boy. After all these months grooming my gelding, the view underneath when I was brushing her tummy seemed odd – I hadn’t realised how often I cast an eye over his sheath when grooming, to check for biting flies mostly, so now to me the underside of a horse seems weird without one!
After breakfast the ride set off. Immediately I could feel that Jenna had a completely different way of moving from Drifter. Analysing what felt different I decided the main factor was probably that she’s a lot more free through her hips so there’s a lot of swing and sway to her. This is something I know Drifter needs to work on. She needed quite a lot of riding. I’m used to my boy responding to light leg aids – she needed more, and took mare’s prerogative and sometimes overruled me. As the first half hour went on I got used to her and we had fewer overrulings. Before long it was time for the first canter. I was not overly concerned about this and it was just a short one to get everyone settled, but when she struck off into canter the lift, roll and power of this small mare took me completely by surprise. A friend has described canter as being like a rocking horse – I’ve never really seen that myself until this particular canter. She was like a rocking horse at the extreme of its rockers – the lift and plunge of it was like no canter I’ve experienced on other horses. WOW! I was glad it was just a little canter distance-wise, because I hadn’t been ready for that mentally, although my body did its job and we stayed with her.
The next canter was longer. This time I was prepared for the ride of my life … and I had just that. The trek leaders split the ride into two, and I was just behind the leader of the second group to canter. The leader went and we took off and flew. He turned back in the saddle to check the ride was OK and I met his eyes, grinning. Wow that’s a HORSE. How can I get her to teach my horse how to canter?! Jenna sweated profusely throughout the day, but obviously especially in the canters when gave so much.
In the third canter a gap opened up between me and the rider in front, as often happens to me on these rides – I’m not used to asking a horse to speed up in canter – in the school it’s more about steadying and balancing and holding them. So I asked my surging plunging beast if she had any more gears. WOW, she’s got some real go. We were already going faster than I’d ever gone on a horse, and suddenly there was so much more.
Fast as she was in the canters and whenever we were pointed uphill, Jenna hates going downhill. On every one of the many steep descents she put the brakes on big time, and ignored my nagging to keep up with the ride. I don’t blame her for wanting to go slowly downhill, but it’s awkward when your horse is moving slower than the ride. She refused to walk downhill at the same pace as the others, instead giving me a sickening jog every time she felt the tail in front was too far away. I don’t much like going downhill on horses at a walk, so I felt quite unsafe with the jogging (as well as being aware that in the school I’d be told off for letting a horse jog) but didn’t seem to have much say in the matter. She let me know quite clearly over the course of the day that she was going to ignore any aids I gave on a downhill and do it her way, but I spent a great deal of energy trying to encourage her not to.
In some of the trots she felt quite unbalanced. I changed the diagonal I was rising on and realised that she’s very one-sided, possibly to a worse extent than Drifter, and also that she’s strong on the opposite diagonal from him, so all of her strength was pushing into the side of me that’s less developed. It would be good for me to ride her more often as an antidote to his effect on me, but unfortunately that won’t be possible.
By the time we got back I was exhausted. I’m not used to riding for 5 hours at a time and her motion was so different to Drifter’s that I used my body in a way it was very much unaccustomed to. With her strong side being my weak side and the constant nagging of my legs to try to get her downhill with the rest of the ride, I was physically battered. I was interested to find that on previous visits the main source of post-ride discomfort has been my legs and bottom. After this ride it was the mid portion of my back and the equivalent portion of my tummy. They were burning and useless, but my legs and bottom were feeling OK. While I’d enjoyed the variety and challenge of riding Jenna I hoped I’d get a different horse the next day as I didn’t think I could physically cope with another 5 hours of Jenna.
The next day I had Pebbles, a grey who unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of. I didn’t get up to groom her (it’s optional) because of the agony in my midriff. I wasn’t sure how I was going to ride, but really didn’t think the bending and twisting of grooming was going to help, so I stayed in bed keeping the warmth on the sore muscles until breakfast time.
When the ride set off my muscles were pleased to find that Pebbles was a lot less of a challenge to them than Jenna had been. At walk she kept up with the ride without needing any encouragement, she stayed to the left of the road without argument and generally did her job without needing much riding. I was able to drift along looking at the scenery without needing to do much, which suited me very well. The canters were much less thrilling, but even Pebbles’ relatively ordinary canter challenged my sore abs and back, so I was glad of the change. Early on in the day I realised that I could sit Pebbles’ smooth trot without any serious effort. This was a real revelation, because I cannot sit Drifter’s trot for toffee. I hadn’t realised that I could sit any horse’s trot, so it was good to see that I can. Quite how I translate that into managing Drifter’s trot I don’t know, but any hope is always very welcome.
We had prepared for serious rain, but did not need our waterproofs or old newspaper. On the first day, when we got back I took my jodhpurs and (fake) suede halfchaps off to find that they were soaked through not with rain but with sweat! How much of the sweat was mine and how much Jenna’s I wouldn’t like to guess. I also got a little sunburn. There was a little rain on the second day, but not enough to have needed a jacket.
On previous trips I have driven home straight after the ride, but on this occasion we had booked the extra night to leave in the morning. I was so glad of that, because I didn’t have any energy left. I’d managed the rides but my stamina was still low from being ill and I was wiped out.
That evening at horse o’clock the horses were assigned for the next day. Part of me felt left out not to be assigned a horse in the next day’s ride (because I’d be driving my car, not riding out) but it was lovely to say, “Well, my horse for tomorrow is Drifter.”
We left after breakfast and had a toilet stop and lunch in Abergavenny. I’d hoped to visit the tack shop there but unfortunately it closes at 12 on a Saturday and we arrived at 12.03, but no doubt that saved me money.
The traffic on the way home was not too bad and when we were nearly home we dropped in on Drifter for a groom and a hug. After time away from him I saw how very beautiful he is and was so proud and grateful to own him.