Trekking at Caeiago

DSCN4368On 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 ūüôā 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.


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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.

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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 РI 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.