After a rain-drenched weekend the temperatures have subsided, the horseflies have retreated, there’s a sigh of misty freshness in the morning and a tangible dewfall in the evening.
It’s finally perfect weather for riding.
I had a wonderful, life-affirming ride today and while I’m still on a horse-high (if they could really synthesise this feeling, there would be a cure for all the world’s ills!) I want to write a really positive post, a paean to my horse who, I am pretty certain, enjoyed himself every bit as much as I did.
Over summer we’ve spent time on ground work, short sessions on the school and brief hacks. This was the first time in a long while we’ve been able to go for a longer hack and let rip.
And Pom is a horse in his prime with energy to spare.
The afternoon started promisingly. I called the boys, Pom and the Pie, and they raced up from the field and were waiting behind the barn before I got there. I groomed and tacked Pom up in his box while he nibbled a haynet and he was on best behaviour, definitely in a co-operative mood.
I mounted in the yard and, again, I was encouraged that he stood stoically as I got on and settled into the saddle.
With Pom, the riding conversation usually begins,
Me: “How about we set off at a nice, easy walk, get some stretching in and warm up gradually?”
Pom: “Stuff that! I’m hot to trot and as soon as I can get away with it I want to prove that I could win the Derby if only they weren’t prejudiced against letting Spaniards have a go!”
Pie (marooned in his box): “Don’t leave me home aloooone ………”
So that sort of sets the tone for the ride. Me trying to change the gears down and Pom revving up to go. Once he’s stretched his legs and worked off the initial excess it evens out more, but there are few places we can let off steam early on in the ride, as, to start out, it’s either a steep, unmade track downhill to the main road, or asphalt up through the woods then past a few houses with dogs, cats and small children and their toys using the lane as a playpen.
Although our house is quite isolated, deep in the woods where the tarmac runs out, whatever direction we take we have to cross a road used by churning, rattling quarry lorries as well as other traffic and it does, occasionally, get busy. Whilst my old horse, Aly, never got to be entirely happy on the road, Pom doesn’t deign to notice motors. Cars, lorries and a huge, clanking tractor pulling a juddering trailer passed us by – and on the main road, they don’t even slow down, some dimwits even klaxon as they pass. So I don’t feel that sense of trepidation I would with most horses when a big, bright, blue, gravel truck bears down on us.
I can only assume Pom was born beside a motorway!
(For two brilliant, recent posts about what scares horses see “The Things Horses Fear” on “Through the Bridle Lightly” and “Getting There” and “Take Three” on “Cowgirl Up”, both in the list of blogs I follow.)
Having negotiated a short stretch of main road, we then turned off and passed through our local village. I knew Pom was on the QV as he preferred to hurry his way through. We could hear the children hooting and shrieking in the playground, so I by-passed the school and we re-joined the “main street” farther on (this village has maybe 100 people living in it, at most) only to find that some bright spark had improvised a traffic calming (or truck-baffling) scheme, with large red and white plastic barriers taking half moon bites out of the already narrow road. And a woman was running a spluttering lawnmower right beside the first barrier we came to.
A typical horse-trap, you might think.
I know Pom well now. He hesitated and looked around. I sat still and let him take it all in. It was something neither of us had seen before, so we needed to make a calm assessment of the situation.
The lady with the lawnmower cut the motor and waved and I signalled thanks; a kind and sensible person.
I judged my moment, nudged gently and Pom walked coolly round both semicircles of barriers.
Once we were clear of the village and the clamour of some son of Thor hammering hell out of some metallic object with a dogged vengeance, I gave Pom his reward and we trotted on down an empty lane.
He was straining at the reins to go faster, the road was straight and clear and had a good, green verge, so I let him have his head to canter and he was a happy boy. As we whizzed past a plastic polytunnel I caught sight of an elderly man drowsing on the tailgate of his old Renault break stunned into wakefulness to see us zoom by and squeaked, “He’s full of life today!” by way of an excuse!
We passed another hamlet with not a soul about. The bright, slanting sunshine set every shape, every shadow into sharp relief. The air was clean and heady with the aroma of chlorophyll. As we left the last houses behind and came to a grassy path running up beside a small plot of vines, I gave a centimetre of rein and we were flying, up to the top of a plateau where we could look back and see home on a far hillside.
Pom’s blood was up now, but we were back on tarmac for a brief spell then down a steep track through the woods, passing close by the hunters’ cabin. A hunting dog sprang out from the undergrowth giving us pause for thought, but his master, carrying a trug-basket full of mushrooms called the hound to heel and bid us a pleasant ride.
We just about kept to a walk down a steep, stony valley track – this is where we have to bring a repertoire of shoulder-in, leg yields, bending, backing, circling, etc. into play – any brain-teaser to divert Pom when he feels like giving in to gravity and gathering speed like a rolling stone. At the end of the descent we took the track along a valley running parallel to our own, where we did a nice series of transitions on the flat through a tunnel of greenery.
The next right turn took us into one of our favourite paths; nearly a kilometre of smooth, straight, dirt track rising very gently to finish sharply uphill. We both knew what was going to happen next, so there was no point hanging around. Yep, that horse can run. I sit tight and thrill to the exhilarating speed. Aly was taller and probably much faster, but you never knew whether a spot of shade or a patch of yellow leaves would inspire him to a handbrake turn. That was unnerving (occasionally unseating) way back at the beginning, but it improved my seat-to-saddle velcro no end.
Pom stops for nothing until he hits the last rise and can, at last, be persuaded to draw breath. There have been times when we’ve done this stretch at a stately walk, just to prove we can, but, well, why spoil such a perfect day?
The remainder of the ride took us back through the village after we’d negotiated a lonely mule lurking behind a totally inadequate combo of loose barbed wire and gappy hedging and a huge John Deere wanting to share our narrow path.
Back along the short stretch of main road, no traffic this time, and left, up the slippy, rutted track leading us home, Pie’s plaintive cries more intent as we got nearer.
Untacked and thoroughly rewarded, Pom for work, the Pie for forbearance, Eric and I took both boys up to a small lawn where we park the trailer and do our ground work, where we can shower the boys off and let them roll and graze in peace and I couldn’t help but run off a few pics as the light was low in the sky……
(Peace at last for the Pie)
(what sweet itch?)
(views from either end of the yard at the end of the day)
That was yesterday. Today was cloudier and cooler, so Pom and I did a little schoolwork this afternoon, with the Pie keeping an eye on us from the field. I’m glad to report that the feelgood factor carried over and the session was lots of fun. As well as building up our classical schooling I have a yen to work towards riding in the Spanish “Doma Vaquera” style, so we have been using a very long, sturdy bamboo pole as a “garrocha”.
Although we’ve introduced it gently and progressively for a couple of sessions, I think Pom had a moment of wondering if I’d picked up a really big stick to use on him as the first couple of times I planted one end to the ground for us to circle round, then under(arm) he made as if to bite it. But then he got into the rhythm and realised it wasn’t an instrument of oppression but a good game!
One of these days I’m determined to get that Tio Pepe hat …….