Despite knowing that horse riding comes with highs and lows, the lows can often be hard to tolerate particularly when you have high expectations of yourself and an unrealistic dose of perfectionism. Which is probably why Saturday’s shared pole lesson with my friend Sophie and her young mare Onyx, wasn’t my finest hour.
I lost any semblance of riding ability and lost my stirrups countless times. In fact it felt like I never had my stirrups at all. I spent most of the lesson trying to regain them whilst Riley was trotting around and I never quite succeeded in regaining control. Instead, I found myself constantly leaning forward in the feint hope of getting my feet back into the stirrups whilst inevitably achieving the opposite effect and providing any onlookers with the spectacle of a squirming mess.
As I couldn’t get my stirrups onto the correct part of my foot, my leg was never where it needed to be, and I felt like a hopeless case and was a little despondent afterwards.
The bridle path will be quiet
After the lesson ended, Sophie mentioned that she and Onyx were going for a hack the following morning. This sounded like a nice idea so I agreed to join her. Part of our conversation was that “the bridle path will be quiet on Sunday morning”. However, we were to find out it was anything but.
The following morning arrived and we ventured down the long estate driveway together, heading towards the electric gate that we must pass through in order to leave the yard. Riley hasn’t been through it as many times as Onyx although he handles it quite well. Onyx on the other hand, has never been trustful of the scary gate, particularly since it makes a low humming noise when opening and closing. Because of this she is always on high alert and consequently it hasn’t always been without drama for her.
We were both delighted and relieved when Onyx followed Riley through the gate without any hint of trouble, and since this is usually the trickiest part of the hack for Sophie, from that moment on we were looking forward to a relaxing ride.
We heard the clanging of a bell being rung
The first part of the hack continued in that vein. Both horses and riders were content as we ambled along towards the bridle path. As we neared it, we heard the clanging of a bell being rung, and a friendly, encouraging voice cheering “well done” as families with children, resplendent in colourful high-viz bibs passed us on the footpath which runs alongside the bridle path. We suddenly realised that it was an organised Sunday morning family fun run. The problem was that Onyx wasn’t having much fun and clearly didn’t like this state of affairs. She decided to try and run herself. Luckily the bridle path is single file and as she was behind Riley, wasn’t able to pass. I could sense Riley becoming aware of Onyx and he was becoming fearful too.
Sophie did brilliantly well in holding Onyx together, even when the two paths merged for a short distance and we found ourselves alongside the runners. We were very relieved when we made it beyond the finish point.
Our next challenge was to cross that road
The bridle path that we were on is split by a road, so our next challenge was to cross that road which I thought Riley would do without hesitation. As we stood at the give-way point and the traffic cleared, he didn’t want to move despite my encouragement, so Sophie and Onyx took the lead and mercifully, Riley followed on.
A cacophony of whacking noises
As we re-joined the bridle path on the other side of the road, we were met with a whole host of noises from the local cricket club which runs alongside this section of the bridleway. There were people practicing batting in the nets, others playing hockey on the sports pitches and all of the tennis courts were occupied too. The sound of so many bats hitting balls meant that we were greeted by a cacophony of whacking noises which Riley wasn’t too keen on. His ears pricked up and he held his head high constantly scanning his surroundings for danger. He managed himself quite well though and didn’t try to run off. Soon after we had passed the cricket club facilities and the noises quietened, he relaxed and I loosened my reins and relaxed too.
We arrived at a stone bridge
All was calm as we hacked along enjoying the views over the hedgerows along the path until we arrived at a stone bridge. As we went under the bridge, it echoed with the sound of a car passing over it and Riley went into panic mode and began to run off. As we had been so relaxed, Riley was on a long rein and I couldn’t shorten them quickly enough so couldn’t stop him. Fortunately, he ran straight towards a bush which did bring matters to a halt.
My hill phobia reared its ugly head
After settling down, we detoured off the bridle path towards a quiet lane which rejoined the same bridle path albeit heading in the opposite direction so that we could head back to the yard. Riley and Onyx were now handling the situation perfectly, although I must confess that I went into a mild panic at a short downhill slope that we had to descend as my hill phobia reared its ugly head. Riley was super however and transported me calmly down the slope with no problem at all.
As we headed back along the bridle path towards the yard, I questioned my route-planning, as I should have known what we might encounter along the return journey. Namely the cricket club, the bridge and possibly the fun run.
I was much better prepared for the echoing bridge during our return journey and had my reins shorter so was ready with calming words and as there was no car going over it this time it was trouble free. The noises from the cricket club were minimal and the fun run had finished.
A cheery “good morning”
So, we continued towards home in a relaxed manner. Sophie and I happily chatting away and giving a cheery “good morning” to any walkers along the route; Still aware that Onyx’s nemesis lay ahead; the dreaded electric gate. We were pleasantly surprised when she walked serenely through it, as if announcing that she didn’t have a problem with it at all.
In spite of the challenging adventures along the way, it was a most enjoyable way to spend Sunday morning and I was immensely proud of how Riley had taken it in his stride. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
If you enjoyed reading this, you can catch up on all of the earlier instalments of the life of Riley here