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Riley defies my expectations

Riley and I just about to begin our hacking adventure
Riley’s progress since moving to the new yard in January continually astounds me.  Just when I am amazed at how well he is improving, something else is thrown into the mix.

On Monday afternoon I groomed him in preparation for his schooling session with Emma.  I was concerned about how productive the session would be given how much Riley’s eyes were drooping and how sleepy he looked. So, with minimal expectations I watched on as Emma rode. And sure enough he was rather sluggish, although since I hadn’t expected too much from him, I was pleasantly surprised when at the end of the session to hear Emma say that Riley had just done his first simple changes.

Completely clueless

A handy gate which I used to remount after walking Riley across a busy road
During a fabulous lesson on Tuesday, Emma asked me to do shoulder in. Now although I have seen Emma do this with Riley, I hadn’t expected that she would think I was ready to attempt it. The slight snag here was that I didn’t know what to do.  Like so many experienced riders, Emma always makes it look effortless and as though it’s happening by magic, however one of the many things that Riley has taught me is that every single step needs to be ridden. So, after confessing to Emma that I had never ridden shoulder in before and was completely clueless, I was given instructions and made my first attempt.  It was hard work and certainly not at all polished although I must say that the feeling of knowing we were trying was immense, and for those few minutes it felt as though we were practising our dressage moves and I felt incredibly happy. We had another attempt at it during our lesson the following day, Emma schooled Riley on Thursday and I rounded off the week with a lesson on Friday.

A momentous day

Saturday was a momentous day, as I had arranged to hack Riley off the yard with Sophie and her horse Onyx.  Onyx, like Riley, is green and had only been off the yard a couple of times before. We didn’t know what to expect and after we had mounted and Riley began to walk, I felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

There was no way we could avoid it

Sophie and Onyx with me and Riley. Happy hackers!
We knew that one of the main sticking points would be the electric gate at the end of the long farm lane which leads to a road beyond. In order to get off the yard, we had to go through this gate so there was no way we could avoid it. Riley had never seen it before and although Onyx had, she really didn’t like it, so this would be our first hurdle.  After a pleasant walk along the lane, which is surrounded by farm fields and beautiful views, we approached the end. At this point Onyx, who was in front of Riley, appeared to find the gate even scarier than usual and began to nap and walk backwards whilst Sophie tried hard to encourage her forwards.  As Onyx backed up and inched closer and closer to Riley, I found myself becoming apprehensive and worrying that she might bump into him and who knew what would happen then? I found myself in a panic.  Poor Sophie was trying to keep Onyx together and didn’t need me falling apart. Riley, bless him, seemed fine but I really wasn’t.

At this point I decided to get off

We decided that it would be best if Riley went ahead, and Onyx followed. By this time however, I wasn’t feeling at all brave and knew that as soon as we were through the gate there would be a road to cross.  At this point I decided to get off Riley and walk him in hand, and once safely across the road I would remount. Across the road is an unadopted lane which is full of potholes and is surrounded by farm fields with the occasional house further along and so has very little traffic on it. This road leads to a bridle path so once I remounted was able to relax and could enjoy the hack.   After we had walked along the bridle path to the end, we reached the only other part of the hack which was on a public road. This part of the hack was quite a short distance along the road, however once we got to that point, my demeanour quickly changed and for some reason every time I saw a car, I froze. Riley dealt with passing cars so much better than I did. In fact, I couldn’t fault him or Onyx at all as both were handling it all so well you could have been forgiven for thinking that they were veterans of this particular journey.

Riley plodded along behind, apparently unconcerned.

Smiling bravely on the road section of our hack. I was terrified although Riley was absolutely wonderful
We then headed back to the unadopted lane towards the yard. Once again, we crossed over the road back towards the electric gate at the entrance to the farm estate where our stable yard is based and this time Sophie was confidently able to keep Onyx moving forward through the dreaded gate whilst Riley plodded along behind, apparently unconcerned. Once on the estate, walking towards the yard and back on familiar territory, I noticed how relaxed I had become and that my reins were definitely looser. I felt happy, and so proud of Riley. It was a special day spent hacking with a friend. The sort of day you imagine having when first thinking of owning a horse.

A Pond! What must I have been thinking?

I decided to end the week with a lone hack around the farm ride.  As I was mounting, I spoke to Sophie who had just returned from a hack on the estate and who had taken Onyx through a pond in one of the fields. As we were heading in that direction anyway, I thought that perhaps I could take Riley into the pond as it would be something different for him. What must I have been thinking?  In any event, afterwards I wished I hadn’t. We arrived at the head of the pond and since we had only been there once before, and that time Emma had taken him in, I hadn’t appreciated quite how steep the sloped entrance was.  I’m certain that those who love riding cross country would be thinking, what slope? But I have a hill phobia to contend with, and it has taken me a while to be comfortable with the gentle hills on the farm ride never mind an actual downwards slope!

My brain was saying “you can’t do this”

Feeling relaxed and happy after a lovely day
I found myself in a dilemma. How to do this? Riley and I were standing at the top of the slope at the pond entrance, and I needed to take him into the water. I asked him to go forwards into the water which he wasn’t at all keen to do and took a couple of tentatively slow steps before stopping completely.  This didn’t help my anxiety levels at all; My brain was saying “you can’t do this” and warning me that I was going to fall off, whilst at the same time I knew deep down that we had to go into the water.

Now this had seemed like a great idea when it occurred to me moments earlier

I reached the conclusion that I should get off Riley and walk him into the water. Now this had seemed like a great idea when it occurred to me moments earlier, however now I realised that I needed wellies, and was standing frustratedly at the water’s edge in my riding boots.  I took a deep breath and waded into the pond for a few steps, just enough to ensure that Riley got his feet wet, all the while contending with him rather cheekily trying to eat the overgrown greenery.

Lesson learned, there’s always next time.

I didn’t want to walk him in hand all the way back to the yard, so tried mounting from the ground which was something I hadn’t attempted before. I tried and succeeded, so the positive thing I took from this was that at least I knew this was something I could do in future if necessary. I trundled back to the yard thinking what a disaster and why oh why hadn’t I stuck to my original hacking plan? Still, lesson learned, there’s always next time.

If you enjoyed reading this. You can catch up on earlier instalments of the life of Riley here
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Sharon Howe

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