Definitely not of the apocalypse though.
Well, I say that. Two of them did try to kill me. Okay so I might be exaggerating maybe a tiny bit there. Maybe more than a tiny bit. Let’s start at the beginning.
This morning we had a group of campers who elected to go on a trek rather than have a riding lesson. Ginny was certainly not complaining, so we horsed them all and got them grooming and tacking up. She asked if I would be happy to go at the front of the trek, before realising we had almost no horses left. In the end she decided I should take Charlie, one of the newbies.
He’s only five years old, and has come to Eclipse with very little education. He’s very sweet, but doesn’t understand a lot when it comes to being ridden. Ginny and Adele have been teaching him and Cookie (the other newbie) a fair bit in the past couple of weeks, so I’ve no doubt he’s better now than he was when he arrived. I hadn’t sat on him before, so I tacked him up and requested that he behave appropriately today.
Which of course, he ignored completely. I got on and realised just how sharp he is. He was striding along fairly quickly, all alert and perky. Normally that wouldn’t concern me at all, but today I was leading a trek of inexperienced riders so I didn’t really want my horse to be taking off left right and centre. He chilled out a bit after walking around with the others a few times, so we decided we’d head out the gate. I say we. I mean me. Charlie had other ideas.
He was less than keen on going out of the gate, stopping dead and refusing to move forwards. When I booted him, he reversed. And when I used the crop as back up, he started jogging and skittering. We turned and tried again, and again. And then again. And every time he said “nope, not going out there.” In the end, Ginny had to come and lead him out. Just past the gate. After that he realised, “ooh, yeah I can do this”.
Honestly! He was also walking out quite nicely for the trek, but we had a lot of slow ponies behind us so we had to keep stopping and waiting for them to catch up. Which got him a bit agitated and stressed I think. He also panicked at a gorse bush at one point. You know, those scary horse-eating bushes…
After lunch we discovered we would have no campers at all as they were all going to do Boot Camp with Athos. We rejoiced at the fact that there would be a bit of peace on the yard (once the Boot Camp had passed through of course). Ginny told us we could, therefore, all ride this afternoon. Hooray, more ponies.
For my ride, she gave me Cookie. A six year old mare who, like Charlie, has very little schooling experience. She also has a baby, a two year old called Maggie who is also here. Unfortunately, their previous owner didn’t seem to know enough about horse’s to wean Maggie off Cookie, so poor old Cookie has run out of milk and Maggie is still trying to feed. The job of weaning has, therefore, fallen to the Eclipse staff. They’re both doing well though. Cookie is a real sweetie, very gentle and cute. She has a stubborn side though, as I discovered while riding. She likes to stop. We had the halt thing down to a tee. Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually asking her to halt. We were attempting a trot…
She also continued to spook at one corner. I got her moving into it eventually, but it was a lot of hard work! She is not easy to canter, and her trot is tricky to maintain. She needs a hell of a lot of support through the leg and the hand and she’s a cheeky blighter, assuming that crossing the centre line means it’s okay to stop. So my legs were working like crazy, just to keep her going.
During the time I was riding Cookie, Ginny was riding a horse called Fire. He belongs to one of the kids who come to camps every summer. There’s a family of regulars, who bring their own ponies along and while they’d taken a couple of the horses back home with them at the weekend, they left two with us. Fire and Storm. Ginny called over to me and asked if I wanted to get on Fire for a bit, and get the feel of him. So I jumped up. She’d warned me that he was sensitive to the aids, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how sensitive.
The tiniest squeeze of my leg and he was off. He’s very slight, and light to every touch. We walked around for a bit while I got used to using much gentler aids than I’d been having to use on Cookie. I then asked him to move up into trot, which Ginny had warned me and I discovered he was unwilling about. It’s not that he was ignoring my aids, he just doesn’t seem to find trotting very comfortably. He’s rather stiff through his back end and his trot was a bit jolty and disjointed. There was very little connection throughout. Putting him on a circle, I managed to get some good inside bend and a few strides here and there of a more connected, balanced trot. Which felt nice!
The icing on Fire’s cake, however, is the ease and beauty with which he performs counter-canter. Oh my gosh! We popped up into canter and played with stride length, shortening on the short sides, and lengthening down the long sides. Ginny then told me to change direction but keep the same lead, and ask him for counter canter. Which I did, to wonderful results. He panicked for a stride or two, waiting for me to ask him to change leg, but when I pushed him on instead, keeping the slight flexion to the outside and continuing to alter stride length on the short and long sides, he relaxed and worked beautifully. It felt amazing to ride a counter canter that well. I was delighted.
We did the same exercise on the other rein, with equal effect although he is definitely stiffer to the left. I enjoyed him though, and I liked the feel of him while I was riding.
Having put those ponies away, we then prepared for a final trek at 4pm. For which I was to ride the lovely Cleo at the front. Who was an absolute bolshy madam the whole way. “I don’t wanna go that way, there’s a fly on me, I want to kick Hayley, it’s not fair I want to go over there”
Honestly, ridiculous mare! It didn’t help that Djembe was being a pain in the bum and refusing to overtake the snails, grabbing at every bit of passing foliage and stopping dead when we stopped further ahead to wait for her. I had to go back to her several times to encourage her forwards, something Cleo objected to with great force!
Towards the end of the trek, however, she started to actually listen to me, and followed through with her walk rather than trailing her back end and powering on with her shoulders. I was letting her stretch and relax, but she chose to actually step through with her hind legs and lift her back while walking. Which was nice. I was also lucky to be taking out a lovely mother and daughter, who were very talkative and friendly as well as seeming to really enjoy being on the horses.
So there you have it. Four horses. Okay, so two of them were only walking treks, but I still had work to do getting them out of terrifying gates, past carnivorous bushes and bullying them out of sulks. The other two I rode properly, and greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to ride such different and challenging horses. Cookie was seriously hard work, but I’m not annoyed that I didn’t achieve masses with her. It was a good experience to ride something that uneducated and awkward, and just to have managed to get her trotting through that corner without shying was progress from the beginning of the lesson. I also got her trotting over the centre line without stopping, trotting circles without falling in so badly, and I got two canters from her. So I managed the basics, and a little bit of not letting her get away with stuff.
Fire was an excellent experience, and I was so grateful to Ginny for giving me the chance to ride him and see what he could do.
And Charlie and Cleo, despite being difficult at times, were mostly lovely. I have a soft spot for Charlie, I think he’s a real cutie. And I’ve loved Cleo for a year now, so one madamish day isn’t going to change that!
I am in a good space, I am happy. I rode four horses in one day, hurrah. We also had successful sessions with the campers in the morning, and the trekking customers left happy and well looked after so our service was up to scratch. Just as it should be. The weather stayed fairly pleasant all day despite the fact that my optimistically worn sunnies weren’t necessary from about 11am onwards. It has been a good day, and I am now looking forward to a good sleep.