Riding the Trails

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Riding the Trails

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  • Recommended horse riding holiday europe
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    02-23-2012, 06:51 AM
Riding the Trails

For a time after my early retirement I spent most of my week ends with a trail riding centre in South Wales who specialised in long distance riding. I did not have the qualifications other than to be a helping hand on the rides. We received visitors from all over the World ie the US, Japan, Australia and Europe especially Germany. Usually only experienced teenage or adult riders were accepted as clients, except where the ability of a youngster was exceptional. The first problem was always to match rider and their declared ability with one of the 50 or so horses kept at the centre. A form would be filled out but rarely did it paint a true picture of the rider’s ability. To a certain extent we would judge the visitors by their appearance, their words, their demeanour and finally how they collected, cleaned and tacked up the horse. The first day’s riding would show us most of what we needed to know. There was only limited leeway for us to vary the trail routes but the horses would always be from the same herd and it would be the horse which made the final judgement as to the rider’s competence. The most difficult combination for us to cope with was a mother who when younger used to ride a lot at weekends and who was now accompanying her daughter for a quiet riding holiday. The teenager might listen to advice, Mother believed she knew how to ride and was fit enough to do so.

On the first day out we had to make the rider shorten the stirrups by a notch or two. Then we had to show them how to ride on loose reins rather than in close contact. The horse needed its head to balance itself. Finally they had to come to terms with the fact that the horse would at the outset invariably follow the instructions of the dominant horse in the group and the voice of the trail rider leader rather than the newly arrived townie. The horse would make up its own mind as to the rider’s capability. These horses were used to climbing up and down hillside paths, they were tough and very fit. During a season they might be ridden by twenty or more different riders. On the whole, in time they would respond to a rider with good hands and a good seat but not so if they were asked to point their noses to the ground and certainly not if they lost full control of their head and neck. A couple of the horses presented a real challenge to even a competent rider but we were very careful as to who was allowed to ride them. It was in nobody’s interest for he centre to record too many falls.

Over the first few hours of riding the instruction was to keep in file. Even if the trail permitted riding abreast then were one horse to break into a canter, then the other customer ridden horses would all take off in pursuit. That first canter had to be taken in a controlled environment so that the rider gained the confidence that he/she could pull up. If there was panic in the rider then the horse would know and probably we’d have to change the horse for the following day‘s riding. There were numerous hazards along the trails. The first stream had to be waded. The rider had to lift off the saddle to free up the horse’s back for the first hill climb to be trotted and then the rider had to sit in on a loose rein and walk the pedals of the stirrup irons as the horse slithered down the other side. There were a few country roads to be negotiated and a couple of fast highways to be crossed. The horses had to be confident to go forwards whilst the trucks came at them. Elsewhere the horse had to stand at right angles to the road with its nose hovering over the edge of pavement. If one horse broke ranks the risk was that others would also and there were only inches to play with on those narrow highways. We’d trot the horses down any gentle hard surfaced slope. The rider’ would be shown how to stand in the stirrups holding a handful of mane whilst the horse went up and down underneath the rider’s butt.

This obstacle course took us by a round about route to a pub where the riders were encouraged to drink a little alcohol - in moderation. A little dutch courage works wonders. Going home was to be a different and maybe riotous affair. Any weak riders would be split off and they would go back the short and easy way. The remainder would climb up and over the ridges. We’d check the horses and the tack and mount up. There would be a short ride along the highway to the bridle path and then it would mostly be uphill interspersed with some long plateaux. The horse’s knew the routes and one slight squeeze meant they would be off from walk to gallop. It was along a rocky narrow path which climbed steadily. At the top it descended just as steeply down into the valley. Mounted on a sparky horse, standing on a narrow trail, flanked by steep gulleys, in a howling gale is an exhilarating experience. At all times the rider should keep position amidst the line of horses over the stoney ground. The lead rider set the pace for the line to follow.

At the top of the hills, it was hoped the horses would stop at the brow although from time to time they didn’t and down the hill the group would all go. The horses knew when they were heading for home
And the race was on to get to the feed It always took half the time that it had take to reach the lunch spot to get home, yet the distance was virtually the same.

The group would arrive back at the yard red faced with aching backs and covered with mud,. Hopefully most of them would be energised by the anticipation of the following day when the experience would all be repeated but for longer. The canters would merge into gallops. The hills would get steeper, A spirit of competition would seep into both horse and rider. Everyone would curse the rain but gloried in the sunshine. The visitors would universally admire the views of the otherwise hidden landscapes.

We regularly lost a rider or two. Some had genuine bruising and very occasionally a broken bone or two Other guests just weren’t up to it. This country style riding was a completely new experience for them so we had to make special arrangements for them and stay on the trails down in the valley bottoms.

What became very apparent to me during this period was just how few riders were experienced enough to go on a challenging trail riding holiday. Few visitors were capable on their own to ride a horse away from the yard, even if they knew the way. It is known that riding centre horses can be reluctant to leave their mates but an experienced rider can use techniques to break them away. The first requirement is to ride the horse as the horse expects to be ridden Mounting up and trying to put the horse ‘on the bit’ just won’t work. The horses will have developed a muscle structure fit for purpose and no visiting rider could enforce on that horse a different posture. It was for the rider to adapt to the horse and not the other way around. Riders who can ride only one horse in one style, at one centre, are not really competent riders in an outdoor environment. In the old days, the path of horse and rider training invariably led to the hunt and to ride with hounds which undoubtedly calls for horsemanship.

As an older rider I fear we are nowadays concentrating too much on competition in the arenas. We seem to be losing contact with riding a horse as a means of enjoyment - which is a great shame. Horses as yet still have the right to ride on public highways and it is certainly feasible that one day this unconditional right will be withdrawn. After all horses and traffic do not really mix. Perhaps the necessary legislation is held off until enough flat, sandy, quiet, fenced and safe arenas are built. Undoubtedly a universally adopted system of riding has its advantage especially for bringing newcomers into the sport but each horse is different and each needs to be ridden in sympathy with its needs and in accordance with the terrain. One system of riding doesn’t fit all. The rider must develop a range of reflexes to match a broad spectrum of horses.

Back at the time I was rediscovering the joys of riding, I rode from numerous centres in Britain and Spain maybe twenty five horses a year for several years. I’d turn up, the proprietors would look at my grey hair and my waistline and I’d get a horse led up to me. I’d ask a few questions but then it was incumbent upon me to mount up and ride whichever steed stood in front of me. Some of the horses were meek and dull, others were fit and fiery beasts. I’d be judged by whether I could control the animal in a group, how the horse behaved towards me and whether the pair of us returned back to the yard without incident.

I would not have had it any other way.
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    02-23-2012, 09:51 AM
That is such an amazing story!!! Do you know of any places like that around today?? Would find that as being the perfect weekend :)

Very glad you shared this :)
    02-23-2012, 10:05 AM
Kait. I see you come from NJ - New Jersey. I have ridden trails in Texas and in California but never in New England.

The centre I am writing about still operates but they are based in Wales - ie the west of Britain.
You'd take 24 hours to get there, then you'd need time to recover from jet lag, then time to adjust to the weather.

My suggestion is that you tag a ride onto a longer holiday based on London.

    02-23-2012, 10:08 AM
That sounds awesome :) thanks for the info
    02-23-2012, 10:50 AM
Super Moderator
I'm planning to join this type of trail ride in Romania. Some of my friends have been there and say it's a wonderful experience!

And your story is inspirational, Barry! I hope I too will manage not only being with horses, but also linking my job and profession with them.
    02-23-2012, 11:00 AM
Some of the best riding in the world is open to any competent rider in Britain - so long as you know where to look. It puzzles me why US riding clubs haven't made contact with British riding clubs to arrange some form of exchange. On this forum there are quite a few Brits on board as members and most of them will belong to the BHS. (British Horse Society)

I know that if I were younger I'd love to ride the trails of the wide open spaces in the US - if only I had a friendly guide and a rideable horse. (And if I were a few years younger). An American or Canadian club ought to be able to put together an exchange namely - 'you come to see me, and I'll come to see you' It ought to be possible for you to compete at riding club level in show jumping or dressage - if that is your scene. But you'll need to be able to borrow a horse, which you are capable of riding.

Wales is a tiny little 'nation' as the Welsh like to be called. It is a quaint place with lots of historic relics going back to Roman times. But the centre of the nation is a large area of special scientific interest - in other words a wild undeveloped upland moorland know as the Cambrian Mountains. Not far away are the golden beaches adjoining the Irish Sea on which you can gallop a horse - if you know where. Every body speaks English although some do so with a quaint accent.

Now I am not saying that the UK is the easiest place to visit or that the weather is the kindest but for a horse rider it can be a paradise. Virtually ever breed of horse you'll ever meet is to be found in Britain but in Wales I'd stick with a local Welsh Cob. They give a good ride.

If I had the choice of watching the Olympics in Greenwich in over crowded London or visiting wild Wales to ride a horse then I'd steer clear of London every time.

Now if it doesn't work in Britain, there's a riding centre near Gibraltar run by a Welsh family who'll get you galloping on Andalusian horses on the beaches of Spain. But the riding is a different deal altogether and you'll have to pay - save it for another riding holiday.
    02-23-2012, 11:22 AM
A day's hunting up on the moors - in code


It seems that neither the redoubtable William nor I, Barry of Brixton, had blotted our copy books when last we sallied forth to harry Charlie, for we both received yet another invitation to attend a meet at Battle by Y Gaer. Paul of the Fforest and Andy from Aberdare mounted on their trusty steeds were to be our companions for the day together with the mounted clan of The Mistress Sandra and some others who, all together, formed the band of the B&TH followers.

As is customary at such meetings, hot and fruitful cups are proffered and imbibed accompanied by tarts sweet and savoury. The Man dressed in Scarlet paraded nearby along with couples canine. All very traditional. When Bobby Hethlee and his faithful pooch passed by in the lane, I waved and wished him the compliments of the season to which he amiably responded. No problems there. Seemingly Mr Blair can’t get his own way all the time. Equally importantly and despite the dire threats by weather pundits of snow, ice and frost, the day seemed to be set fair for good sport.

Eventually after much hellos, the company set off, attended as usual by 4x4s driven by country men in cloth caps. There is a strict sense of priority at such events, Charlie looks down from up high, the couples set off with their tails in the air, The Man in Scarlet plays the tune on his pipe, and the Man of the Whip keeps the couples in order. The Mistress Sandra, attended by the ladies of her clan brings up the cavalry- of which William and I were merely one pair. There is no mooching along in such company - brisk trotting uphill and down dale is generally the order of the day. But there is also a lot of hanging about whilst the Henrys and the Henriettas snoop and sniff their way through bramble and bracken. From time to time there were squeaks of considerable excitement from the couples and it would seem that scents vulpine were wafting in the breeze. Indeed that might well have been the case because a couple of the sharp eyed onlookers in the cavalry perceived our Charlie - or one of his mates - breaking cover with the idea of leading the Henrys a merry dance up the valley. Eventually a few hours later, the motley group of followers found themselves up above Pont faen alongside Richard’s stone. Whilst the views from this hilltop are somewhat impressive, it proved to be a drafty spot around which to linger. The cavalry does come well prepared against the cold with little flasks, some glass, some silver, some leather clad and each contains liquors sweet, fruity, fiery and distinctly boozy so as to give warmth to the innards of the mounted folks. But that picturesque hilltop is not a place to stay long on a winter’s day.

As the sun dropped down onto the horizon and the day drew to a close we realized that again, we never had got even close to Charlie. Nothing illegal had happened this day. But for those of us, especially we Fforestors, who enjoy an equine Treasure Hunt up hill and down dale, it had been a good, if frosty, day. William, my Gaelic Hannoverian steed, of course, never throughout the day, put a hoof wrong and back at the farm, for once, was rewarded for his labours with corn fare together with all of those trimmings normally reserved for magicians; goodies which he justifiably had earned by the sweat of his brow. Me - I went home to the land of Monnies, jumped into the hot tub where I savoured the memories of the day and made plans for the next outing with the Mistress Sandra, her clan and all those noisy Henrys & Henriettas.

Folks, do come along with me and William - you’ll enjoy the ride. Mr Plod is not looking too hard.
    02-23-2012, 12:53 PM
Barry, 24 hrs to get to Wales from the NE US?

It's at most a 7 - 8 hr direct flight from one of the major transatlantic airports (Philadelphia, Baltimore/DC, NYC/Newark, Boston) to London.

From there it can't be more than what, a four to five hour drive or train ride, or a 60 to 90 minute flight to Cardiff. And from there no more than an hour and a half to any point in Wales by car?
    02-23-2012, 01:22 PM
Mildo, - Have you been thru Heathrow immigration recently?
snd you are talking about everything going smoothly.

Oj , a little exageration on my part - but there again I hate Heathrow & Gatwick is even further away.

And coming back this way against the clock gives people a headache and well .............you name it.

Plus immigration'.................... ugh ugh ugh.
    02-23-2012, 01:39 PM
Yeah...I forgot to add queue time

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