The Horses in my Life
Joe came to me in the early years of the new century. He was very instrumental in drawing me back into horse riding after the decade of the naughty nineties when earning a living was more important than riding a horse. He was perhaps perfect for the role in my life at the time.
Here is one anecdote about him:
JOE the DelinquentWell the little devil has boobed, indeed, he has committed an arch cardinal sin, one which will never ever be forgotten. Amongst the herd of horses at the livery yard Joe stands out. He is not spoilt, he has no fancy pedigree, he doesn’t even know who his parents were. He is, to put it mildly a common cob. He won’t do fancy paces. He won’t prance about with lots of froth foaming from his mouth and he won’t even enter the dressage arena since he can’t read the letters. He has not got a nice long bendy neck and neither does he have four of those long legs, at the end of which should be delicate, clean shaven feet. The only thing fast about The Boy is the speed at which his beard grows. His mane tumbles both sides of his crest, whereas it is supposed to fall down on one side or the other. Even L’Oreal can’t help. His tail is a mop of long, curly and very coarse hair. Oh! and he wobbles when he walks because he is saving his body fat for a rainy day. But all of these minor discrepancies in form and style have been forgiven, because he is undoubtedly “kind”. He is also my mate.
Joe is of course currently working his ticket since he knows he’s got it made. The work is not too hard. The field in which he lives, is in reality at this time of the year, his fiefdom around which he allows other horses to wander during the hours of daylight only. Joe and his friend, the artful dodger, Teddie the Shetland, hold the field for at least 14 hours of the 24 hour day. Hard food, theoretically banned by the vet, comes along morning and night in a bucket; the principle being that both he and Teddie need sustenance to ward off the cold. In fact, it has been real cold hereabouts over the last few weeks even down to minus 5degC on perhaps one or two nights. But don’t feel too sorry for our vanner equine, after all he does have a waterproof top rug and a padded under rug to keep him warm.
The Day of Revelation started around lunchtime on one Sunday. It was sunny and for once, the air was still. We set off together to find how long it would take to get over to the pub some six miles away. No problems really with the route, except we had to cross the busy fast road which has been a major highway since the time of the Romans. Joe eventually, after an occasional sharp tap as encouragement, got a move on. With me aboard, he walked and trotted in some style with bags of impulsion. Certainly there was no lolloping along. We got to the turning point by the bridge under the highway without too much trouble. Coming back we took a slightly different route, which would take us past the pub. I was confident that there would be time for a swift glass of red wine. As it happened the journey to the pub went according to plan, including the crossing of the hectic highway.
At the pub the car park has a number of bays each of which is defined by baskets of stones up to which it was all very easy to hitch The Boy. Before leaving the stable yard I had fished out a nice new red head collar but the lead rope was twenty years old and was to prove to be well past its sell by date, I hitched the Boy up carefully and I went into the pub to get my glass of wine and Joe’s packet of crisps - yes, a horse likes potato chips. The landlord had only just said farewell to the last lunchtime customer and he was now relaxed enough to exchange a few pleasantries with me. The chatting lasted for 15 minutes or so, not more. Then I stood up to go and ride the mile or so back to the yard. But it was not to be.
In the interim the Boy Joe had taken matters into his own control. He had yanked back on the lead rope holding him to the cage of stones and had broken the tie. The old lead rope had simply snapped in two and now he was free to go wherever he wanted. So off he went. No, he didn’t turn right towards the road, that would have been stupid and very dangerous. He instinctively turned left and set off up the lane for home. Indeed he had reached the village before one of the other residents of the yard saw him trotting up the road without a rider. Luckily with a little human guidance he reached his stable safely.
But what Joe had done was inexcusable: he’d left me, back in the pub. Just why had he done that?
His action was one of gross disloyalty. I would never ever have left Joe to find his way home. Just why had The Boy left behind the Old Man, the hand that feeds and nurtures him? What might happen in the future when the odd couple venture even further afield? Is it OK for Joe to just set off for home as and when he pleases? No that is too much. If Joe is left tied up, then he must wait, willingly and patiently. No argument. That’s what he’s kept for. The Old Man might have had one too many and he would need looking after. Those are the rules.
The Boy does not have to jump anything over two foot high, neither does he have to race against a clock. He doesn’t have to make fancy moves in time to music nor does he have to do shoulder-ins and flying changes. All he has to do is to take his master down the road and trot up purposely towards any traffic that is coming up the road until that traffic gets out of the way. But THE prime requirement is to get the Old Man to where he wants to go and, never to be forgotten, he must bring him home again.
It is highly unlikely that nowadays our faithful steed will ever be asked to bring the Old Man back home when he’s had far too much tipple but bringing the Old Man, whatever his state, back home is a must. Leaving the Old Man behind at the pub is a definite “No-No“.
So one can see that our Joe is not perfect. He’ll climb mountains. He’ll descend slopes. He’ll go where no horse has gone before and he’ll do it mostly without other equine company. He’ll jiggle past cars and he’ll do pretty much what is asked of him without too much fuss. You can even crouch underneath him whilst you pick out his feet.
But, be warned, watch the little devil very carefully when you leave him tied up in the car park. He might decide to go home without you.
Here is Joe
Here is my Boy
Lovely story :) You brought him to life and he is SO very handsome!
He was probably tired of waiting on his potato crisps though! :lol:
Dr Jekyll Joe and Mr Hyde Joe.
Well, it should have been our third fun ride up in the woods but it did not turn out to be a fun day. We anticipated the ride out and prepared the Boy ready for it. He was looking strong - he’s not that tall at 15h1 but he is a Big Boy. For a vanner, he is a magnificent animal. His coat, growing fast, glistens and he has a deceivingly kind eye.
We let the other riders go off early and later set off with Sara from next door, mounted on her big cross country eventer. There were no problems on the way out; if anything Joe was a little sluggish. Joe doesn’t do much cantering these days not that he forgotten how to do it. I was even a bit concerned as to whether Joe would be fit for the fun ride. But Joe is deceptive, he’s fit even though he is carrying, all over his body, an inch of wobble from eating grass. We signed in at the car park. We took our number and made our way to the start. Off we went down the path at a gentle walk; For the first half mile all went well but then Joe began to realize where he was and what he was doing.. He’d been along this path before in April on a fun ride
Sara’s chestnut had a long stride but Joe wanted to be along side. She had said that she wanted her horse to be careful so as not to hurt himself. However the pace began to speed up regardless. At one stage with Joe following behind, Sarah put her fellow into a trot and Joe immediately went into a slow canter - the stage for racing had been set. I could still keep the Boy in check but it was obvious that the new bit, a Waterford, was not going to hold Joe back for long. Joe could ignore it if he wanted to. After a short time, Joe got very stressed and started to pull hard. He was doing his light infantry trot on which it is easier for the rider to stand to rather than to rise to. Then he made a move to canter because, as a woman was coming up behind on a light arab and was making good speed. Joe had already heard the other horse’s fast hoof beats and wanted some of it.
Sara was mumbling something about the possible need for her to pull out early because her horse was going too fast for its own good. This was not the first time that I had heard that sort of comment from an accompanying rider. Joe was at this point going like a steam engine. Finally I had to let him go, it was the only way and off we went at the gallop and an uninhibited gallop it proved to be. Riding Joe at the gallop can be quite hairy. The rider is very well aware of the mass, almost 700 kilos, which is moving forwards at speed and that the rider has little or no control over Joe once he gets going. One can’t slow him, you simply haven’t got the strength in the arms. The best way to bring him back into canter is to aim him at a hill with the view to tiring him but if a flat level path stretches out in front of you both, then you are going for a fast ride and make no mistake about it. The first stretch of galloping I managed to contain. The rider on the arab, still following on behind, was invited to overtake us, the idea being that we would walk on and follow. But the lull didn’t last for long . Soon Joe was off again.
The second gallop came to a halt when the aforementioned lady on the arab, who had obviously heard a commotion behind her, stopped and blocked the path by placing her horse across the path. I was amazed. The lady sat there calmly at right angles whilst Joe charged up towards her. We stopped literally with an inch to spare before we might have crashed into her. I listened to a lesson from the lady about Pelham bits and martingales and the need to change tack set ups for different types of outing. What she said was nothing new to me. Eventually the lady headed off down the track on her very obedient horse and so, in politeness, I held Joe back to give her room. That lady would have been tricky to stay alongside in an amicable fashion. Joe, did manage to hold back for a bit, but then, all of all sudden, up went his nose, down went his head, the reins came out of my hands and Joe was off at the full bolt. Sara, became a long forgotten memory. By now I had no strength left in his arms and shoulders. I could barely hang on to Joe. Together we went charging down the next stretch of path, completely and utterly out of control and at full tilt. But just around the next corner there stood this stack of straw bales with tyres laid over the top. There was no way around. Joe can’t in the training arena step over a pole nine inches off the ground without kicking the pole with one of his four feet. How were we going to take this lot? I knew that there was no option, it was either over the obstacle at the gallop or through it at the gallop. In the event we sailed over it.
We did not stop and we galloped on.
Somehow I managed to get Joe back under control and I got Joe to walk, even though he was puffing and jigging like a steam train. Together we came up upon some youngsters who were standing gossiping about how they would take the next series of small official jumps. I knew that if even one of their horses went to jump any of the obstacles along the track then Joe would be off in pursuit. It was one of those touch and go moments. There was me trying to hold on; there were the kids gossiping that the old man on the black cob was having some trouble. Not that milk cart horses like Joe are supposed to give trouble.
The urgent consideration now was that Joe would undoubtedly create angst amongst other nearby horses and riders. He was already calling out to any other horse up in the woods that might listen. Luckily just along the track was a check point. I pulled the Boy in and held him at the halt, facing away from the track. Joe jigged and turned and reversed and jigged. Eventually he cooled down and stood still.. But other horses were coming up the track and every time one came past at speed then things got bad again. My shoulders ached. If I were to fall off at this point, then undoubtedly Joe would go off riderless after the other horses. He would represent a danger to other riders many of whom were youngsters. At the this point just up from the crossways we could turn off the main path and make our way back to the start on our own. So the management decision was made: we would come home by the short cut. And home we went. As we passed by the event officials we gave our number tag back and apologised. No, we would not accept a rosette, we had not completed the course.
To be fair to Joe, all he did on the way home, initially through all the horse lorries, was to jig about a bit. Yes I got every three minutes or so a faceful of horse spittle when Joe threw his head up in the air but there was no need at any time to have cause for concern. Three quarters of an hour or so later, the pair of us were back at home having come down the steep slopes through the woods.
Back in the yard, Joe reverted to pseudo domicility. “Where’s my tea?” demanded Joe, somehow knowing that I had made him up a mix of sugar beet and nuts. As Joe ate his tea; I drank my flask of whisky sour. There was no need to make a fuss of washing Joe down for he wasn’t even sweating. Joe was back to being his usual kindly self at peace in his own stable. In Joe’s mind, I am sure he had done no wrong on the fun ride. He looked across to me from his stable door and checked that his master was OK. I had not fallen off and Joe had not expected me to fall. Joe had had a good day and he could have had even a longer day, if I had not pulled him out of the ride. Joe was up for it all, if only his rider was strong enough to keep control of him. What a day.
Against a thorobred over open soft ground, Joe will lose. However, against most horses over winding but level, stoney ground, Joe has few equals. He’s simply got to get to the front. He’ll barge his way through. Joe’s got no manners. He is a war horse. When calm, Joe can probably be trained to be more sensitive and responsive. However when out on a fun ride with the bit between his teeth, his dark side comes to the fore. Not that he means bad, he is just enjoying himself. Joe believes it is all a game. He’s his own man. But deep within him lies an excitable, strong, thug.
Next time I’ll know what to expect
Dr Jekyll Joe and Mr Hyde Joe.
Stand and Deliver
Stand and Deliver - the reality of being a highwayman
About the time of the American war of Independence, England was plagued by a scourge of highwaymen. These ruffians waylaid coaches and horses in remote places and held the travellers for robbery. Centuries later such incidents became the subjects for films made in Hollywood. Dick Turpin (aka Brad Pitt) became especially famous, not that his deeds were especially heroic as he was in reality more a common thief. Tradition has painted him with glory and he has lived through history as a gallant “ner-do-well“. In literature, Dick’s laudable aim was to redistribute to the poor the ill gotten gains taken from the travellers on the coach, who must have been rich to have afforded the fare.
The highwayman knew of a convenient lay by wherein he could hide from the coach until at the last minute when the horse and rider duo would spring out onto the road . The black masked Dick, (an English version of Zorro) brandished in each hand a flintlock pistol and would call out to the horses “stand” and to the team driver “deliver”. As reinforcement of his determination, Dick would fire one of the pistols in the air to ensure compliance. Of course, the myth is that the team of four very big horses would instantly come to a halt and that the driver would call out to the passengers that they must meekly deposit their trinkets into the hat of the highwayman. Gallantly Dick would hand back a sparkling engagement ring which has been proffered by a young beautiful woman exhibiting ample cleavage (aka Dolly Parton) but he would keep the fat purse of the local landowner’s disagreeable agent, (aka Robert de Niro), who wore a beard. Eventually, after this gallant display of social responsibility, the gallant Dick would ride off to spend his ill gotten gains. This story, of course, made a lovely fairytale, readily attributable to the political spin master of a byegone era.
But how might I and Joe have fared in yesterday’s world? I do indeed know the location of a convenient lay by, halfway up a hill, located on what was once a Roman Road ie a road first built by Roman soldiers in the 1st century AD. My horse Joe, might indeed have stood still for almost five minutes, about the time it takes to nibble all of the weeds in the nearby hedgerow. As, eventually, I heard the approach of the sixteen hooves of the four in hand, I would take out from the deep pockets of my Australian riding coat, two primed pistols. Now these weapons were no Colt 45s, indeed they did not even fire shells, they each fired a lead ball. ‘Fired’ was literally a good description because the explosion was caused by the flint induced ignition of gun powder. I would have had two shots - no more. And since the gun would have gone off right by the ear of my trusty steed I doubt if I could have managed firing one pistol, let alone two. Guns going bang alongside one’s ear is not within Joe’s training schedule. Then, urged on by my muscular thighs, my loins and the newly acquired classical posture, Joe would have obediently stepped out onto the track, at exactly the right moment, directly in front of four 16 hand coach horses coming up the hill at a brisk trot. At least, I would like to think that Joe would do his duty but he is very much a pragmatic chap and he would see the concept of stepping about in front of four heavy horses to be a distinctly silly move. He simply would not have done it and who could have blamed him.
So, ignoring this slight problem, I would call out to the coach driver “stand”, but I do have serious doubts as to whether this stalwart individual would hear my cry, let alone stop. Regardless of any training such as which my horse had been a recipient of, Joe would be off up the lane like a startled rabbit. As to what the team of coach horses would do at such the sound of a gun I shudder to think. The driver of the coach would probably be some ‘oik’ from up the Welsh valleys and the chances that he would meekly surrender are a bit thin. Whether or not there would be travelling in the coach some coin laden land agent and a fair young damsel is what, I would describe as very wishful thinking. No, I don’t believe Joe and I would make much headway as Borders Black Bess and Randy Dick Turpin.
How do all these thoughts comes into mind? Well, if you had ever sat on Joe’s back in the lay by on a busy road in Britain, waiting for a long line of speeding cars to pass by, so that you could cross the what is now a much remodelled Roman Road you’d know just how implausible all those stories about highwaymen really are. And as for buxom ladies with ample cleavages - well, one has to remember that back in those days there was no running water. True there was no oil shortage and neither was there a risk of Global Warming but it is a fact that there was not much hot water either So back then, the ladies of the night did not wash regularly I do honestly believe that I would preferred to sleep with my Joe than to dally too long with a damsel in distress, even a young buxom Dolly, from a bygone era. No, now that today I reconsider the realities of life as once it might have been, I think it highly improbable that I and Joe would have made good highwaymen.
Perhaps Brad Pitt & Robert de Niro should both decline the parts. As for me and Joe, well that is another reason for not bothering with Classical riding instruction.
Joe is a Fine looking boy!!
Joe gets his Oats
Well I glimpsed another side of The Boy today. One has to bear in mind that Joe’s ancestors may well have been horses of note. A knight’s charger was recognised to be a superior creature and in times of stress, his food came first because he had to carry his lord into battle. It is accepted that dogs inherit the genes of their forbears and no doubt our Joe has inherited the genes of his forbears. We must ignore, of course, the interim period when maybe one of Joe’s antecedents was pulling a plough across a field - that of course was a period when the family had fallen on hard times.
Up in Joe’s field it was a bit nifty. Joe, had decided to take a breather and he had been lying down. He had seen me coming across the field, as he always does, and once I had waived to him with an apple visible in my hand he ambled over to the gate. I fixed his halter and led him down the track until we got through the second field gate from where he could make his way freely along by my side to his stable. He went unerringly into his stable and checked his pile of hay, his bucket of water and, most importantly, his feed bowl.
You see for me, feeding Joe is a constant dilemma. In the Spring he must not be allowed too much fresh grass because of the risk of laminitis but if he doesn’t get enough nourishment then out on the hack he will be sluggish. His feed must be a mixture according to what is perceived to be Joe’s nutritional needs. Whilst in the Spring Joe is able to nibble constantly at grass, it is important to keep up his nourishment. To remain healthy he must have a balanced diet. He needs those vitamins which he can’t get solely from grass especially grass which has suffered from too little rain.
I had previously tried “slow release mix” - a blend of cereals and supplements. Joe ate that mix happily enough. Then there was the stallion nuts - 40% protein but probably a bit too rich for the boy after all Joe doesn’t have to keep his end up. But someone suggested oats to me - rolled oats, namely the supplementary feed which horses have been fed for centuries especially those working hard. Nowadays the feed compounders don’t push natural products like oats after all there is no added value in feeding oats is there?
The traditional image of oats is that they heat a horse up and make him disobedient and hard to control - hence the expression “oated up”. However I had decided to give pure natural food a try so I bought Joe a sack of rolled oats. The big risk of course is that Joe will go prancing down the lane and be ready to do a runner at the slightest provocation. I should be so lucky to get such impulsion from our Boy.
Now Joe probably had never previously been fed oats in his life. Over in the mountains, there are no fields of oats since the soil and the climate are both wrong. Farmers don’t buy in luxury feed for horses, even during the hunting season. Joe would have grazed on grass in the summer but in the winter he would have munched on whatever was growing, all topped up by a bale of hay, if he was lucky. Oats to Joe are what might have been fed to a Scotsman for breakfast. Well I decided to introduce oats to Joe gradually. I thought he might be a typical youngster in that if it didn’t come from a branch of McDonalds then he would turn his nose up.
On the first occasion I scooped out a handful from the sack and offered them to him. He sniffed, then licked, then slurped up as much of the handful as he could and as quickly as he could. On the second occasion I partly filled his bucket with some chaff, a few carrots and again a handful of oats. Joe woofed the lot down Nowadays it seems Joe is an addict - not to alcohol, not to nicotine but to oats. He spills a few grains on the ground but he has become very adept at picking out even a single grain from amongst the dirt on the barn floor.
After that brief introduction to oats, things have changed. I am well aware nowadays that when Joe comes anywhere near his stable he is anxious to check out the feed cupboard opposite so as to see whether the bag of oats is open and accessible. Indeed my getting Joe past the cupboard door is quite a chore. Joe now expects his oats to be part of his feed at teatime and what’s more he expects to have that teatime feed.
Sometimes teatime for Joe comes a little earlier in the day as it did today. Joe came in at lunchtime for an afternoon of shelter from the wind. He would not be hacking out; it would be a day off. I fed him his ”tea” and then left him all snug in his stable. Later, in the early evening, I went back to the yard to let him out for the night. I put his coat on and tried to lead him out to the field. However no way was the Boy moving until he had had his “supper“, of course, laced with oats. There was no option so I bribed him with a handful of oats and dragged him out into his field for the night.
We all know that Joe is not going to be charging across a field with a knight in armour on his back but I have no doubt that tucked away somewhere in the corner of Joe’s brain there is an inherited memory of why in the olden days, war horses were fed oats. For sure, if war horses were still in fashion, then Joe would be up there in the front rank. So just maybe, The Boy might need his oats - just in case we run out of diesel for the tanks.
A Downhill Gallop
It was on the last day of a holiday week of riding in Andalucia. During the week we had experienced a wide variety of terrain and had become well used to fast gallops over the hard flat sandy beaches. ’The Custard Surprise.’ was listed by the hosts on the programme of rides as a special event but there was no description of what it entailed. However we visitors all knew that today was to be the day when we would find out what made this ride so special.
After a convivial Spanish lunch we riders, replete with paella, wine and brandy, had mounted up and were making our way from the rural restaurant back towards the hacienda. We were just coming out of the woods on a narrow uphill trail when I noticed that the three guides had suddenly changed their usual stations in the line of riders. In front of us the track appeared to turn sharp left and uphill. Unusually the head trail guide, one of the owners of the riding centre, had taken the lead and had put her horse into a gentle hand canter. Instantly and regardless of their riders permission, each of the nine horses in the line followed suite including my own generally well mannered steed. The horses knew what was coming. Obviously they had done it before. Then I heard a call from the leader: ‘let the horses have their heads and sit in’ The lead rider then lurched from hand canter into extended canter and my own horse, young Sevi, took off to follow the leader.
As we came out of the woods, we charged round a sharp corner and rode uphill into the strong sunlight. We cantered up what was left of the slope onto the narrow ridge at the top of the hill. Instead of coming to a halt at the top of the ridge as I was expecting, the lead rider kept going and disappeared straight down the other side of the ridge. My horse Sevi followed at the charge. There was to be no stopping him. From the photo, the slope doesn’t look steep but from where I was sitting up on the horse, the slope was reminiscent of the side of Mount Everest. I knew that I daren’t do anything which might unbalance the horse, so I pushed my feet home in the stirrups and stuck them out in front of me. I leaned slightly forwards from the waist and gave my horse full use of the reins. If my horse were to lose its footing I knew that together we would tumble over and over down the slippery slope. All I had to do as rider was to sit in and keep still in the saddle. Anyway the horse would not be able to slow, let alone stop, until we reached the bottom of the slope.
We all went down that slope like the clappers. My Boy could not possibly move his legs any faster in the sand. To me it was a tremendous rush of adrenaline I found myself calling out:
“Ger-on -ni- moooooooo“.
When we got to the bottom of the hill, in what seemed like just a few seconds, the track, now flat and mostly level, opened up in front of us and off we went like a rocket until eventually I caught up with the leader of the ride who by then was slowing down. The cameraman had hidden alongside the track behind the trees. I was all for going back and doing it all over again. Sadly it was not to be. Interestingly all of the riders made it safely and a couple of the ladies came home with very flushed cheeks. For me it was one of those memorable days, which I shall never ever forget. And it was my trusty steed, Spanish Sevi, who made it all possible. Spanish schooled Andalucian horses are something special. Believe me.
Over dinner we discussed the Custard Surprise with the trail guides. Apparently during the week we visitors had all been sized up to see if we were capable of coping the downhill ride without falling off. Galloping downhill is something one learns to do through every day riding and the technique can’t readily be taught in a riding school arena. Anyway so much depends on the horses. Andalucian horses are something very different from regular hacks. They feel light and sensitive to ride. They are also very handy and sure footed. Usually the local Spanish men will only ride stallions whilst the ladies will ride their mares to the ferias on side saddle. At the rural fairs the stallions and the mares will gather together with the riders all dressed up in pretty traditional garb as part of the rural village tradition.
In all of the riding centres I have been to over the years, only one other in Wales has ever dared include a downhill gallop in the schedule of rides. Yet when riding to hounds, the capability of being able to keep up with the Master requires that horse and rider can canter and gallop down slopes.
Mostly riding centres are frightened of losing their licences. But what a buzz.!!!.
Should a rider be Licensed to ride in the community?
My horse is kept at a livery yard in a village in Britain surrounded by glorious countryside down in a valley underneath a hillside. The forest, which runs along the ridge above the village, is a maze of pathways all of which are accessible by riding up the hill through the country lanes which meet by the car park close by the ancient five way junction. The views from horseback in all directions are stupendous. The ancient sandy tracks which were originally created to allow the collection of timber criss cross through the forest. It is a marvellous terrain over which to ride, or even gallop, a horse. The birds twitter, the buzzards circle overhead, the deer gamble and the rabbits scurry hither and thither. Early on a crisp spring day it is a magical place to be especially if mounted on a sure footed horse. The forest attracts horse riders but strangely enough not as many as one might expect. The problem is access, not only for the horse riders but also the cyclists, the runners and the pedestrians who also set out to enjoy the countryside.
To get to the forest it is necessary to pass along the country lanes through one of several villages which have been developed alongside the lanes. The effective boundary to this area of outstanding natural beauty is the three lane highway laid down by the Romans almost 2000 years ago which has since been periodically upgraded . Along that ‘A’ grade road thunder the lorries, the vans, the cars and the motor cycles which connect the western counties of England with the south eastern counties of Wales. The road is classified as dangerous and along a stretch of a few miles there are two radar traps for speeding motorists and several lay-bys in which often lurk the mobile speed traps operated by the traffic police. It is very easy for the incautious driver to lose his/her licence to drive.
It can be a terrifying experience to ride a horse along the verge of this highway even on those sections where there is a pavement. One chooses whether to ride at the speeding traffic or in the opposite direction and along with it. The rider needs a stable confident seat and the horse should be calm and placid. The vehicles whoosh by some few feet away at up to 60 miles per hour.
To reach the Forest the rider must pass through the local village made up of approximately 50 executive houses. Access is by one of three country lanes classified as ‘C’ roads. Hereabouts a ‘C’ road is some 10 foot wide of tarmac edged by a thousand year old green hedgerow which is trimmed back once a year usually in the Autumn. At strategic places in the lane there are passing bays where one car stops to allow the other car coming from the opposite direction to pass. There are no pavements and the pedestrian walks in the centre of the lane. There is no lighting for the winter nights - the walker carries a torch.
The lane is shared by all of the traffic seeking access to the village. Along it rumbles the delivery vans, the builders lorries, the tractors and the utility vehicles operated by the power and water authorities. The bus service operates once a week when a small bus comes by and takes the local passengers to the nearby city. The bus returns a few hours later. For the villager to spend money to buy petrol, newspapers of basic foodstuffs calls for an eight mile round trip to the local garage in a nearby village. It is mandatory for every household to own at least one car, some households have three or more. The parents must go to work, the kids must go to school , the tradesmen call by. Every resident and every visitor can only use one of the three country lanes for the outward and the return journey.
There are about thirty horses resident in the village and most of them are stabled at the livery yard to the north of the village on the way to the forest. Every rider who has call to go through the village must pass by the vehicles both private and commercial, the agricultural machinery and the pedestrians. The mounted rider when meeting with a vehicle from the opposite direction must decide to choose when to push on and t push the driver back or whether to squeeze by the vehicle or whether to turn back to the lay by and hold hard whilst the vehicle comes on. During this manoeuvre the horse must stand still whilst the car passes by within just a foot or so from the horse’s flanks. On occasions this all takes place to the music of the lawn mower, the hedge trimmer or the rubbish collector. There are of course also the dogs standing at the gates protecting their property by barking at the horse passing by . The kids scurry around on their push bikes. The youngster play football on the village green The cyclist en route to the forest whooshes silently by. The washing flaps in the breeze. The odd plastic bag wafts by in the breeze. Out in the fields the cows moo, the sheep baa and the pigs oink. The passenger jets fly at height on to Heathrow, the military helicopters on exercise circle overhead. It is all very postcard picturesque.
Just how does one explain to a sensitive horse that there are no bears or tigers lurking about to eat it? The strange noises are from motorised machines; that no harm will come to it as long as it stands perfectly still at the rider’s command. And when the horse moves, it can walk or it can jog or even trot but it must on no account canter. Neither dare it whirl nor shy, nor buck nor rear.
How does the rider explain that Mrs Smith is in a hurry and that is why she did not slow down as she passed by?
How does the rider explain that the hydraulic brakes on a lorry go ‘shsssh’ but the sound means that the lorry has stopped?
The objective of this little epistle is to explain what it means to ride in semi-rural Britain. This tale of my village is repeated all across the country. Hacking out is no longer a gentle stroll in the countryside. Often it can be terrifying.
But a horse rider needs no licence nor qualification to take the horse onto the highways of Britain.. The horse is never judged to be: ‘fit for purpose‘. Yet the car driver can lose his/her licence and maybe his/her livelihood for a minor infringement of the rules of the road.
It is not really fair - is it? Even as a horse rider and lover, I can see that the rules will have to change but even if they do, the hazards of the modern day world to the horse and rider are not going to go away. Are they? After all, horses don’t come with efficient brakes and accurate accelerators nor even positive steering. Although it would be nice if they had safety belts.
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