Fun Rides - an adrenaline filled dayout
Elsewhere on the Forum is a new thread raising the question of what to do with a horse that meets up with a crowd of horses and catches what I call “Hunting Fever”. We have in Britain not only the Hunt but also what are known as “fun rides“. Quite honestly they are hilarious - if one can ride - but terrifying for someone who is a little nervous. In the Borders are of Scotland they hold what are known as Beating the Boundaries Rides - where locals collect together annually to beat the boundaries of the parish. Scotsmen aren’t known for their sobriety but they are known for their bravery. I am told that no “Sassenach” ( that’s an impolite word for me, an Englishman) dares to ride with them. What they of course did not know was that my horse was a Galloway - a Scottish Borders horse. Similar rough rides are held in Wales and the North of England.
The problem is that the horse catches a fever of excitement from the mass rally of a hundred or so very excited horses. The horse suddenly is aware that he is in for a race with other horses - some of whom may be his mates. The horse will sense the moment and suddenly come alive. It will go on tip toe. When restrained he’ll reach up and down and snatch for control of the reins. The rider must retain control of the horse’s neck at all times. The neck controls the speed and maybe the direction of the horse - although some cobs can have their necks turned left whilst they are galloping to the right. Once the fever catches on, there is no way to keep the horse calm - all the rider can hope for is to keep it under some degree of control.
In taking part in such rides, I have learned a few pointers:
Never feed the horse up with oats the night before - the horse doesn’t need them. Feed it yes, but not with ingredients which will heat it up.
Fit a harsh bit - not a fiddly two rein job but something sturdy. I use a form of twisted snaffle
Undoubtedly you‘ll need, as a reserve at least, some hefty brakes.
Strap the horse up with a hunting breast plate complete with running martingale. - this way you’ll have more leverage on the head & mouth
and if the saddle slips it will not turn round the horse‘s belly.
Wear sturdy leather gloves and a safety helmet.
Go to bed early the night before and have a good healthy breakfast in the morning.
Make up a hip flask - you’ll need something to keep your spirits up - anyway it is traditional.
The horse you choose to ride must be sure footed and bold. It is not so much speed you need as boldness. A fox hunter does fine. Know the horse well.
Be prepared to jump obstacles, streams , ditches - even if normally you don’t jump anything.
Ride from the very beginning in close contact with the horse’s mouth - if the horse gets its full head and neck - then you are lost.
Take the stirrups up by at least two notches - cross country , knees bent cross country style
Wear a water proof jacket - it always rains.
It can be a cracking day out. You’ll come home exhausted. But you do have to have a sturdy steed who will take you there and bring you home. Such rides are not for the faint hearted and certainly not the novice. But for sure the day will be filled with adrenaline. The horse will need a couple of days off.
Some folks say there should be an age limit for such rides - perhaps there should be. However looking at the ability of some young riders today I wonder whether it should be a lower age limit or an upper age limit. Many young teenagers can ride far better than I ever could and certainly nowadays I have to think carefully before I fall off. Anyway I now have an excuse - my current horse simply would not be suitable - she is too much of a prissy mare.
I have attached three stories - two about Joe, my Galloway horse and one - in a form of code - which talks about William - my favourite horse of all times.
JOE, a horse in sheep’s clothingWell today Joe showed his true colours - he had a lovely day - the thug. When writing this at the end of the day, I am knackered. It all started with the pair of us leading Jackie and Speccles up to the Car Park in Wood where the Ride, as sponsored by the Hunt, was to be held. When we arrived, horses were milling about everywhere, almost 240 we were told later.
The Pleasure Ride is a 9 mile trek backwards and forwards through Wood over a route which had been laid out previously by the Hunt supporters, Up, down, right, left, earth, grass, mud, stones - oh and a few sets of jumps. But Jo and BG don’t do jumps because the Old Man might fall off. We signed up, got our number plate (204) and set off down the hill. I should have guessed what I was in for when Jo started to roar - that is a horse’s call at the top of his voice to other horses. Whom he thought he knew I just don’t know, none of his mates live anywhere near the Wood. When eventually we did catch up to a couple of horses whom he did know, he showed them his heels in no uncertain manner. He started to resist going down this first hill along a newly cut path. Nose right up, nose down, flicking of horse spittle, bending left, bending right - anything to get me to drop the reins. Since at the beginning the idea was theoretically that we stayed neatly in line in order of set off, I fought for him to be good. The fight got to be onerous. For a bit we stayed behind a group who were motoring on but at one stage I found myself gently cantering alone up to a check point where I persuaded a nice lady to give Jo part of her apple. Then we turned right down the hill and trotted briskly down it. We caught up again with the two nice ladies one of whom was riding a retired race horse of which she was slightly nervous. We stayed together in the line until two older male riders came up behind us. When these men moved on, I put Jo in behind them, We were to stay with them for the rest of the ride. At first the two men, who came from the Valleys, were polite and followed within reason the understood rules for the ride.
At various intervals we steadily overtook the groups in front of us. At this stage we were still in the main taking it easy with much of the pace as a steady gentle walk with the occasional trot uphill and downhill Eventually we moved up a gear into cantering. I’d been fighting Jo all the way until this point. He wanted to get a move on and literally he’d got the bit between his teeth. At some stages I’d got the left rein double wrapped around my wrist so that if I lost him, at least I could turn him At last we came up to a long straight stretch, where there were some small jumps off to the left side, but I saw the opportunity and pulled Joe off to the right and then stepped on the pedals. Joe roared away at a very fast gallop, his first since he’s been living with me. My idea was to tire him - but in hindsight this is the moment where he got his second wind. We did slow for the left hander at the top of the slope but that was one of the last bend we did slow at.
On we went over to the East Wood, round the twisting narrow paths, cantering wherever we could. The three of us took it in turns to take the lead and keep the pace moving. We came up to and overtook more groups of slower riders. We’d come up behind, trot through and then accelerate away Finally we got back to the path which I knew would be the home stretch and I told the boys that we did not have long to go. “We’d better make the most of it then” was the response - so off we galloped. Joe is quite fast over uneven ground. He’s not got the long legs of a Thorobred but he is not a cautious ride and he knows where to put his feet down. He doesn’t like wet boggy ground so get ready for the swerve but otherwise he’ll barge his way through the bushes on most terrain. By this time, the head shaking evasions had stopped. Whenever he’d got his wind and the space was clear, then we were off, which is exactly what he’d wanted from the very beginning. We were coming to the final track which is uphill, along up the slope we roared and we were still cantering at the finishing line. I started at number 204 - we pulled into the finish amongst the 160s & 170s. When I think that we had dawdled for the first 20 minutes, I wonder what time we could have made if we had pushed on from the beginning. I reckon we did the course in about an hour and a half although we could have done it much quicker. At the end The Boy was not even sweaty. Yes under the saddle there was a bit of moisture but here was no heavy breathing whatsoever. He’s fit.
But Jo showed his true colours this day. OK, out on his own with me he is mostly on best behaviour but when he does that calling out, then watch out. He’s getting ready to run. He’s ridden in a very mild French Link snaffle bit. He has a responsive mouth but have no doubt when he wants to ignore that bit he can. He’ll almost snatch the reins out of your hand by throwing his nose right up into the air and he knows that down hill trotting over uneven ground is the way to weaken his rider’s resolve. The only answer the rider has is brute force. Have no mercy. I had both reins double wrapped around each hand at one stage and still I could not hold him back. He only goes, when he thinks his rider can take the pace and he is not nasty, he doesn’t try to dump you. The point is that he has no manners and no sense of etiquette. “I’m here enjoying this” is his motto, “let’s get on with it“. When is blood is up he is also tireless. Only deep sand will slow him and then be careful for he might fall. But as a short legged but big chested cob, his top speed is still rideable and that’s the saving grace.
We made our way home alone back down the hill and through the woods. The Boy behaved as though butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. As I rode along I wondered what he’d be like out hunting. That guy with the red jacket and the horn would get the Boy’s blood racing for sure. I’ll just have to get fitter. Maybe I’ll have to think about that fixed martingale too - or would that make Joe buck?
Here endeth a fabulous day on which our Jo earned his green and purple rosette. Roll on next year’s Ride.
Dr Jekyll Joe and Mr Hyde Joe.
Well, it should have been our third fun ride up in the Wood. But it did not turn out to be a fun day. We let the other riders go off early - they prefer not to ride with BG & Joe. Eventually we rode up to the Beeches with Sara from next door, on her big chestnut, a cross country eventer. No problems on the way out; if anything Joe was a little sluggish. . At the parking area and we signed in. We took our number (60) and made our way to the beginning and off we went down the path at a gentle walk; our having paid £10 to ride in our own local woods.
For the first half mile all went well but then Joe began to realize where he was and what he was doing there. He’d been along this path before in April on the Ride. ara’s chestnut had a long stride and Joe wanted to be along side. Sara 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. BG 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 in which it is easier for the rider to stand to rather than to rise to. Then he made a move to canter because, as BG later discovered, a woman was coming up behind on a light arab and was making good speed. Joe had 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 BG had heard that sort of comment from an accompanying rider. Joe was at this point going like a steam engine. Finally BG 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, that 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 gallop BG managed eventually to pull up. Sara asked the rider on the arab to overtake us, the idea being that we would walk on. But the lull didn’t last for long . Soon Joe was off again.
BG had no brakes and Joe wanted to go.
The second gallop came to a halt when the aforementioned lady on the arab, who had obviously heard the commotion behind her, stopped and blocked the path by placing her horse across the path. BG 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. BG 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 BG. Eventually the lady headed off down the track on her very obedient horse so, politely, BG held back to give her room. That lady would have been tricky for BG to stay alongside. 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 BGs hand and Joe was off at the full bolt. Sara, was a long forgotten memory. We did not see her again. By now BG had no strength left in his arms and shoulders. He could barely hang on to Joe. Together they went charging down the next stretch of path, completely and utterly out of control and at full tilt. But round the corner there stood this stack of straw bales with tyres laid over the top. There was no way round. Joe can’t in the 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? BG 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 galloped on.
Then eventually BG managed to get Joe back under control. BG got him to walk, even though he was puffing and jigging like a steam train. Together we came up upon some youngsters who were all gossiping about how they would take the next series of jumps. BG knew that if even one of their horses went to jump any of the jumps along the track then he and Joe would be off in pursuit. It was one of those touch and go moments. There was BG trying to hold on; there were the kids saying 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 overwhelming consideration was that Joe would undoubtedly create angst amongst any other horse nearby. 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. The sight of a grown man having difficulty was already bad enough. At the this point just up from the junction we could turn off the main path and make our way back to the start on our own. So a 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 wagons, was to jig about a bit. Yes BG 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.
What were the lessons of this outing?
1/ Pick very carefully any riding partner. BG has little control over Joe in such circumstances.
Be open and honest with companions. Joe cannot be trusted to ride safely or steadily.
2/ Don’t expect Joe to behave. Get him fixed up with a fixed martingale and a Pelham.
Try it out ASAP even though it will only be needed on such “fun rides”
3/ When getting into the line of riders, choose the spot carefully. Don’t go off with a mob.
4/ Don’t even think that you might be able to slow Joe down once he is in the mood. Its impossible. Once Joe has the bit between his teeth, he is unstoppable. Once amongst the herd, then the herd instinct has got hold of Joe. A mere amateur rider has no chance to stop this milk float vanner.
Back in the yard, Joe reverted to pseudo domicility. “Where’s my tea?” What a day.
At his age of 10/11, he is in his prime and we have got to find him some brakes.
The attached article is written in code but it may provide amusement for some who can follow it Hunting is all about fun but you must have a trusty steed. William, a Welsh Cob X Hannoverian cross
was/is without doubt my favourite horse of all time. To ride him was to come to admire him - for me there was and there will not be a horse to compare him with. Sadly he was never mine to own.
A DAY OUT WITH THE HUNT up by Y GAERIt 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.
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