A Downhill Gallop
It was on the last day of a riding holiday in Andalucia. ’The Custard Surprise.’ was listed on the programme of rides as a special event but there was no description of it. However the visitors all knew that today was to be the day.
After lunch we visitors, replete with paella, wine and brandy, were making our way back to 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 had taken the lead and had put her horse into a hand canter. Instantly and without their rider's permission, all of the nine horses in the line followed suite including my own generally well mannered steed. The horses knew what was coming.
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 took off to follow. As we came out of the woods, we charged round the sharp corner and up into the sunlight. We cantered up what was left of the slope onto the narrow ridge 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 followed at the charge. There was to be no stopping him. From the photos, 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 allowed 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. 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 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 the ladies came home with very flushed cheeks.
Later 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 by every day riding and the technique can’t readily be taught in a riding school. On some weeks the riders weren;t up to it, so a more stately ride was substituted.
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 saddle on mares. Yet stallions and mares will gather together all dressed up in pretty traditional garb as part of the annual rural village fiestas
In all of the riding centres I have been to, only one other in Wales has ever dared include a downhill gallop,. Mostly the centres are frightened of losing their licence.
But what a buzz.!!!.