This is a short story which tells the story of Joe's introduction to trail riding. It tells the story of how a horse reacts to a 'meet' - invariably they get 'hunting fever'.
JOE, a horse in sheep’s clothing
Well 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. When we arrived at the meeting place, horses were milling about everywhere, almost 240 we were told later. The Pleasure Ride is a 9 mile trek backwards and forwards through the woods 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.
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, 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 Jo off to the right and then stepped on the pedals. Jo 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 around 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.
Jo 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 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. 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.
Here's a photo of him and me in the woods up by the meet