Thursday 26 October 2017

Along for the ride

It has been many many years since I deliberately set foot near a horse. It has been even longer since I sat on one, somewhere between 27 and 28 years to be vaguely precise. I was on a follow-up to my school's GCSE german exchange, staying with my friend Martin. He lived in the Odenwald, near Heidelberg, and his family owned a number of Icelandic horses. Flush with the optimism of youth, back then I thought nothing of going out with Martin for an entire day, packing all we needed in saddle bags, and heading off at dawn into the vast forest, returning only as the sun had set, the horses on autopilot guiding us flawlessly home. They were fun days, and I have no memory of aches. 

Despite these happy memories, the intervening years have seen me gradually become anti-horse. I don't know why exactly, but themes include dirty, smelly, large, uncomfortable and dangerous. Horse lovers I am sure will be aghast. Now as regular readers know I use my children as excuses to travel I like to take my children on trips abroad to broaden their horizons. These are most often short trips to Europe, but we also occasionally head further afield. I took Henry to Texas to explore the great outdoors, albeit that this involved a lot of enforced birding, and earlier this year I attempted to take Charlotte to the Florida Keys on a snorkeling trip. The incompetence of British Airways put paid to that, but we are rebooked on a similar excursion next year. She loves water, always has, and she will love the warm Caribbean sea and the multitude of colourful fish. And so to Kate - what is it that she would really like to do above anything else? Ride horses. Ah. Ummm. Hmm. OK. So a trip to a horse place where she can ride and I can bugger off birding. America? Excellent. I booked a place in Georgia that looked properly horsey, and when filling out the paperwork stated that only one of us would be riding. Clue: not me.

Not so fast cowboy! Kate is under 14, which meant that unless she is accompanied by an adult she would be confined to the horse rink or whatever it is called. You know, the boring sawdust paddocky bit. Trotting around in circles. Gah! Right, OK then, I too will get on a horse. Dammit. But Kate has to clean it. Brush it. Whatever. I'm just coming along for the ride, so to speak. Hopefully my horse will have enough sense to just follow her horse. Slowly.

Bloody hell horses are huge. As we walked down to the barn after lunch on our first afternoon all I could see were massive horses. They're measured in hands apparently, which is ridiculous - it should be in storeys. I confessed immediately to having zero horse-riding experience so as be given the most confiding and docile animal possible. This was Tiffy.

Tiffy. Front view.

OK, so grab a rope from over there and go and get her, she's in the last field down there, and then bring her on back here...


I have to get my horse? Next you're going tell me I have to put the saddle on and then climb on myself.

...and then you want saddle #9 and one of the red blankets. And her halter is on a hook with her name on it.

[note: read this with a southern accent y'all]

To cut a long story short, I now know how to fetch a horse, lead a horse, put a saddle and halter on a horse, and then adjust the stirrups. I am also not yet so feeble that I can't get on it myself. Left leg in the stirrup and haul on up. Pull the reins to the right to make it turn it right, left for left, kick your heels into its sides to make it go, another kick to make it go faster, pull the reins up to stop, pull them a bit again to reverse. Simple, even for a novice like me. A joystick would be easier - you could mount one on the pommel - but until somebody invents a digital horse interface we're stuck with the old fashioned approach.

All ahead one third

I'll tell you what, it was OK. In fact I would go as far as to say it was good. Not that this was my holiday of course, it was genuinely all about Kate and she loved it, but all my fears evaporated after the first ride. For starters western saddles are built for the ample american backside and are thus very comfortable indeed. I had anticipated a bow-legged limp back to the ranch house every night, but not at all. Only after day 3 could I really detect even the mildest of ache, and I got out of bed each morning without so much as a groan. Most amazingly I even started patting my horse. Scratched its chin, tickled its ears, that sort of thing. She really was a lovely animal, uncomplaining, soft and gentle. Enormous for sure, but with a temperament that belied her size. I'm not saying that riding is my new all-consuming hobby, but I would not be adverse to going on another trip built specifically around horses. As a means for getting close to nature it is right up there - excellent 4x4 offroad ability - so perhaps somewhere with spectacular scenery and nightly camping on the trail. I am sure this must exist. And I could take my new hat....


  1. You did well, Jono. For someone inexperienced, having to do all that can be quite daunting. Well done, mate. I imagine Kate was completely unfazed by it all, like kids who love horses are – even though they are completely dwarfed by them.

    1. Neil - there was one horse called "Yeti", which as the name suggests was some way from being small, but she treated it like it was a gerbil or something. My heart was initially in my mouth but I needn't have worried in the slightest - the guest horses are selected specifically on temperament and these guys sure as hell know what they're doing. A great experience for both of us.

  2. Is this Stetson a possible new birding hat ..
    Please say yes ??

    1. Only bright red hats for birding, white would scare them...

  3. Imagine doing Quendale by horse!