You might remember, in a previous chronicle, vclay asking if we ever trail ride in my school. Back then I replied that the school was surrounded by houses and roads, and we would be dodging cars and jumping walls the minute we set foot out of the barn. I also claimed that that would make quite a chronicle. So, it looks like I really have to apply myself to this one! :-)
You might have noticed that Mike has placed the first thirteen chronicles on NR's front page. The idea is for me to keep on posting the chronicles here and, depending on time availability from the two of us, adding them in small batches.
Friday, 8 December
One more Friday, one more holyday.
After the storm on Wednesday night, with the covered arena getting soggy and all that, this time I thought best to call before dropping by :-). I phoned Francisco in the morning to know if there would be classes today. As the answer was affirmative, I asked what time would it be more convenient for me to show up. The first sign that something was amiss was the reply I got. Instead of the usual "You're not in a hurry, are you? Come here in the afternoon and we'll organize something!"
I got an exceptionally short and direct "Be here at five o'clock."
. I ignored the strangeness of it - maybe he had a lesson already planned with someone else in which I could fit? :-\
When I got there, a few minutes before five, I changed and went see the lesson taking place. The girl from the week before was once again ridding Jubileu, this time alone in the lesson. She was having some difficulties staying on in the canter because of the quality of the footing. The dirt, having soaked the water, was loose and heavy forcing the horses to move more vigorously. All of it making the canter a lot more difficult.
After the lesson Francisco started to distribute horses among those present for the next lesson. To me he assigned Jubileu. For once I have to admit I was not thrilled with the idea of ridding Juby (17hh or not
). I went to his box to get him and... surprise, surprise... he was not willing to come out. There was not much of an hassle this time because Francisco passed by shortly and took him out. I led him to the arena, checked tack and mounted. I took him for a couple of circuits around the arena, first at walk than at trot, while the others were getting their horses ready. Juby was not keen on extending the walk or the trot past a dragging rhythm, but neither was I keen on making him do so. Due to the conditions of the ground he tried to evade to the (drier) centre but was not that hard to control (he could really use some advice from Catraia or Asterix about evasions).
When I was warm and ready for the lesson, with four of us already inside the arena, I saw Francisco approaching with the remaining two students and his own mare. I was really surprised about that, he never rides during lessons, and I couldn't find any reason for him to do so now. I was even more surprised when the students already in the arena proceeded to leave it
! Bewildered as I might be, I acted the part. I went after the others as if I was expecting all this. Only when I saw we were going for the barn's gate did it all click into place. We were going on a "trail" ride! Yeah!
Knowing very well Juby would not be forward going, I made sure I was last in line so I'd be the least disruptive possible. We formed up in the road outside (with a car already behind us a dozen meters, waiting for us to clear the road), and started out at the walk. It was not by chance I was given Juby. Slow as he is, it would take a lot to frighten him (that is, excluding myself as we will see later on!). Riding Juby outside the school presented a few problems. To begin with, he would make short of any obstacle: "Hey Juby! Next turn let's stick to the road and go
around the sidewalk. Let's leave it for two legged critters, OK?"
Used as he was to be ridden along the limits of the arena, using the middle of the paths or roads must have felt weird to him. He was always looking for support against obstacles on the sides. "Juby, Juby! This stone wall has been here for a long time.
Do try to leave it in one piece, will you?"
. And a little later: "This is not the school! You don't have to scrape along the sides. Today you can try the middle! You really can! Honestly!"
. Not only were walls and thorn bushes effective supports, but so were parked cars! "Watch the car! Watch the car! The mirror! Don't rip the mirror!"
A little while along the ride I managed to slip the stirrup leather out of the bar again, while doing a little rising trot to catch up with the others. The good thing was that I was able to recognize the problem immediately, I took the pressure out the stirrup as soon as I felt it give in. The buckle was caught by the skirt and the leg pressure, so the leather didn't fall to the ground. I considered putting it on again while carrying on trotting, but it was (obviously) too awkward. I shouted for everyone to stop a little, while I presented them with the sorry spectacle of me trotting with one stirrup, the other one hanging uselessly from my right hand :-D.
At this point we entered a small wood area, where I proceeded to make my only real blunder. We were coming up to a corner in an open area of pine trees and I decided to pat Juby on the neck. All would be fine if I hadn't decided to do it with the hand holding the crop (big no-no!
). Either he though I was going to use it (I doubt it - he usually makes a point of ignoring the use of the crop, and threats are simply wasted on him) or he shied at this dark thin monster making for his face (more likely). The fact was that he jumped, forgot about the corner and fired up straight ahead at canter. I stopped him in about two strides, not much of a problem, although I had to raise my hands up to my neck to stop him, courtesy of slack reins!
The rest of the ride was pretty much uneventful. I don't know what breed Juby is, but he must be half-tractor "Hey look! A pine branch on the ground. What? You guys stepping
over it? What a waste of energy. That's just so underneath me... <crack> <crack> See? And just for good measure... <crack> <crack>!"
. We must have left a clear track behind us, with all those trampled bushes and stepped on branches... And not only was Juby too lazy to avoid small obstructions, he was also way too tall to be comfortable in the woods. An hypothetical onlooker, standing at a certain point in the path, would see the first pair come up to a low hanging branch, see the rider lean forward and pass comfortably below. He would then see five other riders do the same, all of them more or less elegantly. Then the last one would come, he would see him not lean forward, but lie flat down on the horse's neck, grab it with both hands and still scratch his back on the lower reaches of the branch.
One very positive aspect of the day was the cooperation of car drivers. They actually stopped and waited patiently to let us cross roads and overtook us wide and slow. Portuguese drivers being patient and friendly, who would have imagined that! It must have been the surprise...
With the dusk setting in we returned to the barn with a moody ambiance. We proceeded to dismount, "park" our companions and remove tack. It was by this time that we suffered our single casualty. The only girl in the group managed to get her foot under her horse's hoof while unsaddling. Luckily for her the horse in question was Montera, probably the lightest horse at the barn, and an unshod one. Even so, it was more than enough to make her see more stars than Oscar's night. I just kept thinking about Juby's huge feet (shod ones) and my dear delicate ones!
I stayed a little longer (what else is new), to help with the horses and to ask a few questions about the ride to Francisco. I noticed that two of the horses had a makeshift roof over their stalls, the wind having blown off the original one.
All in all, I loved the experience. I wouldn't describe it exactly as fun though, it was a lesson - a practical one - requiring concentration and work. With objectives to be met - and errors to be made :-D! One thing is for sure, I do hope that once in a while I get lessons like this one!