Most people go for swimming with dolphins or beautiful fishes, but not here at Knapdale! Yesterday the sun smiled warmly for my first time in the saddle since moving up here six months ago. I now keep my sheep at Brenfield, a local riding stables and they have been encouraging me to come out with them for a while. Since the sheep were still wet from the morning's downpour, I had no excuse but to hop on a horse and enjoy the stunning scenery... and a bit of a dip!
My mount was Seamus, a dark bay little chap, very capable but with a bit of a determined streak. He is great with beginners because they let him get away with eating and going where he likes; and very popular with experienced riders because he's clever and forward going; for folk somewhere in the middle like me he is quite a handful and tests you every step of the way... which is exactly what I need!
I soon learned that Seamus likes to be at the front and steps out positively, ignoring the fact that the only other horses ahead of him were a good couple of hands taller. We were encouraged to ride as a group rather than a line and try to spend some time with everyone. Somehow however, Seamus would work through the group until he could see the way ahead again.
Under the expert instruction of Tove Gray-Stephens who is an international le trec judge, this was more than your average trail ride. Participants benefit from Toves instruction and the horses are extremely well trained, not suffering from "school fatigue" and following nose to tail in a bored fashion. 10 of the horses at Brenfield qualified last week for the British TREC Championships and these same horses are used for clients.
We negotiated boggy ground, steep rocky descents, ditches and streams. The horses took it all in their stride while those of us on board stuck our heels down and kept them collected; I think Seamus would have galloped off gleefully at some points!
The highlight of the ride was of course the much anticipated swim in a local sea loch. Seamus needed some coxing into the water but once he got going it was a wonderful sensation to be floating on horseback.
After the swim the horses were all feeling very fresh and excited and then my fun with Seamus really started! Because we had all been handling our horses fairly well and to burn off a bit of energy, Tove instructed us in how to take a very steep narrow rocky track back up to the stables. "The horses will need to gallop to this to get up and you must keep them moving for the momentum they need. Use the neck rope if you need to and lean right forward along your horses neck to avoid the over head branches."
Seamus knew where we were going and began to dance and fight for his head. One of the other instructors, SJ, looked at me earnestly, "if he tries to go just spin him on the spot and keep spinning him!" We went one at a time and we were third. I managed to keep him spinning until Tove was about to say go, when Seamus pre-empted her and shot forward. I lent forward as instructed as my experienced mount took the rocky track in his stride and bounded to the top in no time. It was such an adrenalin rush and I met the other grinning riders already waiting at the top.
Seamus however didn't want to wait for everyone else, he wanted to carry on galloping. I spun him round and round but realised that we were about to spin into a ditch so tried to steer him round it: he took his chance and lept sideways and tried to shoot off. I'm afraid to say that I lost my balance and, on realising that there was a tree about to smack into me, make the swift decision to take the fall; I'm not sure how much choice I had from my position anyway!
Muddily I got to my feet, shaken but none the worse for wear. I caught my horse, who had decided not to gallop off after all and, with SJ holding his head, I clambered back on board. We argued for a few moments about how we would continue but with SJ's expert instruction, I relaxed and rode Seamus at a calm walk back to the stables.
It is a much better feeling, despite the bruises, (and quiet teary moment with seamus in his stall - sorry I'm a wuss and was a little shocked!) to feel as though I've been riding, rather than just sat on a horse! Seamus and I will definitely be having another trip out together soon. Apparently he only tests people he likes!