Upon returning from our hack yesterday, Pip said “Would you like to go to the Quantocks tomorrow?”.......”YES!” was my resounding response! When I arrived at Pippsway, two and a half years ago, expressing my wish to learn to ride properly, riding on the Quantocks was but a distant dream! You may wonder why has it taken so long for us to be ready? The answer is, there is a long list of reasons! Not in any particular order here are a few of them, Bronson wouldn’t load after a bad experience in his previous home, when he first came to Pippsway he was too weak for me to ride him and when he was finally strong enough to be ridden he was bucking and rearing when he felt under the slightest pressure, which included at every junction and sometimes when a car came along! I was a beginner rider and had no horsemanship knowledge, I was both mentally and physically unfit and I just didn’t have the skills or knowledge to handle a horse of Bronson’s calibre! All this interspersed with bouts of lameness and me not being able to ride for 5 months because of a ligament problem. Roll on two and a half years of Pip’s patient teaching of me and rehabilitation of Bronson and finally she was happy that we were ready. Pip always sets her clients and their horses up for success. She says, from a risk point of view, that riding is a numbers game and she likes to keep the numbers firmly in our favour!
I woke up this morning and, aware that horses do not like excitement (physiologically it is the same as anxiety and horses don’t appreciate either of those things), I told myself “it’s just another hack, like any other hack”. I’d never loaded Bronson before so expected Pip to want to do that but no, she gave me instructions about what to do and let me do it. Thankfully, I’ve never loaded a horse into a trailer before, so I didn’t have any bad habits to let go of. Bronson loaded perfectly and off we went.
On arrival we tacked up, mounted and set off and Bronson was delighted to be out and about. It was a great feeling to be with him in such beautiful surroundings, doing something for the first time, but at the same time feeling relaxed and confident. It soon became apparent why every single step towards this goal had been vitally important. Being in complete control of every single step Bronson took was essential, given the terrain! We had to pass through numerous gateways both wide and narrow, there were stones and rocks to be avoided as well as low hanging branches. Having only ridden in the menage, the canter fields, around the lanes and along the occasional bridle path, there was so much more to think about! I made mistakes along the way and Pip explained where I was going wrong and how to get it right next time, all the while reassuring me that making mistakes is how we learn. We cantered along the same track that I had watched Pip ride along on video and it was such a fabulous feeling being with Bronson, finally experiencing this goal together that I had set my heart on so long before.
It’s hard to convey the sheer joy of riding Pippsway where from the get go, the focus is on building a partnership and establishing mutual trust. The payoffs are huge and it meant that no matter what we happened upon, whether that be other horses, both wild and ridden, mountain bikers, walkers and dogs, nothing was a problem. The horses at Pippsway live out 365 days a year, and get a good deal of exercise too, so they are fit and strong, vibrant and aware. Being with a horse that is so fit and strong both physically and mentally in a way where you are in complete communication with one another, together as one, is a life changing experience! To be riding this way in the most beautiful surroundings with this horse that I adore was truly a dream come true! My words simply cannot do it justice!
The ride was exhilarating and challenging. There was simply so much more to think about than ever before! Not only the ground below but also the world above, picking a safe path whilst making sure I wasn’t about to knock my brains out on a low branch whilst being aware of Pip and Jazz, maintaining my safe distance, alongside everything else I needed to be thinking about, I was glad of all my prior training. As you might expect there were times where I was getting it right and times where I was getting it wrong, at no point however was there any fear or anxiety. Bronson was listening and when I dropped the balls he let me know.
We arrived back at the trailer with two happy horses, two happy riders and of course Pip’s beautiful wolf dogs who join her on every hack. It had been sublime!
During the drive home I was finally able to let my excitement and delight flood out and Pip laughed and smiled as I tried to verbalise my emotions, no doubt sounding like an exuberant child! As we talked about the ride I said that Bronson had seemed to want to be in front at times, he had listened to all my instructions but there was definitely a conversation going on between us about it. At first Pip agreed this could be the case and said he hadn’t been on the Quantocks for nearly a year so his excitement at being there could have been a contributing factor. I said “well I was relaxed the entire time, even when he was asking to go in front, there was no anxiety”. At that Pip said “well there is a big difference between being relaxed and being calm assertive! Relaxing is what you do in front of the TV, not something you should be doing when you are riding. You should be calm, but not relaxed.” And there was my answer, as I was to discover on our next outing, calm assertive and relaxed are two very different things indeed!