Yeh, alright; I know some of you are probably rolling your eyes so hard at the title that you’ve given yourselves retina strain. Riding ten miles over the course of two days is not a big deal … except to someone who has been without a riding mount of their own for the past three years. To that person, spending the weekend going on a couple of five mile hacks is the best and most awesome thing that could possibly happen.
On Saturday, the forecast was for sunshine in the morning and then rain all afternoon. We got up early, collected our noble steeds, and set out across the common; making our way towards a small lake / large pond called the “Moat”.
When I first moved here, I was a little disappointed to discover that the Moat is not, in fact, a moat. My disappointment didn’t last for long however, as Ben explained that the name was thought to come from the word “Moot”; the Anglo-Saxon word for meeting. It’s possible that the Moat Pond was a meeting place between the two villages.
Our journey over was fairly serene, apart from one hair-raising moment when Iris – in the lead – suddenly noticed a walker, and both equines spun and thought about running for it. This did scare me pretty badly, as Xato spun, slowed, and then suddenly started going again, which is what he did with me when he bolted that one time; but I was able to disengage and turn him so that he could watch the suspicious walker pass. To be fair, the chap was – somewhat inexplicably – walking through the wooded undergrowth to the side of our wide, sandy path, and he was doing so very quietly as well. It was an understandable thing to spook at. He didn’t acknowledge us in any way, so I assume he either didn’t like horses very much or he was an ancient Anglo-Saxon wight. Who knows; we do have a few barrows on the common.
I had hoped to maybe take Xato into the Moat, or at least have a nice picture on the shore, but the National Trust car park is situated close by and that makes it a very popular area. There were many hikers, dog walkers, and kids, and as we approached I suddenly realised there were three kids halfway up one of the tall pines on the shoreline. Given our earlier excitement, I didn’t think it was worth seeing what would happen if either Xato or Iris realised there were people suspended ten feet above them! So we gave the tree a wide berth and any possible photo opportunities a miss.
We had to pass through the car park in order to cross the road and pick up the bridleway on the other side. Our entrance took us under some low branches, and although I ducked I somehow managed to get a particularly stout branch hooked through the shoulder of my hi-vis tabard. I didn’t realise it had happened until it began to pull on me, so I halted Xato – intending to ask him to back-up – but was not fast enough; the branch split somewhere above us with a loud crack. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we were not galloping flat out towards the road in a panic, as I had expected; in fact we were still standing where I’d put him, and I was able to extract myself and continue on my merry way with no drama what-so-ever. I am very lucky to have this mule!
The rest of the ride went without a hitch; no more barrow-wights or capricious ents. It started to rain just as we got back to the yard, and we then moved the herd onto their new field which went down very well with everyone.
On Sunday, our original plan had been to take a more daring route: up the side of the Punchbowl, underneath the A3 motorway, along some narrow country lanes, and then up a bridleway on a steep hill that would lead us back into the Punchbowl again. We did the first half, but decided to leave the hill and come home a different way as Iris’ feet were not coping well with the Punchbowl track. Usually that section would have been fine, but the previous night’s torrential rain had washed away most of the topsoil and left nothing but rocks behind. This was not a problem to a rock-cruncher like Xato, but Iris is a slightly more delicate creature. We will definitely need to invest in some boots if we’re to continue our long rides together.
So instead, we continued along the country roads and then turned up a byway that took us past one of my places of work. I’ve ridden round here on my employer’s horses before and wished fervently that I might one day be able to do it on my own equine, so this was a great moment for me! Xato was a star, walking past cows and calves without a care, and crossing the weir without concern. The weir falls about eight feet beside the path and was particularly noisy due to the influx of rain, but both Iris and Xato coped admirably and no one was dropped from a great height. Which was nice.
We then climbed out of the valley, went under the A3 again, and rode alongside it for a little way before deciding to take a shortcut through the woods. Xato stopped for a wee, and I called out to ask Ben to wait up; this was where things went a little bit wrong.
All of a sudden Iris exited, stage left, at speed and accompanied by a staccato refrain of a certain four letter expletive from Ben. Xato, who had just finished his wee, adopted the mule response to potential-but-not-immediate danger: stand really, really still and consider all the facts before acting. This meant that I was able to note what had scared Iris – a lone roe deer – and admire how nice Ben’s long Aussie coat looked as he and Iris went winging off through the trees.
Fortunately, Ben was able to pull up before they went too far, and we carried on – talking loudly in case any more deer were waiting to launch a savage attack.
I love these rides and I love this mule!