Monday 30 August 2010

Trampling and leafy lanes

Finding myself on Thursday morning a lot further south than I'd anticipated prompted the hatching of a new plan. As Chris couldn't collect me from London until Wednesday 25th August, and there was nowhere to stay if I got there any sooner, I had the weekend to spare. I rung home and asked Jake whether it mattered to him if I was there to cheer him on at the UK tetrathlon championships. He said he understood if I couldn't be there but would far rather I was. I knew that the bites or lumps which Micky and Magic had developed on their backs all those weeks ago at Yarm would benefit from a few days off, but I needed to get a bit closer to London if I was still to get there for Wednesday. So I rung Jill Perry, who I had helped organise a ride from Biggar to Bangor last year, and asked if I got to her by Thursday night, whether she could then be persuaded to have my ponies for the weekend so I could go over to Hartpury, near Gloucester. Absolute credit to Jill for being totally unphased at the lack of forewarning and for being so ready and willing to accommodate us. She even suggested coming and collecting us and boxing us down to her if it helped, which was very generous but not my way of doing things. If we're on a ride, we're riding, or leading, and if I can't do either, then we stay where we are until the ponies and I are ready to go again.

Fatal words. I should have realised that feeling smug at having got things organised, albeit very last minute, is a surefire prelude to disaster. There am I calmly leading Micky and Magic in from their field on a balmy morning, feeling all is well with the world, we're nearing the end of our journey and are still in one piece, etc. etc.

Next thing I know Mikado's full 500kg is bowling me over sideways and trampling on top of me as he flees from .... wait for it ... a completely innocuous miniature Shetland pony who he has been in a field next to all night but who is now in a tiny enclosure next to the stable, and who Micky didn't notice until his beady eyes suddenly spied it behind the fence. Why oh why Micky took such fright or offence I have no idea, particularly given how unflappable he has been at so much else along our journey, but as he galloped off across the lawn with Magic in hot pursuit, I was left spreadeagled on the gravel, unable to move, and all I could think was that I was damned if my ride, or my life, was going to end like this, when I wasn't even on a horse.

My back hurt, big time, and my neck felt like it had been wrenched, but thankfully nothing seemed broken, I was just seriously shaken. After staggering to my feet and catching the ponies, I rung home and after describing to Elsa what had happened, burst into tears. Me, that is, not her - forget the doting daughter. All that Elsa said was "You'll be right mum" and put the phone down. Thanks a bundle. A sharp reminder that in the end I'm on my own. Don't expect any sympathy from anyone for the consequences of setting out to follow your own dreams.

Tacking up was even slower than usual, hampered not only by stiff, sore fingers from where I fell off Micky weeks ago, but now struggling to bend down to pick anything up as well. Magic, my friend, at least showed some concern, but also reminded me that when she fell on her knees on our way to Lincoln I told her that keeping moving would stop her seizing up, on which basis I'd better get moving. Mounting wasn't an option, so I set off leading both ponies.

Half a mile down the road we met Ali, whose farm I had been staying at, out driving her pony, and her friend Julia riding another of Ali's horses. They were surprised to see me leading. Fatal to ask if I was OK, which simply prompted more tears from me. What a drip I have become. They suggested I turn back with them and stay an extra night but then I would miss Jake competing. Ali very kindly offered to trailer the ponies down to Hatfield Broadoak instead, but while I have no problem with anyone else doing so, to me it would have been tantamount to giving up. For goodness sake, if John Labouchere got back on a horse after his near-fatal injuries riding through South America, and so many other long riders have contended with far worse, it surely only came down to mind over matter.

I may be determined to keep going, but clearly I am less strong willed than others. I walked more than I rode, reminding Mikado (who'd been demoted to pack pony) that it was totally his own fault that I was on a zero tolerance campaign. He'd had all his verbal warnings on Monday and was now on his final notice of impending dismissal. At last he got the message and tucked in behind or alongside Magic. Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

When my back hurt too much and I needed a break, I took the opportunity to telephone City of London mounted police to discuss my route into the city. So many people have asked whether I'd got permission to ride through the city, which I knew I didn't need, but at the same time I don't want to wind anyone up and asking for suggestions about my route seemed sensible all round. Full credit to Inspector Chris Rowbottom, who is in charge of the mounted police, who could not have been more helpful, if somewhat incredulous when he learned that my ponies were tied around a telegraph pole alongside the road as I spread my maps out to talk nitty-gritty with him. It seems police horses don't get subjected to such things!

No doubt the woman who stopped on her horse and who insisted she could tell me where to go if I were lost thought I was very rude to ignore her, but it was just going to take too long to explain why I was sorting out a route into London, and I wasn't in the mood for yet another person telling me I was mad to even contemplate it. Easier to smile sweetly and urge her on her way before Micky decided to prove he was faster than her horse twice his size.

My racism is such that I had thought riding through Essex would be a matter of grin (or grimace) and bear it, but it just goes to show how wrong you can be. In fact Essex has a whole network of really nice bridleways, RUPPs and byways, which either link together or do so easily with short sections of quiet lane. Better still, when we came down to Takeley we found ourselves on an old drove road with its broad verges either side. And then south of Takeley we rode through somewhere genuinely named Bullocks before riding across Cow Common. Who would have thought we'd be back following drovers footsteps on our way to Hatfield Broadoak?

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