Recently, I was able to do a bit of equestrian matchmaking and help a family of three girls find their dream share pony.
They’re a perfect match – the girls are enthusiastic novices straight out of riding school, and Charlie is a ‘more whoa than go’ chunky little cob, who is worth his weight in gold and, quite frankly, knows every trick in the book.
Of course, the girls absolutely adore him.
Now they have been riding Charlie for a few weeks, I think it’s about time to introduce them to the joys of hacking.
Charlie lives on a lovely yard on the edge of Banstead Common, with miles of gorgeous uninterrupted hacking. I take Owen over in the trailer, park in the National Trust carpark at the end of the lane, then potter down to Charlie’s yard to collect his young jockey.
As Florence’s tacking up is still occasionally a bit hit and miss, I do a quick tack check to make sure Charlie’s bridle isn’t upside down, then give Florence a leg up.
As it’s about 20 years since I’ve been able to mount from the ground, I use my grooming kit as a handy mounting block.
This sadly proves not to be the smartest idea, as there is a loud cracking noise and I end up sprawled on my back with a grooming kit on my foot while Florence kindly tries not to laugh.
Getting up to speed
I’m not known for my innate sense of direction, but how lost can we get on the common?
The ground is perfect, and even though it is a lovely sunny morning, we can hardly see a soul.
I’m conscious of the fact that we are in a wide open space and I am accompanied by a novice rider so I keep a close eye on Charlie, but I needn’t have worried – he is quite happy to mooch along behind Owen, and seems to know that Florence is a bit nervous about hacking out for the first time.
There is a lovely, wide turf path heading uphill, so I suggest we try a trot.
Florence is desperate to learn to canter, but has been struggling a little with her transitions in the school.
By this point, it is clear that Charlie is doing a fantastic job of looking after her, so I’m happy to let the ponies have a little canter uphill.
Owen also seems to know that he is on nanny duty, and he is beautifully light in the hand as we enjoy a lovely collected canter across the grass.
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I keep looking over my shoulder to make sure everyone is ok, and from the volume of the excited whooping coming from Florence, it seems like she is having a good time.
We pull up, and let Owen and Charlie walk next to each other.
Florence is thrilled. It is the longest canter she’s ever had, and without corners or the upwards transition to worry about, she had been able to focus on getting a feel for the rhythm and perfecting her position.
She is beaming with pride, and I am so pleased to be able to share the moment with her – it reminds me of being a pony-mad 10 year old with my first loan pony.
Time to head home
We find ourselves on the other side of a large clump of trees, and I have rather lost track of which direction we have been heading in.
Florence’s dad is expecting to pick her up in half an hour, and he will be unlikely to let me take her out again if we fail to reappear.
Google maps suggests that the way home lies on the other side of the trees. However, it will take us a good hour to go all the way round again.
“No problem!” I say, cheerily. “Look, there’s a path that runs through the wood – we’ll just take that.”
Initially, this looks very promising. However, a slight element of doubt begins to creep in as the path becomes increasingly overgrown.
“Duck, Florence!” I call over my shoulder, as I narrowly avoid being decapitated by a low-hanging branch.
“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Florence asks dubiously.
“Of course!” I say gaily, with a confidence that I do not feel.
After the third branch to the face, I suggest we dismount and lead the horses. Charlie promptly drags Florence into a bush.
I am just about to admit defeat and send up a flare for the search and rescue helicopter when we tumble out of the undergrowth and recognise the path for home.
We arrive back at the yard just in time to deliver Florence back to her dad. Slightly scratched and with a few twigs in her hair, but delighted with her adventure.