It all begins, as is so often the case, with an offhand comment in the tack room. Philippa mentions that she needs to do a bit of water training with her new dressage horse; I fancy trailering out to do a longer hack and clock up a bit more mileage towards our #Hack1000Miles.
I know just the place, I say. It’s about an hour away, there’s virtually no roadwork, it’s all sandy tracks, and there’s a ford. Sounds perfect, says Philippa. So up I hitch, and off we go.
The car park presents the first challenge. As anybody who witnessed the recent disagreement between my car and a concrete bollard will confirm, manoeuvring and spatial awareness isn’t a great strength of mine at the best of time. Add a trailer into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a fairly volatile situation.
Luckily, although it is quite full, there is a neat trailer-sized gap at one end. Best of all, the towing gods are smiling on me, and there is an exit at both ends — so no need to attempt a 36-point turn.
I park up with minimal swearing, deck Owen out in as much hi viz kit as you can fit on an over-height Connemara, and hop onboard.
I’ve ridden the route once before, but I’m about as good at remembering where I’m going as I am at reversing the trailer, so I am armed with directions.
If you’re in the South East, I highly recommend the hacks listed on the Surrey Hills website. There are about 10 different routes listed, and they all come with idiot-proof instructions accompanied by pictures (I’ve done about four of them, and I’ve only got lost once).
Owen reverses at speed
It is a gorgeous day, but the sandy tracks are a bit too deep to do much in the way of trotting or cantering, so we plod along quite happily.
“I’m not sure how he’s going to react to this,” Philippa says as we approach the ford.
“Don’t worry,” I declaredconfidently. “Owen’s fine with water — he’ll give Ferdi a lead.”
After all, we’ve been through umpteen water complexes on cross-country courses. We’ve jumped into water, out of water, through water, over water — what could go wrong?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
It transpires that Owen has Very Strong Opinions about fords. Nice sandy water complexes with super fun jumps either side are fine; flooded sections of road are emphatically not fine. Try as I might, I cannot get him within 6ft of it.
“Do you think it might be worth seeing what Ferdi makes of it?” I call from the middle of the bush that Owen had reversed into at speed.
Apparently Ferdi is also not a fan, so we all spend a few minutes spinning, rearing and running backwards into ditches and through the undergrowth while Pip and I ponder our next move.
By this point, we have attracted a small crowd of curious dog walkers, who are wisely staying out of the way while the boys make a spectacle of themselves.
Owen is a hair over 15hh and Ferdi is nearly 17hh, but for some reason Philippa still draws the short straw and has to wade through the water, at which point Ferdi decides that he was unlikely to drown and meekly allows himself to be led.
Owen feels that pratting about on his own isn’t going to be anywhere near as much fun and follows.
More from Anna…
- My 30-year-old veteran is a force of nature
- ‘This twit can’t get his dog under control’
- Fit horses, helicopters landing and a two-inch muscle gap
The rest of the ride is delightfully uneventful, with stunning views across the Surrey Hills over Frensham Ponds. Had the going not been quite so deep, we could have had some fantastic gallops, but we decide to play it safe and not risk the horses’ tendons.
We also encounter several sets of dirt bikers, who are, without exception, absolutely lovely and super thoughtful. As soon as they catch sight of us, they stop their bikes, let us pass and wait until we are a safe distance away before setting off again.
Some 7 miles later, we arrive back at the car park. As Philippa tips the stagnant ford water and a few sticklebacks out of her boots, we both agree that we are unlikely to be signing up for horseback swimming lessons any time soon.
Wet feet aside, it’s an excellent day out all round!