Marie Jones signed up to the Hack 1,000 Miles challenge with her two horses, steady Shires cross Charlie and feisty Welsh part-bred Bryn, but at the beginning, the majority of the miles were ridden with Charlie, as Marie admits to struggling with her nerves.

“I’d had Charlie for 20 years, since he was four years old, and he was a nice, slow, gentle giant,” shares Marie of the 17hh gelding. “But when I first started the challenge, he was in the later stages of his life so I’d stopped riding him as much.”

The focus switched to young hotshot Bryn, Marie’s dressage horse. Despite owning the now 12-year-old since he was just two, hacking wasn’t their forte, and Marie found the adjustment tricky.

“Having had one horse for 20 odd years, it was tricky to go to a young horse scared of his own shadow,” confesses Marie, who works for the NHS. “I’d never had a young horse before Bryn, but I knew that Charlie was entering his twilight years and I needed to have a plan, which is why I bought him. Unfortunately, this Welsh part-bred didn’t get the script about being a steady plod – he’s much more athletic and agile than I expected him to be. If Charlie was a reliable Land Rover, then Bryn’s a Ferrari!”

‘I had to tackle my demons’

Charlie (in front) was Marie’s steady hacking horse

Marie tried to hack out dressage horse Bryn, but was struggling with her nerves.

“Bryn was scaring me so much that if I wanted to enjoy a hack without worrying, I’d take Charlie,” says Marie. “Sadly Charlie passed away in August 2020. It felt like the right time for him to go, but it created a catalyst that I only had one horse, so if I wanted to hack, I had to tackle my demons with Bryn.”

Standing at a towering 17.2hh, Marie admits hacking him out was initially a “white-knuckle” experience. Compared to Charlie, Bryn was spookier and had more exaggerated, dramatic reactions.

“If there was a noise that would make him jump, Charlie being a stoic Shire would barely bat an eyelid,” recalls Marie. “But Bryn has a strong flight instinct, and whilst he doesn’t bolt, it was scary.”

Assistance from her riding instructor meant that Marie soon started braving hacks – and to her surprise, enjoying them.

“My trainer came out with me on the early days – she would ride Charlie and I’d be on Bryn. She showed me that I had the toolkit to deal with everything, and that Bryn had the training, we just needed the encouragement,” says Marie, 58. “It was about giving myself some slack, and as long as we got back safely and had fun, who cares what happens?

“I also realised that it was genuine fear from him – he was just trying to keep us both safe and out of danger. It was a difficult transition, to go to such an athletic and spooky horse at a time in my life when I’m not as quick as I once was.

“Charlie wasn’t a saint, and I realised I was looking back with rose-tinted glasses.”

Turning over a new leaf and trying new adventures

Marie and Bryn regularly completed at affiliated dressage competitions, even making it to the 2018 Petplan Regionals at prelim and novice level

Once Bryn was happy and settled with riding familiar routes through a local forest in the north of Wales where they live, Marie decided to take the next steps: cancel her British Dressage membership and dive headfirst into hacking by planning fun rides and holidays.

“I realised I didn’t want to do more dressage or compete, I wanted to hack,” shares Marie. “One of the highlights of the challenge was taking the plunge and having my first riding holiday.”

Marie was joined by her husband in Shropshire, who accompanied the pair on foot for the first few days of rides, before Marie braved hiring a local guide.

“Before then, I’d never cantered in open spaces, but she assured me that I could do it and off we went,” says Marie. “We cantered up the hills and past the wild ponies. I thought if I could do that, I could do anything. It gave me the confidence to do other holidays and fun rides.”

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