Well, what I'd termed 'the hack from hell' on facebook turned out to be okay after all!
The journey there and back was pretty harrowing. I don't think we've ever driven the lorry through such narrow streets with houses on either side. At one point I thought Mr O was going to put the corner of the lorry through someone's sitting room window, but he missed it by inches. For some reason, when we get close to things I find myself breathing in and holding my breath, as if that will somehow make the lorry breath in too, and squeeze through the gap!
We drove onto the field at the venue, parked the lorry and got the horses out, Barnaby, Lindy and Zak. We put Barnaby and Lindy together on one side of the lorry and Zak on the other side on his own, as we'd planned that Mr O would set off first, as he was doing the fourteen mile route and we were only doing seven.
We got on with the business of tacking up. I'd taken the decision to bring Barnaby's double bridle, which turned out to be totally the right thing to do. Mr O was soon ready to get going, so I helped him mount up and away he went. Zak and Barnaby had been whinnying to each other from opposite sides of the lorry (Barnaby wasn't the least bit interested in Lindy. They don't really get on, and today was no exception!) Unfortunately Mr O had to come out onto the road and rode past us. Barnaby saw Zak as plain as day, and then started stressing. He builds up slowly, first pawing the ground, then trying to break the string that's securing him to the lorry. Given more time, he progresses to rearing up bodily, and typing his name in the side of the lorry with his front hooves. I had to give Mr O time to get away, so that if Barnaby whinnied, he and Zak wouldn't be able to hear each other, but didn't want to leave it too long in case he became totally unmanageable.
I was struggling to do up the chain that goes under his chin, as he'd eaten loads of grass. By the time I'd pulled it all out of his mouth, my hands were too slippery to manage the chain and then do up the tiny leather lip strap. In the end, Pongo asked the woman at the next trailer for help, and she was brilliant - clearly an experienced horsewoman, which turned out to be a blessing, as once I'd got on, it became evident that the bits were too low in Barnaby's mouth and she managed to hold him and put the straps up at the same time - I am eternally grateful.
I was actually dreading setting off and said to Pongo that if Barnaby got too stupid and unmanageable, we'd have to come back, but we were both now in the saddle, so I decided to risk it.
We set off, and Barnaby did whinny a few times, the effort making his body quiver all over and send shudders into me. We kept walking down the road, and I knew Mr O would be beyond sight and sound and Barnaby began to settle. He knew he couldn't run off with the double bridle on, and instantly, to my relief, gave up trying.
And after that it turned out to be one of the best rides I've ever been on. A woman overtook us on her little mare. Normally Barnaby would pull and try to overtake again, but he didn't even attempt it. My confidence took a little leap.
We went up a rocky bridleway and came out onto a field. I asked Pongo to shorten up his reins and make sure Lindy didn't overtake and we set off into what turned out to be a beautiful trot, with Lindy way behind and no problem at all, and Barnaby not at all strong, but actually quite cautious and thinking about where he was going. I asked Pongo if he wanted to have a little canter and he agreed, and we set off in a sedate way, much to my astonishment, and it was superb. We pulled up nicely, gave our numbers to the waiting marshall, and continued along the next field in walk, not wishing to upset the cattle.
Then we went through a gate, and onto 'the fast bit' as it had been termed on the info board at the start. I asked Pongo if he wanted to canter again, and he agreed, so off we went. This time it gradually developed into a gallop, and it was superb. I kept looking back to make sure Pongo was still on board, and he seemed to be doing fine, so we flew along the straight track. Up ahead was a sign saying 'photographer' so I thought we'd better slow down, but Pongo still seemed fine so I thought, 'Oh knickers, let's get on with it' and we went charging up the grass, two war horses steaming along, hooves thudding on the grass. It was absolutely fabulous. We got to the end and pulled up beautifully, both grinning like idiots.
I said, "Did you enjoy that?" and Pongo said, "Yes!'
I said, "Good. You've just had your first gallop."
Pongo looked thoroughly astonished and asked, "Have I?!"
And after that it was just a cruise, really. We continued up the road, under a little bridge and then we were on The White Peak Trail. We trotted along for quite a while, then turned onto a track that was very stony. Barnaby did stumble actually, but he was fine. I then said, "I think we're nearly home," feeling inside myself that we had about two miles to go. The next thing, Pongo said, "I can see the lorry!" and sure enough, there it was, about half a mile away. We continued along the track, turned left onto the road and back to the start.
We rode past our lorry, and there was Zak, sunning himself and eating grass. I called to him and he whinnied hysterically. This means Mr O had done fourteen miles in less time than it took us to do seven! How on earth?!
We found Mr O and he said he'd been back for about twenty minutes, but that Zak had lost a shoe on the last bit of track and he'd had to get off and walk back. Good grief. He needs to take up endurance.
He'd also loved the gallop past the photographer and said Zak had gone like the wind. I have been on the photographer's website today and couldn't find any photos of him. For a while I wondered if he'd gone so fast he'd been just a blur and the photographer had missed him! But no, there he was, looking rather good. I do like the photos of Barnaby, too, so we'll buy them and then I'll show you.
So considering I'd woken up feeling physically sick, initially over Pongo's lack of experience, then once we got there my fears transferred to concern over Barnaby who looked as though he was going to be a bit of a prat, but thanks to a wonderful invention (the double bridle!) we had a truly fantastic ride. I look forward to doing it again next year.
It was worth it all when we got back, and as we unloaded the horses, Pongo's first words to Missis were, "I've been galloping!" and the look on his face said it all. And to you, Barnaby, my Lionheart, a big thankyou for being so trustworthy and reliable, and giving me so much confidence. You are one in a million, my man.