Anyway, I rang for our time on Saturday evening and she said we could go either at twelve or ten thirty, so we chose the earlier option as the weather forecast had said rain for later.
I got Barnaby in from the field. The poor boy had been laying down, and getting up for a bath wasn't on his agenda, but I stuck to my guns and dragged him in. I didn't have much time, so I decided to wash his tail as that was the worst bit, but as it happened I had time to do him all over and he looked fantastic by the time we were ready to load up. We put Zak in first, then Barnaby and set off.
We approached the 'Golden Gates', a rather grand entrance to the main estate, and drove through. We had arrived quite early, but as it happened it was spot on as it gave me time to give Barnaby a bit of a groom and comb his tail out, which looked fabulous by the time I finished.
We went off to sign in and hand over our sponsor money, and the ride began. We rode through the glorious countryside, sheep scattering in all directions, to the bottom of a steep hill, turned up it and went into a flat out gallop to the top! It was fabulous.
We did this ride two years ago, but last year it was so unbelievably hot we decided it would have been mean to have travelled the horses in a red hot lorry and slogged round, but today the weather was perfect and we cruised along, through the sheep fields at the top, past where Pongo had come off last year (Pongo and Missis didn't do it this time as the tax has run out on their lorry and they weren't able to get it sorted in time).
There were little direction arrows hammered into the ground at regular intervals. I'd like to say it was impossible to get lost, but having overheard a conversation in the photographer's van later on, I can't actually vouch for that! We just followed along and cruised round, overtaking several sets of people along the way. We came out onto the moors and shot up the track, but then it started to rain, so I got my mac out of my saddle bags and put it on. I'd decided there was no point getting soaked if I didn't have to, especially as I was so ill not long ago.
We got onto the 'track I don't understand'. It is very rocky and gravelly and full of dips and bumps. I have no idea why they leave it like this (maybe for drainage?) but it makes it very tricky to ride down. You have to really concentrate. This shows up quite a difference between Barnaby and Max. Max was very clear about where he was going to put his feet and that he'd be making the decisions at all times, but Barnaby leaves the decision to his rider, so you have to pick the best ways for him to go. He is quite sure-footed, but he is what you call a 'wide gaited horse.' This means his legs are set quite wide apart on his body, and he can't walk along ground that slopes to one side, whereas Max never had problems with this, and could walk along a very narrow track, practically putting one foot in front of the other, but Barnaby can't do it. Just another little discovery as we go along.
By the time we got to the bottom it was time to turn back into the park grounds. We rode along and just galloped and galloped, it must be at least a mile, if not more, and then you're streaming along in front of the house (which unfortunately is covered with scaffolding at the moment, so not looking its best, but here is how it usually looks:
Barnaby was being really good and listening to me and Zak looked wonderful. Galloping is effortless to him. We slowed down and went through the next wooden gate, and then we were nearly home. We came to Queen Mary's Bower (named after Mary Queen of Scots) which is the water jump on the cross country course. When we'd been a few weeks ago to the Horse Trials, I'd been looking at it, as I wondered what a rider does if their horse absolutely refuses to jump out, and I'd noticed a grass slope that leads down into it. So next year, if my horse happened to bolt and go through the water jump, I'd be powerless to stop him, wouldn't I?
We went back into trot and then went down a steep grassy slope, and when we hit the bottom, for some reason Barnaby went into a flat out gallop. I shouted at Mr O not to overtake me as I hadn't intended this at all, so near to home. Of course, Zak was galloping on behind us which just made Barnaby go even faster. In the end I had to really get hold of him to pull him up. I don't know what brought that on. Quite honestly he had so much energy he could easily have gone round twice, it wouldn't have bothered him at all.
Finally we managed to get back down to a walk and strolled back to the lorry to cool them off (well Barnaby anyway, I don't think Zak broke into a sweat at any time.)
We untacked them and let them relax and eat the quality Chatsworth grass, and went off to tell the organisers we were back, and really to say thankyou for putting on such a wonderful event, we had an amazing time. We got a beautiful rosette each, then went off to the photographer to see what we'd looked like, and liked the photo so much, we obviously bought it.
By now it was raining quite considerably so we decided to load the horses up and get them home. Zak didn't travel very well at all for some reason. We were going along quite a quiet road and he was practically rearing up, then lashing out with a back leg, as if to say, "Get me out of here!" It was so bad I climbed into the back to hold onto him, talk to him and calm him down. He really doesn't travel very well sideways. He can't stick his legs out and brace himself like Barnaby does, so he sticks his front legs out and sits on his back end, but with the slightest bump in the road he flings himself against the partition. It was awful, but he seemed to like me being with him and he calmed down a lot, but was steaming up the lorry with the sweat pouring off him. I think the partition is too wide apart and needs to be much closer to him so he can reach it to lean against it easily. Poor boy, no wonder he has cut himself in the past. I don't know why he's started doing it this year, though, he never used to do it.
We got home and had to keep them in for half an hour to let Zak cool off properly before we could turn them out. I think they might happily have stayed in as Barnaby was nodding off, too. It poured with rain for the rest of the day and most of the night, so Barnaby went out with a rug on too, as I'd bathed him in the morning.
So all in all, a fantastic day, the highlight of my year, really. And although I can't show you the photo, I thought these from last week at Osberton, would do just as well.
Splashing through the water.
Mr O went so fast the photographer only had time to take a couple of snaps before he was off!
Have a great week everyone,