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My Horse Riding Adventure in Wales: A Winter Memory HubPage Challenge From Jackie Lynnley
Al and Jo On A Riding Holiday In The Welsh Valley
A Writing Challenge From Writer Jackie Lynnley
This story is in response to the challenge set by Jackie Lynnley inviting hubbers to write and share their Winter and/or Christmas Memories with other hubbers. One particular winter memory came to mind, I hope you enjoy the read.
My Horse Riding Adventure In Wales; A Winter Memory Hub Page Challenge
A redundant November growled, exposing frosty white teeth that bite deep. The sudden sharp drop in temperature ushers in the beginning of the dead season. Winter blew its first frigid breath right across the valley, painting a wonderland as beautiful as it was deadly. The sodden earth drenched by days of torrential downpour now glistened like frosted glass, fallen leaves and autumn berries crunched and crumbled underfoot as every living cell exposed to the harsh environment succumbed to the deadly embrace. The big chill came early that year with a vengeance.
The horses felt the cold seeping deep into their equine bones; the animals knew this was not a day to be out in the hills, at the mercy of the elements. In retrospect, I guess we should have heeded the good common horse sense. Instead, we saddled up and headed for the hills.
The Snow came and visibility Dropped
Horse Riding Holiday Began With a Barn Dance
The hustle and bustle of the modern world seemed deceptively far removed, as we settled down for another night in what felt like the womb of nature. The moment the old Volvo Estate turned into the valley, the outside world just faded into the distance. The small village of Goytre nestles comfortably in the beautiful valley adjoining Margam Country Park in South Wales. We loved the peace and quiet of the valley; there was always a warm welcome when we arrived. We often plan our visit to coincide with my husband Al's birthday close to bonfire night. When we arrived on this trip, we were pleasantly surprised to find a barn dance in full swing, we joined in the fun, and our horse riding holiday began on a high.
Mynydd Margam Forest
The Last Ride
Horse riding in South Wales
The fire had died down, and the room was virtually a walk-in chiller, but I was snug and comfy under the mountain of blankets and the cosy duvet. Lazily, I turned over, the frigid air hit my face, and the warm moist breath mingled with the cold air in the room to form an eerie fog in the early morning light. I shivered, and furiously tucked the wool blanket closer to my body, pulling the old patchwork quilt way up to my chin. “Just one more hour.” I heard myself mumble.
But it was not to be, the empty place beside me told another story, as if to emphasize this fact, the annoying sound of whistling echoed from the small bathroom on the other side of the room. My husband was already up and enjoying his morning ablutions before heading out to the stables to harness the horse he had already chosen for his morning ride into the foothills of Mynydd Margam.
The stables and riding centre was tucked away in a small valley, surrounded by farmland and pine forest. The rustic log cabins were pretty basic, but that was part of the charm of the place.
A few feet from the front door, a cool, clear mountain stream flowed peacefully downhill, trickling between rocks and pebbles meandering on its course into the valley below. With the sound of running water in the ears, the essence of fresh pine in the nostrils and muscles taut and aching from a good day's ride, sleep was never a problem.
After almost a week of riding, I was hoping to take the last morning off, it would be good to simply relax by the fire, my body was still aching from the previous day's ride. I was about to suggest that we enjoy a lie-in, take the dog for a long walk later in the day and gather some of the chestnuts we saw on a previous ride. The large nuts would be delicious roasted in the open wood fire.
However, Al had other ideas; he was so looking forward to this last ride, I hadn't the heart to disappoint him, reluctantly, I accepted the cup of steaming tea he handed me. The warm, sweet liquid found its mark. I was now resigned to the fact that we would be taking our last ride so I may as well relax and enjoy the day. I threw the bedding back and got out of bed, took a t-shirt, underwear, jodhpurs and warm jumper from the cupboard and headed for the bathroom.
The Old Log Cabins Have Been Replaced By New Lodgings
Horses Are Fun To Ride, But They Also Have Bad days As Well As Good
We took a leisurely stroll across the rickety old bridge over the picturesque stream on our way to the stables where we were greeted by the sound of horses protesting in the strongest possible terms.
A loud whinny sound was coming from the stables as the horses screamed “nay...nay...nay, we shall not be moved.” the noise grew louder as we got closer, the rebellion was in full swing.
Humbug and Poppy seemed to be leading the revolt. We were greeted by a lot of feet stomping, and tail swishing as the horses refused to do as they were told. The stable maid was attempting to placate the horses as she brought them out in preparation for the morning ride, but the animals were stubbornly adamant and wouldn't budge, even the usually placid Mr Punch was in no mood to play nice. My husband walked over and offered to assist the young woman, a packet of mints later, the horses appeared to have given up the fight. Obviously, I wasn't the only one looking forward to a lazy day in bed.
The morning did not get much better. A total of ten riders including myself and my husband headed for the hills. Typical of my husband, he chose the largest horse. Mr Punch was about 16 hands, he was a big horse, but when Al found out that the horse was a plodder, he quickly swapped Mr Punch for the more spirited Davy Crockett and decided to jump a fence as we headed out. Of course, he came a cropper.
Thankfully, only his pride appeared to be dented. The group of riders followed the narrow path that took us up into the forest; the horses remained ambivalent. We came to a wide dirt road, and all hell broke loose.
One of the horses bolted, and the others followed. My husband galloped after the recalcitrant beast and its frightened young rider.
As I attempted to bring my horse Maxwell under control, I noticed that except for the owner of the centre's nine-year-old son, Dai, who was also struggling to control his animal, all the other riders were now gone.
Maxwell took off at a gallop, following in the wake of the faster horses. Young Dai was approaching at a canter; he was now quite close behind me. I heard the thundering of hoofs as Dai's horse got closer, and then Dai screamed.
I turned around, just in time to see the boy tumbling to the ground. I shouted to him, to stay where he was and do not move. I attempted to stop Maxwell, but the horse was having none of it. Horses are pack animals; Maxwell was intent on catching up with his mates, and nothing was going to stop him.
We entered a flat section of the trail, just before it turned steeply downhill. I knew I had to get off the horse to check on the young boy. I lifted my right foot from the stirrup and threw my body from the horse. Maxwell cantered off without as much as a backward glance.
I walloped the ground, my butt was a little bruised, I knew I'd be aching like crazy later, but everything seemed intact. I got up and made my way to where Dai lay motionless on the ground.
I checked the young boy, searching carefully for signs of injury until I was satisfied that there were no bones broken. The young boy was a little stunned and dazed but none the worse. We stood up and looked around us, the fog was much thicker, the sleet had turned to huge snowflakes that began to settle on the icy ground, making the trail slippery and treacherous to walk.
I asked the boy if he knew where we were, he wasn't sure but pointed to another track that he thought would take us back to the riding centre. By this time the visibility was pretty poor, we could barely see three or four feet before us.
We walked for about one hour and forty-five minutes when I realised we were going around in a circle. My stomach tightened, I could taste the bile threatening to flood my throat as I balanced precariously on the brink of panic. We were back where we started, and the child was tired and cold, and so began the what ifs.
Dai looked pale, his eyes darted every which way, and then he gazed at me for reassurance. I decided to retrace our steps and try to find the dirt road where the horses first bolted, but it was difficult to see. I decided to rest for a while and collect my thoughts.
In this place, one could almost hear the temperature plummeting as the light begins to fade, like a pair of dormice, we felt the warm blood coursing through our veins slow and steady as the icy weather took its toll and the body grew cold and sluggish. A long forgotten memory surfaced, or maybe it was a voice that warned me that this is the time of the big sleep, if we did not move now, we might never leave this place.
I don't remember how long we sat and rested, but I was cold and wet, and the boy had fallen asleep in my arms. I shook him awake. “Dai, we got to move, the snow is getting heavier, and the light is fading, come on, we must try and get back on the road.” The boy stood up, and we began to walk in the hope of finding the road.
We were hysically and emotionally wasted as we entered an area that looked familiar. I turned to Dai; he gave me a hesitant smile, but I was sure that we were now on the road, better still, we could just see the outline of a farmhouse that we both recognised as the one we passed on the way up the hill. We held each other's hand tightly, and began to laugh; I felt a surge of energy, from where?...I knew not, but we were now walking with renewed vigour and with purpose.
Beyond the curtain of drifting snow came the welcome sound of a vehicle approaching, a beacon of light pierced through the pea soup of sleet and fog, and there it was, a most beautiful sight to behold, as the Land-rover slowly emerged.
We were found, cold, hungry and tired, but well.
We climbed into the vehicle, and I thought, “Thank you God...and now, home James and don't spare the horses.”
But the smile was swiftly wiped from my face, when Alwyn, the driver of the Landrover, co-owner of the riding centre and Dai's dad calmly told us that our horses were waiting a little way down the hill, and we were to get right back in the saddle and ride the monsters home.
I was speechless. “What?...Get back on that beast? Oh no..no..no” But we knew if we did not get back in the saddle then and there, we might never sum up the courage to ride again. We mounted our horses and rode back to the riding centre.
The other riders eventually made their way down the hill, my husband managed to catch up with the first runaway horse and helped the young woman to get her horse under control, together they made their way back. However, as we all sat down with our sandwiches and hot chocolate, retelling each adventure, I noticed a large rip in Al's waterproof Barber, on close inspection, I discovered a long gash in his thigh where a piece of wood had pierced his skin as he fell at that first jump. Due to the rush of adrenaline, Al did not realise that he was hurt, but the wound was shallow and not serious, he got a tetanus shot and was as good as new.
This story is, in fact, true, although we were probably not in as much danger as it seemed at the time. Never-the-less, it was a pretty scary situation and a miracle no one was badly hurt.
This little adventure taught me that I can function under stress. That caring for someone else can stop us worrying about ourselves, and that angels are watching over us.
Thank you for reading my winter memory story, I hope you enjoyed it.