As my departure date looms ever closer, the pre-pilgrimage nerves are being ratcheted up. Big Time. I’ve done pretty well up to now, despite many distractions, but I haven’t been able to secure accommodation for every night of our journey. This has been troubling me and I have come to a decision.
At the risk of adding extra bulk and weight I have decided to take some camping gear: my tent (mine is a lightweight one), a sleeping bag and a mat, totalling an extra 3 kg in weight, and leaving it at the half-way stage where I can reorganise the packing when we get there to accommodate these items for the final leg. I have also decided to take my cork screw stake used for tethering dogs so that I can tether Tommy anywhere should I need to (not an ideal arrangement but it could prove invaluable). Two pieces of extra kit which I now consider essential for my peace of mind. I am even toying with the idea of taking a length of electric fencing tape (but stakes are out of the question). This will allow us greater flexibility should our schedule become disrupted by unforeseen circumstances……as it inevitably will at times. It also means I will probably need to do more walking.
I’ve noticed Tommy has a new spring in his step which I have put down to the arrival of the new Spring grass that has begun to push through. I even experienced a little buck for the first time whilst on board. It wasn’t a head-down-get-you-off buck, more a collected, airs-above-ground sort of buck. A ‘V’ sign to the fast-moving traffic behind us on the busy Marazion bypass we had just crossed, maybe. I have to say, it felt amazing. It was like sitting on a rocking horse. There we were, completely suspended, as one, for what seemed like one of those slow-motion moments you wish could have been captured on video. It made me smile.
Whenever we go out together, I wonder what sort of challenges we will encounter today. The narrow Fore Street in Marazion is a good ‘desensitizing’ training ground and as the season progresses it gets busier and noisier by the day with an increasing number of holidaymakers, double-decker buses, coach loads of visitors, roaring motorbikes, delivery vehicles, builders going in and out of houses covered by scaffolding, children in push chairs, walkers with backpacks, flapping signage, bollards, traffic calming systems, level crossings, road works, packed car parks, etc, etc. All things that would drive the sanest of horses mad. Our guard can never be lowered. We can just as easily be startled by a motor cyclist coming up behind us suddenly whilst we are ambling along a quiet country lane.
When we get to the beach, I make a point of stopping to chat to visitors and invite children to stroke Tommy’s neck. Whereas normally he can get quite fidgety if asked to stand still for any length of time, he loves this kind of attention and is happy to stand and soak it up.
I am constantly watching out for hidden dangers that lurk in long grass verges, like broken bottles that have been tossed out of car windows. Even the beach is not immune from the these same hazards. And there is the everyday scan of the hedgerow for plastic bags or paper and other debris that has snagged on branches and flap, noisily in the breeze that threatens to send equines sidestepping into the path of oncoming traffic. But however careful I am, we can be caught completely unawares.
We were enjoying the early Spring sunshine the other day, lulled into a false sense of security when I had my second fall from Tommy. A huge tractor came trundling towards us down the narrow country lane waving its claw arm in the air towering above the cab, pulling a heavily laden trailer behind it. Not a big problem as Tommy is pretty good with traffic, but the sheer size of this beast made him start to jiggle along and sidle over towards the hedge to put as much distance as possible between him and this monster as it passed. Somehow, my foot got snagged up in the tangle of overgrowth on top of the hedge and I couldn’t work myself free from the ensnarement. I didn’t know it at the time but what I thought was a particularly tough bramble actually turned out to be a piece of garden wire that was hidden in the verbiage and it was this that had plucked me clean out of the saddle and before I knew it, I had landed in a heap in the road, eye level with Tommy’s dancing feet. It was at that precise moment, fearing I could get trampled, I decided to let go of the reins only to watch him trotting off down the lane happily heading towards home.
Picking myself up, mildly relieved there were no broken bones, I retrieved one of my stirrups with its leather from the brambles on top of the hedge and started to trot off after Tommy, vainly calling his name. By this time the tractor driver had got out of his cab, jumped down onto the road and was asking if I was OK. I called back, yes, I’m fine, thanks, and continued on my mission to try and catch up with my loose pony who was by now out of sight. Suddenly, two delightful women appeared from different houses, having heard the commotion and their horses in the field opposite starting to call out to Tommy. Together with my two new companions we caught up with him, relieved he had decided, after a toss of his head to put the reins back in place away from around his ears, to go up the lane towards the track that goes across the fields and not towards the busy Marazion bypass. By this time, a third lady had joined the rescue mission. So grateful for their help, and having remounted, with a final thank you to my brilliant ad hoc recovery crew, we carried on our way, thankfully, none the worse for wear other than a couple of developing purple bruises. As for Tommy, he carried on as if nothing had happened
There is nothing to say my trajectory along the path of pilgrimage will be any less hazardous. That is the nature of pilgrimage, especially one with a horse. One must be prepared for the unexpected. That seems to be the only certainty. I have got to know Tommy a little better over the past 9 months that he has been in my care. As with horses in general, I am often surprised by the things he takes completely in his stride and by the odd, often random things that continue to startle him. He is still head shy which I suspect is a result of having his ears ‘twitched’ sometime in his Irish past. He is also very suspicious of anyone picking up his hind legs or doing anything around his hind quarters which I can only attribute to perhaps having a late and unpleasant castration experience. It certainly makes picking out his hind feet risky, particularly when he is in a heightened state of awareness, such as when there are a lot of things going on around him. It would certainly account for his stallion-like behaviour at times. But there is no doubting his bravery and intelligence and native Celtic wisdom. Thankfully, he has made no objections to the extra weight of the panniers, and I was pleased we didn’t have them attached when he bucked as I might have thought he was objecting to them and not the traffic…..which I wouldn’t blame him for.
Meanwhile, with less than 2 weeks before the off, I continue to experiment with the packing and panniers configuration and after several very wobbly trial sessions on Tommy, I’ve finally got to grips with how I can secure them so they don’t keep sliding from one side or the other behind his saddle. I’ve had to do a lot of improvisation simply because there are no lessons on how to do this stuff. I dare say there will be much tweaking as we go along and I expect to be an expert by the time we reach our destination. I am also mindful that the combined weight that Tommy will be expected to carry must not exceed the recommended 20% of his body weight which is going to be a constant juggling act.
Here is a link to map of a BHS organised fun day outing we had with some friends around the Caerhays Estate: http://my.viewranger.com/track/widget/1533633?locale=en&m=miles