Ever since Nelly was born and after Katy’s subsequent arrival, I have harboured a small little dream that one day it would be nice to all go riding together, on our little ponios, having the craic!
Perhaps for some people this would seem weird or even an insignificant thing to hope for. Surely, it’s not that hard to just go riding with your children? But odd as it sounds, it is one of those things that makes me happy and ticks all the boxes.
To that end and for all the other obvious reasons, I have worked very hard on ensuring that the ponies we have for the girls are good, even-tempered schoolmaster types. They know their job and have seen the world twice over.
Recently, Katy demanded to be taken off the lead rein and allowed to ‘gallop’ on her own. “No problem,” I said, and off she tottered after Nelly on her pony. Nelly loves to zoom around on her little mare but without any instruction from me she took it nice and steady and rode nearly facing backwards so she could keep a close eye on Katy.
After a few weeks of trotting and cantering around our fields after Nelly, Katy’s confidence was good, although she didn’t notice too much that her steering and stopping aids needed some fine-tuning as her pony is an equine saint.
When it came to hacking I was still running beside her, ready to step in, and reinforced these aids when necessary. Although for the most part the traffic is very good and careful, especially so for two little girls bobbing along on their ponies. I guess this gave me the false sense of confidence that we could go hacking together.
Siobhan English has done great work highlighting the growing dangers to horses and riders on Irish roads in the national media. I had always assumed that drivers, for the most part, didn’t really understand the whole ‘horse’ issue. Surely, it was just like a passing a bike with legs? Some people give it more thought and follow the rider’s instructions (as per the rules of the road) and others just don’t realise what the implications of their speeding past a horse could mean.
No, not just an injured horse. No, not just a hurt rider. Thoughts of a horse-sized dent in their bonnet don’t enter their head. How about a fatally injured child on the road? Unresponsive and crushed by your ignorance. How about for a few seconds of your lifetime, you take away all the time of a person’s life?
An experience on the roads
It is only a short stint on the road before we can access a little woodland and hack in the seclusion without the hazard of traffic. For the first time I was riding with them instead of being on foot, although I did take the precaution of leading Katy’s pony should the steering go astray on her!
We had had so much fun, now hacking home on the road, only about 100 metres from our gateway when I spotted a grey van coming down the hill towards us at speed. I kept my pony out into the road so the van driver would see us. It’s more like a lane, only room for one car, but he was approaching two pull-in spots where we could easily pass each other. He did not slow down.
He sped past the first pull in spot. I was getting a little concerned. As the two pull-ins were closer to him I had ridden past one pull-in spot, which was now 20 or so metres behind us. At the speed he was approaching I would not get Katy’s pony turned in time to trot back in.
So I stayed out. He kept coming. The speed was not altering.
I put my pony in front of the girls and sat up taller. I held my breath. He slowed. Breathing in, relieved. He was obviously going to stop alongside the second pull-in. I sent Nelly trotting on ahead, so as not to delay him, it would take Katy a bit to kick her pony into gear and Nelly’s pony was totally trustworthy.
With half an eye on Nelly and the rest on Katy, and with my stupid faith in strangers, I saw in horror that he was not stopping and was towing a trailer. Nelly carried on trotting, following her instructions with the innocence of any child.
To be fair he had now slowed considerably even though he passed the second pull-in and Nelly squeezed by him through a space hardly fit for a person walking. Now I was in a quandary. Nelly was on her own, on the far side of the van and trailer and I knew it was not safe to pass a moving trailer in such close proximity with a little novice rider. Luckily, the truck driver’s window was open.
Still in my blissful ‘kindness in strangers’ attitude, I pressed on, letting Katy’s pony out on the full length of lead so we could pass single file. That’s all we barely had space for anyway. As I became level with the window I leaned down (my foot almost went into the van we were that close) and asked the man if he wouldn’t mind stopping. “No,” he said, “I’ve slowed down, I’m not stopping.”
Shocked at his rudeness and obvious ignorance to the anomalies of horses, I tried to explain to him that the trailer might spook the ponies. He gave me a barrage of abuse, about how “you horsey people are too precious about your horses” and “he wasn’t stopping”, “we needed to learn to share the road” and so on in that vein.
I did point out to him that the child behind me was four years old and I didn’t want the rattling trailer to spook the ponies. I thought of reining back my pony but Katy was right behind me, alongside his bonnet and Nelly would be left on her own at the far side. He didn’t stop. The trailer did rattle. The ponies did spook. And we were lucky.
I suppose what really galled me was his pure bad manners. That wherever he was rushing to was worth the risk of an utterly unchangeable catastrophe. A simple slight pause in his day that could keep someone safe. I was so wrong. It wasn’t ‘horse ignorance' or not knowing the rules of the road. It was just some guy with a chip on his shoulder putting my children in danger.