Cockles crunched under the weight of the big cob’s heavily feathered feet as he picked his way around the rocks of the bay. Summer had come at last and Abigail had decided that the time was right to take the recently broken in Simba out to the beach. He’d taken to ridden life remarkably well given his rocky start to life and had nearly got over his separation anxiety, though he still got very distressed if he was ever turned out or ridden alone. Despite that, he had proven to be a very safe and unflappable schoolie and had become many of the children’s favourite within weeks of him being allowed in lessons. He was still a little green in the school but it was hacking where he really came into his own.
‘Alright ladies, we’ll have a canter here I think, then take it a bit slower when we get onto the sandy bit - we don't want anyone to spook remember!’
Abigail smiled back at the rest of the ride - Mhairi had leapt at the chance to ride out on the beach and had twisted her friend Kelly's arm into coming along. While beach rides were available for most of the year, it was very rare for them to occur during such good weather and she was convinced that Kelly would never have taken advantage of it if she hadn't said anything.
Abigail clicked her tongue and Simba surged forward into a bold,
ground-covering canter, mane and tail flying in the breeze like a
warhorse of old. She glanced back to see Mhari half-halting and trying
to keep her weight down through the stirrups in a vain attempt to get
Jazz to apply the brakes.
Chuckling to herself, she brought Simba back down to a trot.
'Alright there Mhairi?'
'Yeah, I'm good - Jazz is in one of her 'OMG OPEN SPAAAACE' kinda moods, she'll settle down once we've had a gallop I think.'
'Ok, well don't hesitate to let me know if you're having any trouble! I think we'll just stick to trot until we're out on the main sands in case a certain someone tries to jump the rockpools again...'
Mhairi grinned sheepishly; the last time she'd been out with Jazz, she'd taken up David's jokey dare to clear a particularly large rockpool, complete with resident crabs. Jazz had been all too keen, until something in the water moved and she skidded to a stop, flinging Mhari out of the saddle and onto the other side. She was still trying to convince David that she had in fact won the dare as he hadn't specified that the horse had to jump over it as well...
As the sea got closer, Simba's ears pricked and he let out an excitable whinny before coming to a standstill, staring, goggle eyed at the waves. Abigail rubbed his neck gently and tried to encourage him forward but he wouldn't budge.
'Ok, you two, go on ahead, I think I'll just let Simba get used to the sight of everything before we get any closer. Don't get out of my sight and absolutely no swimming until I join you and give you the ok, have you got that? You can paddle but no deeper than knee height.'
'Yes Abigail' the girls chanted in unison. They knew her well enough by now to have learned her 'beach health and safety' talk by heart.
While Simba stood in awe of the sight in front of him, Mhairi and Kelly legged their mounts on and cantered away. Freya the Fjord struggled to keep up with Jazz's sudden acceleration at
first but it wasn't long before they were racing each other across the
The canter moved up a gear into the gallop and when Mhairi lost her stirrup for a minute, Kelly moved up into the lead.
'Hey, that's not fair!' she yelled over the wind 'I had a disadvantage!'
Breathing heavily, they dropped back down to a trot and let the horses cool off. Jazz still fought for her head, despite being given a long rein.
'Does she ever switch off?' said Mhairi, shaking her head in disbelief. 'You'd think she was supercharged or something.'
'Nope' replied Kelly 'I don't think I've ever ridden her when she's not been jumping all over the place! I mean, that's good for jumping and stuff but when you're trying to work on your collection for dressage it's a nightmare.'
'Want to go for a paddle-but-only-knee-deep?'
Mhairi laughed. 'Only knee deep, got it!'
'Sit back Mhairi, pitching forward like that is only going to make her speed up.'
'Hrumph, you try holding her back! It's like I have a tank in each hand!'
'Yes well it's still not helping. Push your heels down and half-halt when-'
'Kelly. Shut up. If I'd wanted a lesson I'd have stayed at the yard.'
'Alright, have it your way, I was just trying to help!'
'I know, I'd just rather not think about schooling when I'm at, you know, the beach.'
'Yes but you can and should ride the same way, no matter where you are - you need to take control and -'
'Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Now come on, it's a lovely day, try to enjoy yourself!'
The cold water was a relief on such a hot day and both ponies trotted through it gratefully, kicking up cool spray with every stride.
'Are we knee-deep yet?' pondered Mhairi.
'I don't think it's even over their fetlocks but I wouldn't push it, Abigail might explode or something, you know what she's like.'
'Oh I don't know, maybe deeper water might help slow Jazz down a bit, you know, make her shorten her strides.'
'If anything it'll probably make her go faster as she'll be working extra hard against the current so no, not a good idea.'
'Oh lighten up Kells, let's see shall we; come on Jazz, trot oooarrghhh!'
Mhairi kicked on at exactly the same moment a terrifying looking clump of seaweed surfaced and Jazz panicked, leaping straight up in the air and bucking sideways, tossing her rider out the side door seconds later.
'Oh not again' muttered Abigail as she watched from the other side of the beach, standing in her stirrups to get a better view. 'She's getting as bad as Tamarind... Come on Simba, let's go and get them.'
'You ok Mhairi?' Kelly queried, pulling Freya up beside her friend.
'Yeah, I'm fine, just soggy. I knew that was going to happen by the way, she'd been staring at the water for ages.'
'So why'd you fall off then if you knew she was going to dump you?' Kelly rebuked with a smirk.
'Because...oh shush, just because. Jaaaaazzz, come on girl, the sea monster's not going to eat you!'
By the time Abigail arrived Mhairi was safely back on board, no worse for wear; the only indication that she'd hit the deck, a fine coating of sand down one side and the slight squelching sound she now made when they went into trot.
'Before you say anything Abigial, we weren't even properly paddling!' she stated firmly 'There was obviously a really dangerous animal out there and Jazz was just trying to protect me from it.'
'What, by chucking you off? That sounds more like a tactical sacrifice to me!'
Mhairi shot her friend a dark look and Kelly burst out laughing.
'In her defence, Abi, it was a genuine spook, she wasn't being irresponsible...well, just chose to ride Jazz out of the confines of an arena so I suppose she kinda was but...'
Abigail chuckled. 'Oh I wasn't going to blame you, these things happen on the beach. As long as you're both alright that 's all that matters.'
'Really?!' The girls looked at each other in disbelief. Normally Abigail would be throwing a fit at even the merest sign of rule breaking and especially a fall but evidently the good weather had improved her sense of humour too.
'Simba seems to have chilled out a bit more now.' said Kelly, nodding towards the stallion who trotted onwards, his frame clearly more relaxed and calm than before.
'Yes, I think just letting him take in his surroundings for a few minutes was the right thing to do. He's never seen the sea before so it was bound to spook him a little. I know of so many people who throw their horses in at the deep end - literally - on the beach and then wonder why they end up bolting and throwing people off.' She looked back at Mhairi and smiled. 'That wasn't aimed at you dear, I don't think Jazz even knows what the word 'slow' means.'
'Anyway, I think he's ready to have a little paddle, he seems keen enough now.'
On approaching the water, Simba lowered his head and sniffed it, ears pricked in interest. He nibbled on some seaweed, had a little splash with his foreleg and then completely lost interest and carried on as though he'd lived on the beach his whole life.
Beach ride bombproofing = success.
The group trotted on until the light began to fade and it was time to head back to the horsebox, the only evidence of their visit, hoofprints in the sand.
(Fun fact, I actually shot this last year and have been meaning to make up a photostory with the images for MONTHS!)