Killer questions

In an uncharacteristic move, I was unprepared for a situation I found myself in the other weekend.  Back in December, I had a message from the director of my summer camp to provide dates of recruitment fairs she’d be attending in the UK and Ireland – former staff were invited along to say hi and help out.  There had been one such person two years previously when I was hired, and I thought it’d be a fun thing to do (plus I needed to see the director and discuss what may or may not happen in 2015), so I agreed to attend one of the London fairs.

Having witnessed someone else do what I knew I’d be doing, I didn’t think about it too much – the day I was hired, a friendly girl (who, as it happened, had done two summers in the horseback department) was essentially entertaining the queue of waiting candidates.  She wasn’t assessing anyone, but she was available to ask any of the more informal questions an applicant might have.  I assumed I’d be in the same position, so I didn’t prepare myself other than remembering what I might get asked.

However, I forgot that things have changed slightly in the meantime – I initially turned down the opportunity to return to camp in 2015, deciding to stay in the UK and start to get my life back on a permanent track.  Some good things have happened this winter, and I wanted to stick with them.  Then my boss also said she wouldn’t return, and the carrot of a promotion was dangled in front of me.  My decision was on the rocks.

Nobody at the recruitment fair I helped at was uncertain.  Once the doors opened, we were inundated with enthusiastic applicants.  I duly triaged the queue, turning away anyone who was seeking a position we’d already filled, and warming up those who we could potentially take.  As I was chatting away, my director grabbed me and asked me to speak to an applicant she’d already approved of – our first candidate for horseback.  I was excited to finally talk horse with someone, but what I wasn’t expecting was that I’d have to vet their skills!  The director had decided she was happy with the person – not an easy feat, she’s justifiably a tough woman to please – and I was to make a call as to whether their horsey experience was sound.

I explained a little about the department – one of the problems we often face at camp is that whoever hires people (a selection of directors travel around the world, and none of them work at the barn) doesn’t know a huge amount about what we do and how the day works, so they aren’t able to answer detailed questions.  Sometimes, it’s clear staff have been accidentally misled, and they get a big shock.  They’re normally told it’s hard work (which any horse person should already know) and long hours are involved (but again, it’s camp, not a holiday – you’re there to work!) but sometimes they seem to show up assuming they’ll ride several hours per day, or during their breaks… not the case!

It’s difficult to give an accurate representation of what it’s like without scaring people off, but I tried my best.  Anyone who loves horses and wants to work with them shouldn’t be phased by the hours, the poo picking and the grunt work, but some are.  So I was fairly gentle.  I made sure to explain that the majority of riders are beginners and that it’s therefore very repetitive.  I laboured the point that if you get an hour in the saddle every two days, you’ve done well.  But I did also point out that none of our horses live in unless they’re seriously ill, so although there’s poo to pick, there are no stables to muck out.  And they all remained keen.

Rightly or wrongly, I didn’t ask them too many questions – the thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that people can talk a great game, have brilliant experience with horses and know their stuff, but when it comes to teaching… that’s a different thing.  You honestly can’t properly tell how someone is as a teacher until you see them do it.  So I didn’t ask for any detailed philosophies there, but I did ask two questions which, to me and the way our barn runs are critical: how confident are you handling horses on the ground; how good are you at picking out hooves?

Those questions sound basic, right?  They should do, but they aren’t.  We do always get a variety of levels of experience (see previous regarding the type of person responsible for hiring staff – non-experts), but it amazes me how many staff seriously lack confidence when they’ve got an excited or flighty horse on the end of a lead rope, or who are reluctant to bend over and pick out eight hooves first thing in the morning (that’s all they have to do once we’ve tacked up!  Each member of staff is responsible for two specific horses – if you as a person do the same two horses once or twice per day for 13 weeks on the bounce, if those horses don’t have at least the fourth hoof in the air waiting for you, you’re doing something very wrong).

Throughout the course of the afternoon, I vetted and accepted enough staff to fill my department, and they’re all lovely.  It was very exciting to take people through that process and see their reactions.  But I did walk away a little disappointed in myself for only thinking of two killer questions – I used to work in recruitment for goodness’s sake!  Anyway, it’s done now.  I got excited about camp again.  So my 2015 is still to be confirmed…

If you’re looking for grooms or junior instructors, what’s the most important horsey quality for you?  Clearly, something else of great importance is that someone has the confidence to speak up when they’re uncertain, rather than do something wrong, but that goes for any job… Do you look for champion hoof pickers, strong biceps for lugging water buckets or another type of X-Factor?  Let me know in the comments!


Wordless Wednesday – tourists at the luau

First of all: an apology.  To anyone who has ever given me a dance lesson, or taught me any kind of motor skill – I am not normally this bad.  And to the people of Hawaii, I’m sorry I murdered your dance.  But, respect to you, it’s really difficult and really fast.  I’d quite like to see Beyonce do it.

PSA over, here’s the real post.  Now that smartphone cameras are decent quality, and I’m wedded to my iPhone, my compact digital camera usually sits sadly neglected.

It comes out on special occasions, or when I go on “big” holidays.  My trip around the US was no exception, and when my friends and I hopped up on stage to try and learn the hula at the luau we attended in Hawaii, the new friends we’d made at our table captured the evidence.

I found this video whilst waiting for my flight home from Berlin, and have barely stopped laughing since.  So here you go: the hula, being murdered by myself and my friends Eva and Sarah.

High standards

Having spent two summers in the US, I’ve learned the importance of selecting the right airline.  Growing up in the UK meant that my idea of what is a reasonable cost for short haul or domestic travel is possibly a little warped, although it did also give me an awareness of how much airlines like to rip passengers off.

Within the last 12 months, I’ve taken domestic flights with six airlines, and the experiences have ranged from “acceptable” to “I wouldn’t put a corpse on one of these flights”.  Here are the highs and lows (sorry), so that you can avoid my mistakes and the airlines may see what they’re doing wrong.

Frontier (New Orleans to Las Vegas via Denver, September 2013)
I had a pleasant experience with Frontier, but since I flew with them, I’ve heard that they’ve adopted one of my least favourite policies – charging for cabin baggage.  In one way, I see their point – people take the mickey with cabin bags, particularly on US domestic flights, but I feel that these days that isn’t so much about the convenience of not having to wait to collect your bag, but more that if you’re taking a round trip, having luggage in the hold increases the cost of your journey by at least $50.  Anyway, the crew at Frontier were nice, there were no issues with our trip, but now that they’ve reviewed their policy, I’d check carefully before flying with them again.

Delta (Las Vegas to Jacksonville via Atlanta, September 2013)
This fits into the “not bad” category: this particular flight was my bargain of the century – it cost $70, including taxes and my luggage fee.  It was a very early morning takeoff (7am on a Saturday – not the sort of Vegas experience you want), and my layover time was due to be around an hour, which isn’t actually very long given that Atlanta airport is famously huge.  Of course, my connecting flight was delayed…because there was no plane.  I made it to my destination in the end, and decided I’d gotten what I’d paid for: absolutely no frills, no food or drink and a delay.

I flew with Delta again in September 2014, from Boston to San Francisco via Detroit.  Thanks to some inclement weather, it was a bumpy first leg into Detroit, but the crew handled it nicely.  Due to the weather, our arrival was delayed, as was our departure, but the weather isn’t something the airline can do anything about, and the situation was well-handled.

JetBlue (Jacksonville to New York, September 2013)
This was an even earlier departure than my Las Vegas flight, and I still owe the person who gave me a lift to the airport big time.  JetBlue have a great reputation – the planes are nice, the staff are good and the service is organised.  I have no complaints and would fly with them again.

Alaska Airlines (Portland to Honolulu, September 2014)
Alaska had a sneaky helping hand here – our destination was paradise.  It felt like a very long flight to Hawaii (it’s further from the mainland than I realised, and we spent the night prior to our flight at the airport to cut our costs), but the staff were pleasant and soft drinks are included.  However, I do think it’s criminal that, on flights of four hours or more, there is no food included in the cost of your ticket.  It’s harder than it looks to get one-way flights to popular destinations, including your baggage fees for less than $180 per person, and you’d think that for having paid that much – which is far more than the vast majority of hotel nights which include breakfast – you’d be entitled to at least a muffin, packet of crisps, piece of fruit or some other snack.  But, perversely for a country which consumes as much food as it does oxygen, this is not the case.  We touched down ravenous, though we did get a lovely commentary about the scenery we were unable to view due to being sat in the middle of the plane, courtesy of a crew member who is a native Hawaiian.

Allegiant Air (Honolulu to Las Vegas, September 2014)
This was my “never again” experience.  We were suspicious when we booked this flight, as it was so much cheaper than those offered on the same date and route by other airlines, but as we were strapped for cash, we did it anyway.  Allegiant are now down with Spirit on our no fly list, as they provided a similarly terrible experience for one of my friends last year.  Allegiant, it turns out, are the USA’s answer to Ryanair.  There are certain standards most US domestic airlines stick to, some are good, some are bad: no food or alcohol is provided, but soft drinks are complimentary; passengers are essentially allowed two items of cabin baggage each – one piece of cabin-sized luggage, and one “personal item” (which basically means small bag such as a handbag or briefcase); hold luggage weight allowance is 50lbs/23kg – the same as economy passengers get on long haul flights.  Allegiant breaks all of these rules: passengers are charged an extra $10 (depending on your route, it could actually be more) for wishing to carry two items into the cabin; soft drinks cost $2 each, with other drinks and food costing more; hold luggage allowance is a mere 40lbs.  Fortunately, one of my friends had a spare suitcase, so between the three of us, we shuffled our belongings around to make four bags weigh 40lbs each, and paid for it to go in the hold.  To add insult to injury when we got on the plane, the cabin was absolutely freezing.  Oh, and the seats don’t recline.  And so began the most painful five hour flight of my life, and one which I will never repeat.

American Airlines (Las Vegas to New York, September 2014)
AA also falls into the “passable” category.  The staff were very cheerful, given the early takeoff, and it’s not the airline’s fault that JFK airport is about 150 years old, meaning passengers must therefore walk six miles to reclaim their bags.  American Airlines are the only carrier to send me a follow up email asking for my thoughts on my trip.  “Great,” I thought, “here’s my chance to tell them that they and every other airline are arseholes for not feeding us!”  But no.  It turns out AA actually don’t want passengers’ thoughts – they just want them to answer poorly-worded questions which have unfairly devised likert scales (no options for “don’t care” or “not applicable”), without even so much as an “any other comments?” box at the end of the survey.  You fell at the last, AA, thanks to your own ego.

Now that I’m no longer new at this, here are my top tips for surviving US domestic air travel without losing your mind and going bankrupt:

Before you book

  • Check the baggage policy – not only do some baggage allowances vary, but costs can vary if you don’t book your baggage when first offered. Sometimes this is when you book the flight, sometimes it’s when you check in online the day before your trip.  Also make sure you check the cabin baggage policy
  • Figure out how long the flight is and what catering is supplied – airlines state on their websites which routes include free soft drinks or other food and beverage items. Be prepared to spend a lot of money, go hungry, or bring your own
  • Check the flight price through comparison websites (Kayak is my favourite, though I normally double-check via Momondo) and direct with the operator – sometimes there are minor differences, but these can build up. Don’t assume that the cheapest price on the comparison site when you look at the initial search results will hold – often the most bargainous one doesn’t include the standard taxes and fees, in order to entice you in

Before you travel

  • Make a note of your departure time and make sure you check in online as early as possible. Check in normally opens 24 hours prior to take off, and this is when you get to choose your seat (unless you fly with Allegiant or Spirit).  As with all flights, your seat allocation will pop up, but you can usually change this for free.  Some seats incur an extra charge, but most don’t, so read carefully, pick your favourite seat (I always have to decide whether I want to be at the front of the cabin or on the aisle – getting both of those would be a dream come true for me) and get organised
  • Ensure you have paid your baggage fees, or are at least prepared to pay for them. I find it more convenient to pay online before travelling, not to mention most of the time it’s cheaper
  • Allow enough time to arrive at the airport early and stock up on snacks and drinks – airports really have you over a barrel, as you can’t take liquids through security, so you have to rely on the generosity of your airline or your willingness to pay through the nose for drinks once you’re airside
  • Prepare your in-flight entertainment: most US domestic airlines are getting even slicker with regard to movies – some will offer movies for a fee, others offer nothing. Charge your iPad up, download some films and grab a new book

On the day

  • If you and the airline have a scale-related disagreement, be prepared to open your luggage and stuff more into your carry on or throw it away. Know what will be easiest (and most appropriate to move around), so that you can just whip it out and get on with your journey
  • If you’ve forgotten your trusty book or your iPhone battery has been drained as you furiously Tweet throughout check in that airlines are bastards, grab a magazine before you get on board
  • Stow your hand luggage under the seat in front of you – there’s nothing I find more infuriating after a five hour flight which has made me grumpy because I’m crumpled up in a tiny seat and getting hungrier, than having to wait behind every other idiot who’s retrieving their luggage from the overhead bins at a snail’s pace. Grab your bag, unbuckle your belt and run up that aisle as soon as you can

Good luck, dear reader: although these airlines are criminals, the destination is normally worth the pain of the journey.

Two thousand miles

At the time of writing, it’s a week since I left camp.  With part of my plans not quite getting off the ground, I decided instead to stick with my closest friend from camp and hit the road: Eva wanted to go to Canada, and had always planned to meet me on the West coast so that we could go to Hawaii together, but instead I found myself on a slightly different route…

We left our arrangements very late, which has meant our plans have been very fluid and often re-arranged at short notice.  Our employers arranged travel to Manhattan in the middle of Labor Day weekend (not the cheapest time to arrive!) and the US was our oyster.  We chose to stay in New York City for two nights, booking a hotel on Madison Avenue in the Flat Iron district.  It was predictably tiny, but sharing a Queen bed with one of my friends having spent 14 weeks in a very small twin bed seemed like luxury.

Our time in Manhattan was largely spent organising things for the following week of our trip, but we did get out and about a little – neither of us are huge fans of NYC, so we stuck to going to the Top of the Rock and 34th Street for a very quick shop.  That and treasuring the simple joy that is eating off a re-useable plate with proper cutlery (all of the tableware at camp is disposable, I’ve spent my summer eating from Styrofoam plates with plastic cutlery).

1. top of the rock rockefeller center new york nyc nighttime panorama city lights usa

the view from the Top of the Rock

We wanted to hire a car from New York all the way to Portland (Oregon, not Maine) and do a mammoth road trip, but thanks to Labor Day, New York was literally sold out of cars.  So was Newark.  So it was time for a new plan.  Things became a little convoluted, leading us to take a bus to Boston, where we got car hire for eight days and headed further north.

The bus journey, of course, ran two hours behind, but the freedom when we finally got our car was fantastic – both of us missed driving and defining our own destiny when we were at camp, so hitting the highway was bliss.  We didn’t manage to get into the driving seat in Boston until gone 5pm, but were ready to be on the road and aimed ourselves at Montpelier, Vermont for the night.

We backtracked the following day to a town we’d stopped in for dinner the previous night: Quechee is a word we’ve still not learned to pronounce, but is home to hidden gems – we went to Sugarbush Farm for a free maple syrup and cheese tasting (if you’re ever in the vicinity, leave the beaten path to find this place – not only is the drive gorgeous, but the produce at the end is also divine), and stopped to take photos at Quechee Gorge (“the little Grand Canyon”, as it likes to call itself) on the way back to the highway.

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Quechee Gorge – getting lots of panorama practice during this trip!

Next stop was the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Waterbury.  This was my fault: we visited on a family holiday several years ago, and I remember (before the days of digital cameras, social media and smartphones) painstakingly sitting with my Dad and writing down the ingredients to one of the world’s largest sundaes.  I wasn’t allowed to attempt eating one as a child, and had told Eva about it earlier in the summer – she was determined to finish my business.  We made a beeline for the scoop shop as soon as we’d finished our tour, purchased our bucket of ice cream (no kidding – 20 scoops plus many toppings)… and ate half of it.

3. ben and jerry's factory vermonster ice cream sundae badge usa

Disappointed in ourselves, but armed with our celebratory badges and bucket, we forged on to Canada.  There followed over two days of tedious driving – as Eva kept putting it, “I think we’re on the wrong side of the country” – until we hit Prince Edward Island, which is stunning.  I still haven’t quite forgiven the island for charging us $45 to get across the bridge which links it to the mainland, but we stayed at perhaps the best bed and breakfast I’ve ever stayed at.  We took in some intriguing sights on the island, fantasy house-shopping as we drove around.

4. PEI prince edward island bottle house tourist attraction quirky canada


5. PEI prince edward island beach view sea canada panorama

yes, another panorama

Our trip back into the USA was interesting to say the least (these days, immigration seem to have a problem with me wanting to enter the country and spend money), but we made it eventually.  We took the supposedly-coastal route through Maine and were disappointed – Route 1 on the East coast is nothing like it’s Western cousin, and an evening rain storm didn’t help.  The journey south continued, taking us to Cape Cod, where I ate my first lobster (with some pretty expert guidance from Eva).  I love seafood, and can happily say that this lobster won’t have been my last.  The weather hasn’t been quite warm enough in Cape Cod for us to fully enjoy the beaches, but as we’ll soon be in Hawaii, we aren’t too worried.

6. lobster cape cod yarmouth restaurant dinner food massachusetts usa

Over 2,000 miles later, our friendship is intact, the car is returned, and we now board a plane to the West coast, where one of my friends from the UK awaits, along with many other adventures.


Getting to know them

Easily the most frequently asked question I get from kids about the horses is, “how old is he?”  My mind boggles every single time, because I honestly don’t think it ever occurred to me to ask the age of my mount as a child.  If I were looking to buy or loan a horse, I’d certainly want to know their age, but when I’m riding one for an hour or so, I’m really not bothered.  There are many more important markers of fitness to work for an hour other than age, so it drops down my list of priorities.

There are other things the kids are curious about and, apropos of nothing, the current second favourite seems to be, “do they know us?”  Meaning: can horses tell one person from another; do horses prefer some people over others; do horses remember certain people?  My answer to all of those questions is and always has been a resounding yes, but my appreciation for horses’ abilities in these areas has recently improved.

In order to explain, I need to rewind to early August.  As our third session of camp drew to a close I was preparing my campers – whether I taught them riding or horsemanship – for visiting weekend, when they’d be able to demonstrate what they’d learned for their families and friends.  Whilst teaching my classes – polishing riding routines and pushing kids through new ground work exercises – I found myself feeling horribly jealous of the horsemanship students.  Most of them had been with me for six weeks by this point, and all were working beautifully with their horses: if I ever had to take the rope and demonstrate something, I found the horses to be remarkably responsive, and far more willing than they had been at the beginning of the programme – a testament to the hard work the kids had put in.

But it wasn’t me the horses were responding to, it was the kids who had been working directly with them.  One of the first things I learned and decided when teaching horsemanship, is that you really have to do it from a significant physical distance most of the time.  The horses are very easily distracted, and in order to help them focus and encourage the students to be more independent, I mostly stay well away and hover by the edge of the arena observing quietly.  I’m sure that if a stranger were to pass by, they’d wonder if I were teaching at all.  So my literal involvement had been minimal – I’d truly stepped back and allowed the process to happen, becoming more of a facilitator or coach than anything.

I’d thrown a huge amount of energy into teaching these classes, and had abandoned the idea of working with my own horses during the day.  I’d then been lazy about keeping horses in to work with them after dinner in the evenings, preferring instead to spend time with friends or relax in the sun.  So although I’d facilitated improved relationships between students and horses, I had nothing of my own.  I spent a few days pining for something I thought I wouldn’t achieve, waved goodbye to the campers who were leaving and then took stock.

Two of my students remained and, for the first time in six weeks, I had an hour each day where I had no students (and my other two classes had both become private lessons).  As the kids who remained were now six weeks into the class, I no longer had the excuse that they needed a lot of help, as well as the fact that I was now only responsible for one horse and human per class, rather than two.  It was time to pick up a rope again.

My boss and I formulated a plan, deciding that I would continue to work with two of the horses I’d been supervising, with my third hour reserved for my favourite horse, who needs a lot of entertaining (even more so when he lost a front shoe, therefore rendering him unrideable until the farrier was able to visit).  I stepped a little cautiously back into the ring, at first going through the motions.  I can’t remember what happened in order for me to do what I like to call pressing the fuck it button, but that’s what I did: I realised there was nothing to lose, so I should probably make the most of the remainder of this opportunity and just see what happened.

A week later, my three horses absolutely know me.  The one who was off work playing Cinderella would trot to the fence of his field and whinny whenever I walked past (at least eight times per day as I head to and from classes, the bathroom or to catch other horses), but wouldn’t give anyone else the time of day.  One of them – who is actively despised by most instructors because it takes a very particular type of rider to make him move – volunteered a movement at a canter when I was teaching him a new pattern during one of our most recent sessions (I almost fell over in shock, but instead cried “good boy!” and cheered him on).  The final horse pricked his ears, lifted his tail and peeled around the indoor arena on the end of a lunge line, completing a tricky pattern at an enthusiastic trot which rendered one of the other horsemanship instructors speechless.

Horses shouldn’t surprise me like this, but they do.  Following about an hour per day for a week, I’m confident that those three horses know who I am, what we do together and remember certain things about me.  How much they’d recall and how quickly if I were to disappear for a few months, I don’t know.  But getting started is far easier than I thought.

Grab your passport…

The holiday is creeping closer.  I’m spending a week longer than I’d firmly planned to at camp, and the rest of my ideas are just that, but here’s what I’m hoping to do once I leave in September.

As I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d return – and when I’d next be able to afford a holiday – I crammed as much as possible into my post-camp holiday last year, and it turned into an incredible trip.  Many of the places I visited last year have received “been there, done that” status and, although I’d like to return to many of the cities I saw, only one is getting a second visit this time around.

The plan currently looks like this:

  • Road trip – meeting a friend from the UK in San Francisco for a few days, after which we’ll spend some time driving to Seattle (I’m determined to visit a winery on our way)
  • Beach, reunion, relaxation and food – we’ll then head to Hawaii and meet up with one of my best friends from camp, plus possibly my holiday companion from last year. There follows relaxation, lots of beach time, hopefully a luau trip and all sorts of other things
  • Finishing with a party – the final stop on the tour is my repeat visit to Las Vegas. I enjoyed it immensely last year, and my friend and I are going again to splash around in a pool, people watch on the strip and terrorise every buffet we can find

Any tips for the places mentioned above are welcomed.  I’m only planning on spending a couple of nights in Seattle and, due to my visa, a trip across the border to Canada is unlikely sadly.  I’m hoping to tick another Major League stadium off my list when in San Francisco by going to my annual baseball game, but we’ll be in the city for a few days so I’m looking for more things to do there – I’ve been to Alcatraz before and really enjoyed it, so another visit is a possibility if my friend is keen.

Part of me is trying not to get too excited so that I can still focus on camp – and I know that things will fall into place, as I had pretty vague plans last year and everything worked out beautifully – but I can’t seem to stop myself from looking forward to my trip regardless.

Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to let you all know how it goes…

Finally did it

It only took about six weeks, but I finally caught my favourite horse’s amusing noise on video.  I’d never heard a horse blow raspberries before.  The day after I caught this, we had a horse with colic: I spent most of the day walking the colicky horse around and, as if to give instructions on what he should do, this bay horse stood by the gate to the field watching me and making this noise for an hour.

First and last

When I first knew last summer that my job at camp would involve escorting kids on ridden trails, I felt a huge sense of responsibility to both them and myself.  I saw it as a privilege – rather than a right – that my boss trusted me enough to take kids and horses out of her sight and control.  Those who don’t know horses might think that there’s only so much that you can do in 45 minutes… they’d be wrong.  Anything can – and does – happen when horses are involved, so I was acutely aware of the fact that these rides wouldn’t often be at my own pleasure.

I quickly learned that when you’re escorting a ride, you’re mentally riding each and every horse in your group.  You’re trying to anticipate their movements and help the riders out, whilst ensuring that everyone is safe and enjoying themselves.  It’s a juggling act and, until you know both the horses and the kids, it’s pretty nerve-wracking.  And even when you do know your equine and human companions, you can still only guess as to what’s going to happen.

There are strict rules for trails where I work, which my boss has developed during her 10 summers at our camp.  There are certain parts of the trail where the only gait you can travel at is a walk, and times when you must use your best judgement from day to day.  At the beginning of the session, trotting is forbidden, as the horses have had a few days off and are pretty lively.  Trotting is also off the table if the weather has been poor.  Cantering is only okayed once riders have successfully cantered in lessons – something which is just plain common sense.

Despite the rules, we had a few issues last summer, but I doubt there will be any surprise that I stuck to the rules religiously.  I wanted my kids to be safe and not scared.  But above that, I didn’t want to be the one who returned home with a horse who had left behind a shoe or sustained an injury.  The weather was incredibly hot for much of last summer, and our horses all work around four hours per day, so I was also reluctant to flog them.  I also didn’t want my privileges to be revoked, so I did my best to play by the rules.

It paid off, as I’ve been given a good number of trails this summer too.  My boss will supervise the departure of many trails, but leaves me and our other returnee to sort ourselves out, trusting our knowledge of the horses to allocate them appropriately to campers and decide on a suitable order for the ride.

I taught one of our frequent fliers for all six weeks of his stay this summer, meaning that he and I have wandered the trails with his class many times.  He’s always appreciative of our rides, and taking him out is a great experience.  When his final trail arrived, my boss decided to come with us, even though the numbers didn’t dictate it to be a necessity (her rules are one staff member to every two or three campers, depending on horses and rider ability – this class is my advanced one and, as I only had two students, I always took them out alone).

I knew from the beginning that it would be fun, partly because the responsibility was off me as I was happy for my boss to take charge.  She rode at the front on one of my favourite horses, and I was on her favourite horse at the back – a change from our usual situation.  This was actually our first ride out together with campers in our two summers working together – she prefers that one of us remains at the barn at all times, rather than escorting trails together, but this was an exception.

As both campers are capable riders, it was a speedy trail from the outset.  We waited and walked through the early rocky stages of the trail before taking a quick trot up a side road to the open field which serves as our usual cantering space.  Sure enough, there was a canter around the side of the field towards the woods beyond.  As it was the end of the day and we finish that class a little early to feed the horses, I knew we’d have to go some in order to get home, but my boss was determined and flexed her rules with good judgement.  I wasn’t surprised when we trotted a couple of the less muddy sections, but was a little shocked – though pleased – to get another brief canter.

The trail descends along an old riverbed before snaking up through the woods – it’s my favourite section of our trails, because when the light catches just so, the view through the trees is beautiful.  I didn’t get to see my favourite view this time: we trotted up the final steep section, and I saw my boss canter away once the path levelled out!  There are a few sharp turns, but the horses were more than capable and seemed excited to get the chance to blast around the woods.  My riders handled the ride brilliantly and I got to kick on and enjoy myself as my horse powered along the track.

When we emerged from the woods, my boss turned in her saddle and announced we’d have a final canter, and that this time she was going to let us go a little faster.  We surged through the tall grass along a track I could probably canter smoothly in my sleep, and pulled up grinning at the corner of the field to begin our amble home.

We made it back to the barn in good time to help with feeding, and I dismounted feeling exhilarated after my ride.  It had been a fun week on the trails for me, after the previous session had been a slight washout with the amount of rain we’d had, as well as being the perfect way to say goodbye to a treasured student.