We’ve had unseasonably mild and sunny weather in Southwestern BC for the past month, but the meteorologists have been warning that it would come to a crashing end early this week. Georgia has been teaching three local sisters (ranging in age from 11 to 18) to ride for the past year, and on Sunday we told them that we’d take Tonka, Pepper and three bikes down to the dike on Monday morning to practice some trail skills. The day dawned incredibly windy and Georgia called early to get my opinion on whether we should cancel. Call me foolish, but I said that we should continue as planned. Despite caution being the better part of valour, I think that experienced riders need to set a strong example for beginners and chickening out because of the weather sends the wrong message in my opinion. Pepper and Tonka are both solid, sensible geldings and the day provided an excellent opportunity for the girls to learn about riding confidently in less-than-ideal conditions.
Tonka was a star. He took the bikes in stride, endured the passing of a train, went over the tracks without tripping on the rails, and crossed the big highway bridge under saddle with dump trucks coming and going. Down on the dike he was very relaxed, but none of the girls wanted to ride him because (1) they never have before and (2) he is bigger than either of Georgia’s horses. About halfway through Georgia climbed aboard though, and he was very well-behaved for her as well. Fifteen minutes into her ride a tree cracked, snapped and fell about 30 feet to his left. Both horses spooked hard, but Tonka regained himself almost immediately and helped Pepper to settle down. Yvonne (the middle sister. Johanna, the youngest, is in the picture above) rode through Pepper’s spook just fine, and I switched places with the slightly-shaken Georgia to help boost her confidence in the following minutes. About ten minutes later another small tree cracked, snapped and fell at the edge of our path about 20 feet ahead. I saw Pepper decide that it was time to leave NOW, and I didn’t even give Tonka time to react…I just booted him around into Pepper’s escape route. When Pepper thought about dodging behind Tonka took three voluntary steps backward, perfectly understanding what I was asking him to do. Pepper came to a halt with the stellar Yvonne still in the saddle, looking a little pale. She switched off with the older, stronger Danielle and we turned around to head out of falling tree territory. The wind died down about half an hour later and we had a calm, pleasant ride home.
I could feel Tonka fading fast on the way home, both physically and mentally. After the last push up The Hill I was considering how many apples he deserved (and could safely eat) after such a winning performance when he stumbled and feel to his knees just at the gate to Farcical Farm. It was funny because it was like a scene from some epic movie, but it was also heartbreaking because that bloody horse tried his heart out for me all day and I asked too much. Four apples, founder be damned.