Writing about horses: Her Majesty’s gallop

small__8201075602There can’t be many riders who have received official permission to gallop a horse in Richmond Park (London, England.)  This is no ordinary park, you understand; it is one of England’s Royal parks, and as such is as important as the Tower of London or even Shakespeare. And yet I was one of the privileged few…for entirely inappropriate reasons…

In Royal Richmond Park where English kings went stag hunting from the 13th century or so, you don’t fool around with tradition. Or the deer, for that matter. Now that stag hunting has been prohibited for a couple of hundred years or more the local fauna have grown into ruminant mammals the size of elephants, or so it would seem to the average horse rider.

Most horses are scared sh*tless by the huge stags that often lie down on the bridleway/horse trails during the rutting season, and understandably so. Those heavy-antlered boys may be lying down to start with but their galloping testosterone is very close to the surface and any offending quadruped – or biped for that matter – gets them up and running, and chasing, with alarming rapidity.

However deer are not the only animals wandering loose in London’s Richmond Park. During the summer months farmers are allowed to graze sheep on the vast grasslands in the park.

Sensible management, of course

One, it keeps the grass down; two, it’s good for those grasslands because sheep eat every imaginable kind of weeds and other crap in their paths, so purifying the land for future non-sheepy users and three, it provides local tourists and their children the chance to imagine themselves strolling healthily through deepest countryside when in fact they’re only a stone’s throw from polluted central London. Win-win.

So when I used to hack out other people’s horses in Richmond Park some years back, I was very respectful of the rules we were expected to follow. Large notices at every gate told you that the fastest equine pace allowed was a “hand canter,” and that only downhill with a following wind.

And that dictat was heavily enforced. Anyone caught galloping along the fixed “tracks” (bridleways/trails) was pulled up … assuming the horse-mounted Park Ranger concerned could catch up with you, of course … and severely reprimanded.

But … an exception

Two or three times a week I used to hack out to exercise other people’s horses and would often meet one of the Park Rangers.

As mentioned above, during the summer months sheep get turned out to graze in the park.  And on one particular morning, as the Ranger and I were meandering along the track, we spotted a ewe down by a stream … threatened by a large dog on either bank, closing in.

“Right,” bellowed the Ranger.  “You get down the left side of the stream as fast as you can make that dozey horse go, and I’ll get down the other side.  We’ve got to head those dogs off or they’ll kill the ewe.”

“You mean gallop?”  I shouted incredulously.  “Yes, gallop,” he yelled back.  “Now b***er off.”

http://HowToWriteBetter.netNo-one was more surprised than “Legend Sunprince,” a young Irish three-quarter-bred gelding, when I urged him on into full gallop towards the ewe.

After a couple of bucks he got the idea and lengthened his stride into what was probably his first gallop since he had left the Emerald Isle. The dog on my side, seeing a 15.2hh horse appear at approaching 30 mph, took off into the bushes and his canine comrade on the other side did the same when charged by the Ranger’s horse.

A few days later I saw the Ranger again.

He told me that later on the day in question he had found the owners of both dogs, whose teamwork would have meant curtains for the ewe had we not got there in time.

According to the owners, the two dogs were cuddly family pets and had never met each other before. Yet those dogs were working together to get that ewe and probably kill/eat her.

Isn’t it funny how close to the surface pack animals‘ instincts can be?

(And herd animal “Legend Sunprince” truly enjoyed that gallop.)

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photo credit: Dunc(an’t stand this new layout!) via photopin cc