Writing about horses: nearly a mis-carriage

small_178297231“Idyllic, unspoilt lanes where cars must give way to pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders,” say the tourist brochures, “and motor vehicles are not even allowed at certain times of day.”  This refers to the romantically named “green lanes” on Jersey, largest of the (British) Channel Islands, where my young son and I went on holiday some years ago. Sounds idyllic, right? Not necessarily….

According to Wikipedia:

Jersey is a self-governing parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with its own financiallegal and judicial systems,[9] and the power of self-determination.[10]

Basically what this means is that Jersey is a tax haven where extremely rich people flock to save a few squillion. It’s also a pretty island with some glorious beaches and, being very close to the coast of France, some delicious food and drink. Plus, shopping is tax-free and glorious.

In fact, as we were to discover, the only thing about Jersey that isn’t glorious, is the width of its “green lanes.”

Having found ourselves a sweet little Dartmoor cross pony and an elderly but amiable cob at a local riding school, we set out for a hack with two young girls on their own horses around a circuit of Jersey’s green lanes. Great, I thought, isn’t it marvellous not to worry about speeding cars or rattling trucks or whizzing motorbikes. Just commune with all things natural at a leisurely walk or trot.

Just as well, too, as the green lanes were all of 3 metres wide with high banks and hedges on either side.  No room for manoeuvre here. And no sooner had this thought crossed my mind than we rounded a bend, only to find a huge carriage being pulled by a team of four Gelderlanders the size of pickup trucks clattering towards us.

medium_2992068071Carriages don’t exactly have rubber racing tires or wallowing suspension, so the noise of metal wheels on ashphalt was like rapid gunfire.

There wouldn’t have been room to pass them if we had been on foot, never mind on three horses and a pony, and the two young girls who were supposedly leading our ride weren’t much help.

“Oh gosh, there’s nothing but banks either side and no gateways,” said one.

“My horse is terrified of carriages, and that man won’t slow down or pull over for anyone,” whimpered the other.

And I’m paying for this, I thought ungraciously as I scanned the banks looking for a loophole.

Then I spotted salvation – a gap in the hedge where the bank had been trodden down somewhat, no doubt by others in our shoes faced with a hurtling carriage and nowhere else to go.

“Right,” I shouted to young son and the two girls, “remember watching them do that bank at Hickstead?  Now’s your chance to have a practice for next season.  Let’s go.”

I shooed the others on up ahead and then put my leg hard on the cob who broke into a lolloping canter and scrambled up the bank after them.

As the carriage charged past with all four Gelderlanders doing the fastest running trot since Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile record in 1954, all three of our horses spooked backwards faster than a Western rein-back.  I winced as substantial areas of potato crop (Jersey potatoes are utterly delicious, by the way) were flattened by 12 tap-dancing hooves.

However the pony, being a pony, stuck his face in the hedge and chewed on some greenery. So my son’s seat was pretty safe.

Once the dust had settled we slithered down the bank and walked them slowly back to the yard.

“Isn’t it wonderful to hack out in safety without any cars or trucks around?” asked the riding school owner as we dismounted.

“Are you kidding?” I spat. “No cars or trucks, but a coach and four the size of a Greyhound bus doing about 30 miles an hour and no brakes?”

“Ah, you met Lord Dingwell. He’s learning carriage driving, I gather.”

“Let’s hope his next lesson is how to slow down.”

We didn’t go riding again that vacation; the sun came out and we spent the rest of it on the beach. At least there we were safe from Lord Dingwell and the Gelderlanders; they’d have slowed down pretty damned fast there, simply sinking up to the axles in the sand. That was a pleasing thought…

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photo credits: Man vyi via photopin cc