Blog: Getting in Shape

04

Apr 2017

Getting in Shape

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Saturday was wet, drizzly and pewter-grey. A good day to stay indoors.

Sun doing its best on Dartmoor

But if you did venture out, especially if you headed up onto Dartmoor, you’ll experience that amazing sense of glorious isolation that is so difficult to find in the UK. Let me introduce my horse, Hunter: he’s a hunter (Irish draft cross TB 16:2) who’s been hunting all season. Fit as a butchers dog and eager to make progress. He’s big and bold and utterly honest; if he was a person he’d be a genuine bloke, propping up the bar, real ale drinker and rugby aficionado; you know the type.

We set off from the northwest corner of the Moor and headed up towards Yes Tor and as we reached 500m asl we entered the cloud; visibility 25 m and not a soul around apart from the sorry-looking Herdwick sheep. Every footstep was a squelch and I was waiting for a shoe to be pulled at any second. Hunter doesn’t mind mud; in fact I don’t think he notices it really. Rivers? No problem, he’s not in the same category as the amazing Creoles on the Patagonia ride but by English riding standards, he’s good at rivers. He’s not so keen on peat bogs and has the habit of lowering his muzzle as if he’s going to drink his way through but in fact he’s just giving it the eye. Long careful look followed by decisive placement of his dirty great size 12’s. He’s been on the Moor 5 years now and reads the ground carefully. Brilliant! Horses are smart aren’t they!

And then we emerged on the ridge which runs north-south with Taw Marsh on the east. The cloud thinned sporadically and gave a glimpse of the view. Glorious isolation is the only word. Not a soul! Slightly spooky and inspiring in equal measure. A good ride, but rather wet.

And this is why I love Dartmoor: Sunday arrived and not a cloud was in the sky! The weather changed so completely from Saturday to Sunday; a totally different experience. We decided to do a big ride to test our fitness (or my fitness) before heading out to Namibia next w/end. Fernworthy was the goal on the other side of the Moor. Suffice to say that my coat was tied across my cantle all day and remained unused.

 

On top of Sourton Tor

Ten Tors (the schools walking competition) is fast approaching and on several tor tops I came across teachers, carefully concealed with their binoculars, watching the progress of their school groups far away! I didn’t see another rider all day and Hunter was his usual 100% self. Most of the ground is too soft for anything more than a soft trot, but on top of some of the higher ridges you can nudge up into one of those canters that is actually slower than a trot but is like sitting in a rocking chair and up there, with steep drops on both sides, sun in your face, you’re king of the world. Hunter likes to look at everything and make sure it’s all in place, particularly when out alone. And my favourite quirk of his, is his consistent need to go right to the top of each tor we reach. I don’t know how well you know Dartmoor, but some of the tors are mighty petite on top! He arrives in a swooshing style and stops on the pinnacle for a good 3 or 4 mins and checks out every compass bearing! Ears pricked; fully upright; the perfect photo model! He’s remarkably nimble for one so robust.

Sunday was the best ride I’ve ever had in the UK. 8 tiring hours of tricky riding; Hunter looked after me; an absolute pleasure. Bring on Namibia!

If you ever want to test your fitness you’re welcome to come to Dartmoor either for the one week ride, or let me know and we can arrange day rides to suit.

 

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