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Friday, 1 January 2010

The 2000 Challenge, day 10: rest day in Braemar

Having got ahead of schedule by doubling up on the way to Muir Cottage, I now had Sunday as a rest day. So I went to church in the morning, and then caught a bus to Balmoral (which is just up the road) to see what Queen Victoria had found so exciting about it.

Now Balmoral is a stalking estate, and has a stable full of stalking ponies - Highland ponies who are trained to bring the deer carcases down off the hillside. Through the summer months, when stalking doesn't take place, they double up and earn a bit of extra revenue by doing pony trekking around the estate. There was a ride going out soon after I got there, and they had a spare mount, so I decided to give my feet a rest and look at Balmoral the easy way.

Now, something you have to understand about stalking ponies is that they are used to having dead weight on their backs and flopping against their sides, so they are pretty unresponsive to leg aids. You've really got to be positive if you want them to take any notice of you. Which makes them perfect trekking ponies, of course, because for the most part you WANT a trekking pony to ignore what its rider's legs are doing, and simply to follow the ride and do whatever the pony in front does.

This led to a few early misunderstandings between me and my pony. But once he had got the message that when I ask for halt, he halts, even if the pony ahead hasn't; and that when the pony ahead moves off I expect him to stay halted until I tell him otherwise - that is to say, once he had got the message that I was the rider, and expected to be in control of the rider / pony relationship - well, we got on just famously. So much so that after they split the ride to let the more experienced riders go for a bit of a blast on the way back in, the ride leader told me she'd never seen anyone get that pony actually thinking forward before. I smiled, and told her I'd had plenty of practice with my little cob mare ...

Buses back to Braemar were few and far between, but I managed to hitch a lift with some tourists, and so ended my rest day in Braemar.

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