My Beloved and I set off yesterday evening for a beautiful ride around the mealie* fields on the huge farm Swaelkrans next door. It’s about a 6-8km round trip with miles of flat, quiet paths for loping on, and hence one of my favourite places to ride.
Skye has been there scores of times, but it was Thunder’s first time off the farm in his entire life. He didn’t start out very nice. A lope turned into a breakneck gallop when a duiker, his arch enemy, jumped out of the bushes, and he also shied twice at nothing. I was annoyed by the time we reached Swaelkrans, but my Beloved calmed my temper somewhat, Thunder stood dead still for me to remount after opening the wire gate and we set off in a better mood.
From then on Thunder was stunning. We started by taking a long jog, which already settled him down, and by resolving to lope in single file to stop them from racing each other (Skye takes anything as a challenge). I took the lead for our first lope and it went very well, but was aborted when I noticed my saddle slipping and looked down to see, with horror, my cinch swinging loose. Somehow the saddle stayed on throughout our abrupt halt even though it was held on by nothing but luck, and I hurriedly dismounted and fastened it rather tighter, assuming that the knot on the right side hadn’t been tied properly.
Remounting (and thanking God for Western saddles; in no other saddle can you ride in shorts, unless you are my Beloved, who rides in shorts all the time because he’s superhuman), we continued. We jogged, loped and met several duiker; Thunder didn’t misbehave at all except for loping a bit too fast, but he never overtook his mom and stopped when she did. We took a long route between the mealie and soya bean fields before reaching the tar road. We pulled up a good 50m from the road and let Thunder have a look at the traffic – I didn’t dare ride along it yet – but he just stared and didn’t bolt.
Going home, he was equally well-behaved. We had several long, awesome lopes and Thunder stayed obediently behind his mom without any bucking or nonsense. Skye had no such reservations; when Thun and I took the lead again she promptly blazed past up next to us. To my surprise Thunder kept pace along his mom, Skye stayed in a slow lope (thanks to her rider) and we kept on for a good kilometre at this pace with no issues at all. I was thrilled with Thunder, and we walked most of the way home on a happy, chilled loose rein.
I had clean forgotten about my treacherous cinch and only remembered when we took our last lope, only about a kilometre from home. Skye and my Beloved were having a run, Thunder was staying nicely under control in a lope behind them, and then with a sickening lurch my saddle tipped up and the cinch swung wildly loose. Something – whether it was the flying cinch, the tipping saddle or my squeak of alarm – spooked Thunder and he swerved, and the next thing I knew I was cursing my carelessness and disentangling myself from my saddle, with the sound of Thunder’s receding hoofbeats in my ears.
My Beloved paused only to check that Thunder’s reins were still over his head before teleporting to my side and rescuing me. Thunder was amazing; he bolted in panic halfway up the road, then turned around and bolted back to stand beside me. Nobody could train a horse to be that loyal; he was just born that way, sweet thing. My knight in shining armour put his whiny and slightly battered girlfriend on the comparatively safe Skye, and insisted on riding home on a nervous young horse with a hazardous saddle. (Chivalry is not dead). To his credit, Thunder was calm all the way home. To hers, Skye rescued me yet again, plugging calmly homewards with the reins loose on her neck and me holding the pommel like a total noob.
It turns out that the cinch I have for my Western saddle isn’t long enough, and so the saddle straps are run through the fastening ring only twice instead of three times on the right side, which means that there’s a huge amount of strain on the knot and it pops loose rather too easily. Note to self: get a new cinch.
Never fear, I live to fall another day. Despite its bad ending, it was an amazing ride, and it won’t be long before my Beloved and me ride again. Praise the Lord for good men, good horses, and whatever dutiful angel it is that keeps catching me and breaking my falls. God rides with me even on the days that I fall, and He will always ride alongside.
*Maize/corn in South African English, viz., a mixture of badly pronounced English and any Afrikaans word that appears handy at the time, usually misspelt.