It was an exciting day at Hawane Stables – we were on our way to the cross-country course. I was riding Apollo, an old chestnut nooitgedagte gelding, greying but still the fastest horse in the stables with the kindest heart. He understood our instructor better than we did, he could tell what the next instruction was going to be, and did it before we told him to. I loved riding him, it was like sitting in a rocking chair, safe and comfortable as his back was deep and dipped in age.
After having a lesson in one corner of the large cross-country field, our small group of riders, including my sister, lined up at the beginning of the course. It appeared a large and frightening course to our young eyes and each of us had a knot of nerves and excitement in out tummies. Eric, our instructor, let us go one by one through the whole course while he watched and coached. My sister went ahead on her horse, Seadancer and completed the course with only one turn-out. There were many different jumps involved – A-frames, hedge jumps, rock piles, tyres, poles and logs were just a few of them and the course included the length and width of the large field in it’s setting. Next went one of our fellow students who was riding a rather naughty horse who shied and skittered around almost every jump. She went again and as she reined in beside Eric he told me to get ready to go while he discussed with the other girl the problems that she had faced. I waited, trying to suppress the nerves and after Eric gave me the go-ahead, Apollo, ready long before I was, shot off like a speeding bullet. I had no control, but he knew EXACTLY what to do. He was swift and sure, taking every jump at the perfect spot, here the stacked straw had left a small space to fit his hooves while jumping, and there a few rocks had tumbled off, he knew what he was doing and needed not the slightest guidance. I hung onto him as he galloped around at breakneck speed, my attempts at slowing him useless and before I knew it, we were skidding to a halt beside Eric and the other riders. I was beaming – we had done the course perfectly and I was still on my horse, even though he was minus a few mane hairs and my fingers were cramping! Eric turned to me as he just finished talking to the other student and said, “You may go now Nicua!” My lower jaw dropped open and the other students began laughing – it took a while to convince Eric that I had already gone. From that day on, I always asked to ride Apollo when we heard a cross-country lesson was coming up. He was such a star. 🙂