With Dot Com Son (DCS) away at boarding school in term time, we try to make ‘special’ time for him when home, and this always makes the younger two slightly envious. Last summer, Horse Phobic Husband (HPH) and DCS embarked on a fossil hunting mission to the Jurassic Coast and this sowed the seed for me to organise a trip with my daughter for these holidays as I knew plans were afoot for both boys to go all Bear Grylls with their father – i.e camping, not washing for the week and doing all the things their ‘health and safety’ mother would raise her eyebrows at.
I’m not entirely sure how to describe my equestrian ability but needless to say there is room for improvement – in fact there’s acres of space. My Pony Mad Daughter (PMD), however, is your typical 9 year old with her sights set firmly on Olympic glory in 2032 (she’s worked it all out that 26 would be the perfect age to go for gold) and is a regular Pony Clubber. She also shares my talent for reciting International Velvet word for word!
I knew I wanted to take PMD away with our four legged friends, Mischief and Toff, and have an adventure in Olive (our ‘new’ lorry) but I didn’t want to go on a riding holiday per se. I wanted to learn and to be made to get out of my comfort zone. I asked my trainer what he thought and if he knew of any good places and the answer was simple: there was only one place that got his seal of approval… the Talland School of Equitation and the superior teaching of Brian Hutton and his amazing team.
So with diary to hand, I called and spoke to the super helpful Bryony who explained how it worked and the type of things on offer for the pair of us at Talland plus also told me about a local hostelry, which I duly booked. It all sounded a lot like hard work but we were ready! PMD ticked the days off her calendar each night whereas I went to sleep wishing I hadn’t cancelled all those gym sessions last term. Lists were written and rewritten (not by me for once!) and provisions were ordered. Departure day arrived and with it appeared our schedules colour coded, highlighted and laminated ready to be stuck on our stable doors.
We survived the journey and arrived to find the most picturesque setting. The long drive was bordered with small turnout paddocks and a collection of horses and ponies of all shapes and sizes grazed happily in the sun. We were shown to our stables in a huge american barn, which was a hive of activity. No time to dawdle as we were both having an assessment session, which filled me with dread not only because I hate riding in public, but my trainer and Brian go way back and I didn’t want this happy hacker housewife to let the side down. The first thing I soon realised about Brian was his amazing way with words. Brian totally put me at ease and complemented the few skills I have whilst still pointing out the areas that needed more work (euphemism for 35 years of bad riding!) I was thrilled to hear that I have ‘quiet hands’ and by Day 3 Brian was introducing me as Charlotte Dujardin – the old charmer! But it did the trick as I soon had to get used to the working pupils sitting in and watching my lessons and it was slightly addictive.
Our timetable of lessons covered a myriad of things – I was extremely lucky to have a lunge lesson with Abi Hutton, the day after her and Charlie’s stunning dressage music video was released, and heard all about the making of it whilst lying on my back with my eyes closed cantering with no stirrups and feeling every stride – it was an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. Hilary, Anne-Marie, Pippa, Elizabeth and Brian all carefully and kindly put my daughter and I through our paces and helped deal with our rather over-excited pony, who didn’t always make it easy for PMD. Lessons at home had made us all rather isolated to the real world and Talland was one place you and your horse were sure to lose any inhibitions. On one occasion when the cheeky pony was having another hissy fit at all the action around him, Pippa Hutton sweetly called for Rita to be tacked up so that PMD could have a quieter time. Little did we know that Rita was Pippa’s Grand Prix pony and before we knew it, with Pippa calling out instructions, I witnessed the very lovely sight of seeing my daughter beaming from ear to ear as she performed perfect flying changes across the diagonal of the enormous indoor arena.
Brian continued to boost my confidence and I really felt I was getting somewhere. Despite the mini heatwave, especially with a body protector on, the thought of the calories I was burning kept me going although many pit stops were required and my fitness was definitely tested. Brian, however, was a machine. He taught all day without a break and on one day, when the biggest storm I’ve ever seen hit the farm, and the horses were all frazzled, the electrics flickering and the wind battering the roof, there was only one person still teaching.
Whilst missing the boys back home (and slightly panicking about the state of the house) I knew it would soon be time to pack up and go back to the real world. From all the invaluable snippets I learnt and took home with me, what I loved most was sharing the trip with my daughter and my horse. With Mischief, the 4 days gave me quality time to get to know her better: we only teamed up in March and I really only get to ride at weekends so this trip cemented our partnership and having had a few scares, and broken bones with previous horses, I was able to learn so much more about her and feel more confident about my own abilities. I felt her move differently. I noticed right and wrong things. I could check myself for balance and feel her strides improving each day. It was a real eye opener. Now I felt less like a passenger and more like a rider. I hope it lasts.
But the experience I shared with PMD is one where many incredibly happy memories were made and ones that I will cherish forever and relive when I’m sat bored at home in September when everyone is back at school. The giggles (I still don’t know what made us both lose it in the hotel we stayed at one night but I think it had something to do with tattoos), the call to room service for ice cream during the MasterChef final, the sheer look of pride on her face after she had plaited her pony under Elizabeth’s patient tuition, the discovery (and yet more giggles) when we came in one morning and discovered our rookie error of leaving the roof hatch in the lorry open during the storm, the fun dinner with our trainer and his girlfriend one night at the Village Pub in Barnsley and not forgetting the hairy towel incident (sadly unrepeatable) plus much much more that I will keep between the two of us.
We will definitely be booking in for 2015 – if not before if we can grab a cheeky weekend away. The house was still standing when we got home, in fact it may even have been a bit tidier as the boys let slip that Horse Phobic Husband had launched Operation TidyUp at zero 900 hours. Brian and his amazing team went out of their way to look after us as well as see to Mischief and Toff’s every need (thank you Wayne!) We drove out of the drive rather quieter than we had driven in, both knowing the adventure was over but feeling glad that Britain’s got Talland and we had the t-shirts to prove it.