“Did you have a favourite horse?”
This is a tough one. There were definitely legs I enjoyed more than others, but this was a function of the geography of the leg, how easy a run we had, the weather, the company and my physical condition, as much as the quality of the horse I was riding.
That said, there were some particularly memorable Bobs (they were all called Bob — I had intended to name them all after actual Derby winners, but never really got the thinking time to assign suitable names to my mounts and after a day stuck in the wilderness years of Erhaab and Shaamit I gave up), either because they were particularly swift, or brave, or sure-footed, or prone to hysteria.
In terms of physical specimens, there were none to touch the magnificent Tucker. But different qualities became covetable on the steppe. Their intelligence, hardiness, stamina and independence made them formidable partners, and I lost count of the number of times my horses found a spare leg when an invisible marmot hole took one or two of their own.
I loved their workmanlike attitude, drinking, peeing, eating at every opportunity and apparently dozing as soon as you were stationary, but always ready to work when you were in the plate, and always keen to go and get on with things.
“Any scary moments?”
Yes. Plenty. There were a few near misses in the saddle, where a horse stumbled so badly I wasn’t sure when, if ever, he would right himself. There is nothing you can do in such a situation except try and stay in the middle of the horse as it disappears from underneath you, and that is what I did. On all bar one occasions (mentioned earlier) this was sufficient.
Then there was the time we waded the horses into a river to drink, and decided to give them a sponge bath. Annelie and I were keen to sponge the horses as our tack was so cumbersome relative to what they usually wore, and with little space for perspiration to expire we felt there was an elevated risk of them overheating.
They weren’t all that sure about it, but the horses did allow us to sponge their necks and flanks. We had never attempted it from the saddle, however, and this proved to be a bridge too far for Bob VI. As I leaned down to the water, just below my stirrups, and wet the sponge on a string, he flipped, plunged about in the river in protest, and nearly launched me into it.
Lesson learned — if you’re going to try something daft, do it from the ground. This also applied to the changing of clothes. Annelie and I nearly died a death when Dave pulled out a giant white plastic poncho as his preferred waterproof option, the first time we saw a storm roll in….
Some scary encounters with the local wildlife too. We camped wild one night, and called on a lovely local family who provided us with a fine dinner of goat bones and a good game of charades. I was sat next to about five children, who all of a sudden got up, staring at me with wide eyes, and ran out of the ger.
Dave, who was seated on my other side, sensed there was something up, and told me to look at him, and keep calm. This I did, to the best of my ability, as the eldest child tentatively re-approached me with a three-foot long pair of tongs, normally used to put coals or wood in the fire. He pincered an enormous spider off my right shoulder, and disposed of it (hopefully in the fire).
The children breathed out again, Dave started to laugh, and all was well again. I am SO glad I didn’t know what was going on until it was too late.