This weekend, Dave Titmuss organised for us to drive out to some set-aside that a local farmer allows the area’s equestrian enthusiasts to use. Dave suggested I take the reins from the start for the first time, which was a good sign that we are making progress.
To reach our destination we had a short 100m drive along a main road before turning onto a quieter side road. Dave told me how to position Duke so I could get a good view of the traffic coming in both directions before pulling out. Luckily the majority of drivers in the area seem fairly au fait with horses, which is a blessing.
As we approached the set-aside I transferred my reins into one hand and prepared for my first one-handed turn of the drive. Having run through with Dave how I was going to tell Duke to turn left, I put it into practice but to be honest, it was a bit more of a snakey bend than a smooth turn on to the track.
After another wobbly left turn on to a different track, we saw two horse riders coming towards us. As they approached, Dave recognised them as friends whose horses should not be spooked by the sight of Duke in the carriage, but told me to stop and let them pass, just in case. Ridden horses do sometimes find carriage horses the most shocking beasts on the planet!
After they had passed we trotted up to the top of the hill and as we drove along the top, Dave told me to try a canter at a clear spot. Duke was a little reluctant at first but after lots of hup, hup, hups, he realised what I was screaming about and set off in the steady gait I’d experienced when riding him last weekend.
Cantering in harness really is an amazing experience. I think the sound of the wheels makes you feel as though you’re going 20 times faster than you are. It feels really good being able to communicate with Duke without the use of legs or weight; like a real achievement.
We steadied back to a trot, performed a turn I was actually rather proud of and then slowed to a walk. I suddenly realised my shoulder and arm were not aching at all — I’d driven coachman’s style all this way — and I could feel Duke’s head movements through my wrist. I proudly announced to Dave that I must finally be getting it.
This cantering lark has really given me the bug — it really is rather addictive. I can see what motivates people to spend all their spare cash on carriage driving sports throughout the summer.