Writer, novelist, and blogger, Tracy M Thomas of Rabbit in Headlights gives the inside scoop on a Self-Guided Riding Holiday with FreeRein in Wales and decides this experience must be on your bucket list.
by Tracy M Thomas
‘Ooooh, it’s going to be thundering and lightening ALL weekend!’ So quoth numerous doom fairies as the end of last week approached. A quick check with the BBC weather service and indeed there was confirmation of a jaggedy white line coming out of a dark, rain filled cloud pretty much across the entire country.
Freerein Riding Holidays arranges your trail riding experience, booking your accommodation, moving your luggage and providing all the logistics needed for your horse riding holiday.
I do generally have a passing preoccupation with the weather. It helps to know whether I need to slather myself in suntan lotion or goose fat depending on the elements. However last weekend was particularly important as himself and I had planned to try out the Freerein experience. This involved being on a horse in the middle of nowhere… Thunderstorms are not the weather front you would pick as exactly ideal.
Freerein is a company based in the Radnor Hills, Wales. As the name suggests, they are an equestrian organisation who offer trail riding around the glorious Welsh countryside. Not only can you embark upon a guided tour, but rather uniquely they offer a self guided trek. Himself opted for self guided. (I think the phrase ‘how hard can it be?’ may have been used). So we were going to be unassisted too.
After hurling the dogs at Auntie N, we made our way across the country to stay at a very pretty B&B in Hay-on-Wye in order to arrive full of vim and vigour promptly at just after 9am. Next day, fortified with a hearty Welsh breakfast, we tried to put the horrendous storm of the night before out of our minds as we arrived at Freerein HQ. There was a little trepidation of the unknown.
Having been welcomed by Beth, we were immediately struck and (instilled with confidence) by how amazingly well organised Freerein is. These are people who seriously know what they are doing and, having been in business since 1989, the experience shows. Soon we had been shown how to pack our saddle bags, and were off to meet the horses. Himself was riding Mr Mojo, a big bay cob and my companion was to be Poppy, also a bay and, as I discovered, an angel of an equine with the patience of a saint.
The author with Poppy, her horse for the riding adventure.
With the duo suitably groomed and tacked up, we had a session learning about the trails. It is two person system. One rider has the maps, the second holds on to the instructions for your route. (It could well have been a recipe for disaster give that there are occasions when we’re unable to agree what to have for tea.) The staff are on hand to break up any fights and advise on the art of trail riding, and it is an art. Unsurprisingly, if you are going to spend hours in the saddle, bits of you are going to start to object, therefore the recommendation is that you get off for at least five minutes every hour to have a stretch and that you factor in lots of breaks.
Of course, as soon as you get into the saddle, all that sage advice blows away with the breeze. It’s exciting! For the first time we were off on our own in the wild blue yonder! There were trees and hills and oh look, a sheep!
The first thing I discovered is if you are the one reading instructions, it is a good idea to actually READ them properly. Do not scan through and then get distracted by scenery and get your left and right completely mixed up. Directions are really not my forte at the best of times.
In fairness, there are worse places in the world to get a little mislaid, the scenery is completely stunning. After finding our way again, and following a few restorative canters along the grassy tracks, we ambled gently down to Painscastle and the first stop at the Roast Ox Pub where Matt and Beth from Freerein were waiting to check we hadn’t killed each other–– all was well.
What followed were three of the most amazing days of riding.
Taking a break to graze along the route.
Arriving at our first overnight stop, there could be no doubt that we were in the right place as Poppy planted herself firmly in front of the gate to the horse’s night paddock. She even waited quietly as my now frozen legs attempted to negotiate saddle bags, cantle, and horse before I finally slithered to the ground.
Freerein Riding Holidays delivers the rider’s luggage, feed, and grooming kit for the horses so everything is waiting for your arrival. Once the twosome had been fed and untacked it was time for us to fill our own faces courtesy of a country farmhouse. The hospitality was unrivalled and after a day in the saddle we were ready for the fabulous meal and a muscle relaxing shower.
Day two dawned after a night of torrential rain, but by the time we had eaten, bid our hostess farewell and fed and tacked up the horses, it was brightening up.
There is nothing like personal experience to cement advice. Getting off and having a stretch became something of a national sport. As a result, by the time we had been welcomed at our Inn stop for the night, I was still a little stiff, but at least I wasn’t walking like John Wayne’s less agile sister, or the zombie apocalypse.
Sunday was our largest distance. Our rides had become progressively longer, starting with ten miles and ending with a fourteen mile day. That said, we at no stage felt we had to rush and had perfected this ‘resting’ concept.
FreeRein's horses and ponies range in size from 12hh to 15.2hh but most are between 14 and 15 hh.
Over the weekend Poppy taught me to open gates on horseback, mount from gates, hillocks and passing sheep and that, when cantering uphill, some horses have no need to slow down; they will just simply change gear.
For any level of rider, the Freerein experience, guided or self-guided, must be on your bucket list of things you absolutely have to do. We are already planning our next expedition.
And for the doom fairies… the weather was absolutely glorious.
How you can go: Learn about FreeRein Riding Holidays in Wales and their Self-Guided Trail Riding Service on the FreeRein website.
About the author: Tracy M Thomas is a feature writer, novelist, and blogger. She took riding lessons briefly in her twenties but, having managed to scare the bejeezers out of herself, took a not so brief sabbatical from all things equine. Two years ago she finally summoned up the courage to return to the saddle and has since evolved into a fully fledged, hopeless horsaholic. Read her blog at www.rabbitinheadlights.com.
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