Monday, 6 October 2008

A strange ride

We’ve had a busy weekend and so only managed to ride on Saturday morning. The horses seemed keen to go out despite the cold, drizzly weather. We rode into Coed y Wenallt in misty rain. The wood was quiet – probably because of the weather – and had an extraordinary atmosphere about it. It was not only quiet in the sense of being free of the usual sounds of walkers and dogs, it felt hushed – almost as if holding its breath or paused in time. Somehow the woodland felt exceptionally ancient on Saturday. As we rode along the trail I felt that we could have been any two horseriders from any period of history. I would not have felt surprised to have met a traveler in a long cloak or a peasant from times gone by.

The fallen tree in the picture has been lying a long time. We call this point on the trail ‘The Trees Graveyard’. Usually the bark shines silver in the sudden clearing, exposed to the daylight – but that day the tree bones look grey and dull, saturated by the fine rain.

Dee was rather tense for the first part of the ride – it was a little like sitting on a coiled spring. Fortunately she is not a horse that bolts and keeps running, so I know from experience that the worse I should expect is a sudden spin on the spot and a few paces of canter in the wrong direction. In fact she has actually never done this on a hack – only in the arena – and I was confident that she would most likely rather be going forward with Red than going home alone. I practised deep breathing, trying to focus my energy into the area of my navel, so that I would relax and communicate this to Dee, rather than becoming anxious myself. Red – as usual – continued at his steady pace, relaxed and unperturbed.

It was quite a while into the ride before I had any idea of what might be worrying Dee. She kept looking round and I felt she was hearing something I could not hear. However eventually I did start to perceive dog noises. As we arrived at the left turn on the trail that leads down to the stream we saw a man coming up from there with two dogs, both of which were pulling a lot and yelping as he held them by their collars. We rode on rather than going down to the stream in case it was the horses that was exciting the dogs. We continued to hear barking and yelping noises for a little while, but Dee started to relax now that we had seen the dogs. We did not go much further and turned round to head for home.

The wood was now silent again, with all sounds of the dogs having ceased, and we peacefully continued homeward. We met a walker coming towards us. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought it might have been the man we had seen with the dogs. Unusually for a walker on the trail he did not greet us or make eye contact. Then the strangest thought popped into my head – that he had been the man with the dogs, and that he had killed them and left them somewhere in the undergrowth. I’m not usually prone to morbid thoughts, and I don't know why I should imagine such a violent scenario, but there was something strange about the atmosphere of the wood that day.

Dee was completely relaxed and normal riding home, with all the tension of the earlier part of the ride having dissolved. I shall never know the truth of the situation, but I think I will always remember the strange atmosphere of that ride.

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