My Superstar Trekker!

On Tuesday, I had a very nice and completely uneventful trek with Flurry.  I rode down to Reillanne, met up with MC, Quieto and Doug the Dog and we rode back to the Farm via a different route.  Oh, wait, I saw my first sanglier(wild boar) – that was an event!  Doug chased it through the woods beside us.  All I saw was a large, dark creature running ahead of Doug – Flurry was mildly curious but not particularly alarmed and we continued on our merry way.
MC suggested a picnic trek for Wednesday – about one and a half hours each way plus picnic time at a nearby river.  I thought for a while… would I bring Flurry and have a nice, relaxed ride, or bring Aero and face the unknown?  
Flurry had done a good three hours on Tuesday on top of three hours on Sunday, I felt he deserved an easy day after that, and Aero had had Tuesday off and really needs to be exposed to as much trekking as possible, so the decision was pretty straightforward – Aero it was.
We both arrived at the farm at about ten, tacked up and set off, leading the horses, as is now the norm.  After a short distance, we mounted and continued.  Guess who led the way?
Happy Ears, leading the way!

Apologies for the blurry photo, but I had to share the “Aero’s Happy Ears” picture!  He was calm, attentive, not at all jumpy, and what is most important to me, he was happy, striding out confidently and enjoying the scenery.  He led the way until we turned off the trail he knew and headed into unknown territory.  After that, he wasn’t balky or spooky, but he was a little more tense, so Quieto took over the lead and he followed along easily.

After a very pleasant trek through the ubiquitous oakwoods, we finally arrived at the  river Largue, let the horses have a paddle and then settled down to eat our picnic.

The river Largue
MC tied Quieto up, but I wasn’t confident enough in Aero to tie him up – I held him the whole time. 
MC, Doug and Quieto

He didn’t really “get” the whole picnic idea, and never settled to graze contentedly like Flurry would have – he was constantly on the move, circling around me at the end of the lead rope, picking at the grass for a moment or two and then wandering off again in a new circle.

Ok, I’ll graze for five seconds before I wander again…

I gave him the pieces of chopped carrot I’d brought him, but he still wanted my water, my sandwich, my cereal bar… I kept telling him that his picnic food was all around but he didn’t really believe me!

When the time came to tack up again for the return journey, I tied him up to a tree so I would have both hands free.  He stood absolutely fine as I went to and fro picking up his gear – next time I will tie him up but stay nearby while I eat.

We came home via a different route, and this was where it got interesting.  The first issue was three baying hounds as we rode through a farmyard – Aero looked, but, actually, the hounds were no problem.

Then we met a tractor, carrying a load of wood down from the forest on the narrow pathway.  Again, no problem, we ducked into the trees and avoided it.

The path got fainter and fainter, until it became clear that we were following a sheep trail through the forest.  Ok, MC had gone slightly off course, but we could see the proper trail beneath us.  We were on a steep hillside, covered in stunted oak trees, far too low for us to duck under on horse-back, so dismounting and leading the horses back down to the trail was the obvious thing to do.  MC went first, with a slightly heart stopping moment as Quieto half-slid, half-fell down the slope behind her.  Aero and I descended by a different route – we had the advantage of MC being able to spot an easier way down for us!  A slight scramble/slide/jump later, with Aero popping down neatly slightly behind/beside me, and we were back on the trail again… or were we?

The trail once again became fainter and fainter, and eventually gave way completely at a point where there had been a bit of a landslide.  MC thought she could see the trail above us, so we headed back into the oak-woods, this time scrambling UP the steep slope. Up and up, eventually we faced into an almost vertical ascent, where Quieto had a major slip and ended up scrambling up the ascent with difficulty.  I went left of where he had his slip, and tackled the ascent, praying that Aero wouldn’t launch himself after me and knock me over.  I needn’t have worried, he completely understood what he had to do, I climbed slightly above him, got onto a level-ish bit, clucked at him and he popped up beside me, and then continued to climb while I hung onto the lead-rope that was still tied around his neck.  What a little star!

We had to have a brief stop because Quieto had pulled off both hind boots, leaving one behind where he had had his bad slip.  MC held both horses, who stood like angels while I went back and fortunately found the boot very quickly.

We consulted “maps” on my iPhone, which gave MC a good idea of where we were, so we continued upwards and upwards towards where the trail should be.  It was less steep, but still very over grown – both saddles were being scraped by low branches nearly every step of the way.  Aero at this stage was walking behind me, it was way too narrow for him to walk alongside, but he really seems to be getting the idea and wasn’t treading on my heels at all.

Eventually, huffing and puffing (the two mature ladies, not the horses!) we reached the trail and remounted.  We had one final bit of excitement, though.  As we went through the grounds of Le Couvent de Notre Dame (we shouldn’t have been there, shhh!) two sheep ran across in front of us.  The temptation was too much for Doug, and he gave chase enthusiastically.  Aero wasn’t bothered, either by the appearance of the sheep or the dog chasing them, but unfortunately Doug didn’t reappear, despite calls of “Au pied!” from MC.  We had to turn back and tiptoe past the priest’s house once again, hoping that Doug wasn’t tucking into fresh, juicy sheep as we went.

He reappeared, looking slightly guilty but fortunately not blood-stained, and we all carried on towards home.

Guess who led on and off for the rest of the way home?  Yes, my formerly anxious and unsettled little ex-dressage horse!  Himself and Quieto took it in turn, sometimes walking alongside each other, sometimes Aero in front, sometimes Quieto.  Yeah, Aero rushed a little from time to time, but not in a worried sort of way, more in a “I know we’re heading home and I’m hungry and Flurry’s all on his own” sort of way.

Superstar Aero!

I could not be happier with this little horse!  This is the sensible, reliable Aero who has lived with us for twelve years, and today he proved himself sure-footed and intelligent as well.  He is finally settling into his new rôle and learning that it’s FUN!

This trek would have been a disaster if we had attempted it two weeks ago, I’m pretty sure he would have freaked out climbing through the thick woodlands, but he has now de-stressed to the extent that he can analyse what’s going on, figure out how to handle it and learn from his experiences.

Happy me and happy Aero!
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