The road goes up and down, wet from melting snow. Hedges and trees on each side, space just about wide enough to drive Pauline's Audi without worrying about scraping the door.
Exmoor is beautiful and sunny today. Blue sky and patches of snow like sheep scattered all over the fields.
We are lost and totally sure we missed the signs we were suppose to be looking for. Steam Railway. Ehm, what?
Melting snow turns into sheets of white ice where the shade kept everything cool. The road starts twisting and dropping down.
Pauline takes another careful turn, we can't see what's around the corner but whatever it is it must be better than what's already behind us.
We seem to be going on forever. Sat Nav shows a long windy lane with a confident arrow climbing up and even more confident voice cheering us on. Never, ever, EVER listen to the Sat Nav in Exmoor countryside.
- Just don't touch the breaks - Pauline instructs herself quietly.
It's not like we can turn around anyway so the only thing to do is to keep sliding and hoping the road will even up.
For a long while it doesn't. And when it finally does, the fields open before us. Sat Nav still confident about going forwards, this time up the considerable hill. In a matter of seconds the wheels can no longer take the strain. Audi slides sideways, fights for a moment or two, then gives up. Pauline puts hand break on and we sit in silence looking around.
- we're sliding backwards - I say feeling the car descending slowly down the hill. Hand break up a bit more and we grind to a halt at last.
It's so quiet that all you can hear is a playful sound of water meandering around the stones in the ford below. Carefully, we get out of the car. It stays put. We are stuck.
Just 15-20 minutes away from our destination - Rockley Farm.
Just as we look up the road, a big beautiful stag jumps across, stares at us for a second and continues on its own path. I aim my camera at him but as quickly as he appears he is gone. Effortless escape.
Pauline goes up the road to investigate what's around the corner. She comes back laughing.
- OK, basically, there is no road up there. It all disappears under feet of drifted snow. Even if we managed to drive up there there is no chance of going through such amounts of snow.
We phone Nic at Rockley who arrives to rescue in her 4x4 truck, much more suitable for the
terrain. Impressed Pauline nursed the car that far, she drives past us with a plan to pull the Audi out of the mould.
First things first - we got to find the tow bar...the back one is rather obvious but the one one in front seems non-existent until Pauline consults her Manual ;) I am having grand fun taking photos of this!
Tow bar found, Nic is having a go at pulling Audi out. The truck tries and makes an effort but it only takes a few goes for the wheels to lose the grip on ice. No luck.
We decide to abandon the car and go to see Kingsley.
- He better be pleased to see us - says Pauline when we transfer our stuff to Nic's truck.
Kingsley does seem pleased. He looks like a native pony, hairy in a herd of other hairy "native ponies" ;)
We take him and two other horses, Felix and Angel, in and get ready for a ride.
Kingsley gets a quick brush off, his coat is gleaming under the rug anyway. He looks well and content and very interested in any potential treats that we may have brought with us.
New horn growth:
It's cold but so beautiful. I ride Felix first, he is a fun chap, easy and cheerful. I feel like in a western movie! Felix wants to go everywhere and the only time when I realise we are cantering on the rocks is when I look down.
Pic: What I see from my spot on Felix.
Pic. Just before we swapped. Kingsley isn't keen on Felix inching too close to him ;)
We have a great fun and swap half way so we can both have a feel for how Kingsley goes.
I watch him under Pauline. He looks stronger and surer in his steps. The front feet still move in a bit of a waddle but his shoulders are in line with his back end and there is more purpose to the gait. He gets even better the more we go. The trot looks weak in front but powerful behind. He seems to be happier in canter but nevertheless keeps the trot for a considerable distance. The sequence looks correct!
The first thing that hits me when I sit on him is how straight and even he feels. He moves confidently down the hill, no attempt at taking it at an angle as he would have done last time I rode him (August?). He doesn't throw me sideways either as he would have done due to severe one-sideness. He doesn't trip!
We attempt a little canter but Angel decides slow is not in his dictionary...Just to check what happens I put my leg on Kingsley. He responds immediately, third gear in and we have wonderful canter that feels just as it should - happy, straight, bring it on.
We walk them all down in one of the large fields and I try some large circles with Kingsley. At first he tries to push into my leg instead of yield to it. It's not great at first but it feels the same on both sides, second time round he does try to bend! He doesn't hang onto the bit for balance in downwards transitions, he feels so confident about the gradient of the field I barely notice it.
All in all, an amazing improvement all round.
Visually, his gaits still don't look well. But - they look better. And from the saddle the movement has changed 100 %. He is now comfortable enough and happy enough to tolerate some gentle schooling under the saddle. That is once the arena thaws...
To watch a video from our ride visit Rockley Farm's blog at: http://rockleyfarm.blogspot.com/2010/12/alls-well-that-ends-well.html
Pic. Back in his stable. Getting ready to yawn - tired pony.
Ok, I am done yawning, where is my food?
I am already looking forward to my next visit whenever that might be, hopefully end of January/beginning of February. Maybe I could convince Rick to a weekend in Devon for my birthday...Are you there Santa?
About 6.30 pm we go back to the car. It's peach black but when you look up the stars seem so low it feels as though they can be brought down and held like torches. There are thousands of them, big and small, flickering.
We decide to pull the car down the hill from the back. I dig all the snow from under the back wheels, Nic drives the truck up and Pauline takes the driver's seat. Handbreak off. Nic moves forwards and Audi makes a small move. The truck keeps going. I stand half way up the mauld with my hand on Audi so I don't slide underneath it but I can keep pushing it away. Slowly, it slides, At first it seems to want to go up the mould, for a second I consider shouting stop to Nic but decide against it. Audi resigns itself to horizontal position and follows Nic's truck backwards, wheels locked, no steering like a naughty puppy dragged on a leash.
We are free to go :)