I was once an active horse rider. I was fortunate enough to study in a university which had equestrian facilities. I spent most of my free time riding and teaching others how to ride, as well as mucking out the stables and grooming the horses. I even got to participate in dressage and beginner jumping competitions (though I didn’t win anything), but still, the experience was amazing.
After I came back from university, I didn’t get the chance to pursue this hobby anymore. Everything else came in the way – work, social life, relationships. Horse-riding has always been at the back of my mind though, so when my friend Jocey suggested buying a Groupon deal for horse trekking, I jumped at the chance. It was going to be the four of us – Jocey, her best friend Ika, my sister Sze Ling, and myself.
We wanted to go at the end of May but the date we wanted was fully booked, so we took the next available convenient date – on 2nd June. Jocey tried to book the earliest possible slot for us, which was at 9am.
We were really looking forward to the horse riding experience! For me, it was with a little trepidation as I had not ridden for more than 12 years! I was worried that I would forget everything I had learnt… but as it turns out, riding a horse is just like riding a bicycle. Some things you just don’t forget.
Overall, the experience at this equestrian centre was… very disappointing for me.
Not Enough Horses
We met up early as it was about an hour to an hour half’s drive away. We wanted to get there in time for our 9 o’ clock slot so that we could finish well before noon (to avoid the hot sun!) and in time for a good lunch.
With the help of Waze, we managed to arrive at the equestrian centre five minutes to 9am. However, we were told that a couple had arrived before us and were now on their trail ride. We were quite surprised, as during booking we were told that we would take the first slot. And we had to wait until about 9.45am before we could go on our trail ride.
There was nothing we could do but wait.
The couple came back about 9.30am, and then we were told it was our turn. But instead of providing us four horses, they said only two horses were available for the trail ride, and so we could only go two at a time. It was very disappointing, because we had been hoping to ride the trail together! Jocey had told me that she and Ika had tried horse trekking with this equestrian centre before with another friend, and not only did each of them have their own horse, the stable hands led them on their own horses too; and they had all gone on a canter trail (although this time, we requested for a walk trail).
We later found out that this was because most of their horses (together with many of their people) had been sent to a horse show in Johor that weekend. To be frank, we were quite annoyed because we felt that they should not have taken our booking, since they knew that they would be shortstaffed and that there would not be enough horses.
Anyway, since we were already there, we had to make the best of the situation.
Jocey and my sister went first, because they were absolute beginners. Jocey had ridden a led horse before although she has not learnt how to handle one on her own yet; for my sister it was the first time she was riding a horse. Contrary to what was written in the Groupon, they were not given riding lessons. All that happened was that the stable hands led the horses by hand; they walked by the side of the horses while holding one of the bits (of the horse bridle) to lead the horses. But because the same horses were used from the morning’s couple, one of the horses was so tired that it refused to walk and the stablehands had no choice but to change the horse. In fact, we were the ones who insisted on changing the horse; we piped up before the stablehands had even considered it.
After a couple of warm-up rounds around the paddock, the stablehands took Jocey and my sister out for the (literally) walk trail – though what we had in mind when we said walk trail was the horses walking, not so much the stablehands walking. Anyway they were back quite early – apparently they could not walk the full trail because there was construction going on at part of the trail and the horses were spooked by the tractors, so they turned back at about the halfway point.
When they got back, they had to change the other horse because it had apparently stopped walking during the trail out of tiredness, and it was only with much coaxing that it managed to come back.
Ika and I went next, and because both of us had riding experience, we were allowed to try riding the horses ourselves at the paddock, but due to an incident (read below!), we decided to go on the same walk trail instead of riding the horses freely ourselves.
By the time we were done, it was close to noon. In fact, after us was another couple who were scheduled for the 10am ride, but they had to wait until we were done before they could ride – on the same two horses!
The cool thing is, we were allowed to bathe the horses. We even fed the horses with carrots that Jocey had brought.
Lucky is a really high strung horse. Jocey had to ride him first when she went on the horse trail, but because he was led by the stablehand, his impatience – though felt – was not very apparent until it came to Ika’s and my turn to ride him.
While they changed the horse that my sister rode, Ika had a go on Lucky. She controlled him quite well, but after a few rounds she got off to take a break, because handling him was really a handful. I decided to give it a try. First horse ride in 12 years! I didn’t want to fall.
He was really temperamental. The moment I got onto him, he cantered and it was all I could do to not fall. I had made the mistake of keeping the reins slack – when he thundered off, my left foot came out of its stirrup, and it was only by pulling hard on the reins could I make him come to a stop. I was really LUCKY (pun intended) that I didn’t fall. Even while I was trying to put my foot back in its stirrup, Lucky wouldn’t keep still. That was the first time I scolded him.
During the warm-up rounds in the paddock, Lucky was constantly testing me. He refused to keep to the straight path; he would suddenly veer left or right without warning. Each time I’d force him to stop and I’d scold him – really loudly! I think my voice must have rang clear over the country air several times in those ten minutes! If NLP worked with Lucky, the mere sound of my voice saying “No” would instantly make him come to a stop. He was also constantly itching to canter – I don’t know if he wanted to gallop, because I never let him move faster than a trot.*
Ika on the other hand, got a well-behaved horse called Marcus. She said he was really easy to handle; and indeed she rode him beautifully. Ika’s riding experience is much more recent than mine; the last time she rode a horse was a mere six months ago (as opposed to my decade). As she came over to me to ask if we would like to switch horses, Marcus suddenly came to a dead stop – causing Ika to fall off!
Lucky got excited when that happened, and he suddenly cantered towards Ika. I managed to pull him away in time and forced him to come to a stop while my voice rang clearly again with a very loud “NO!”
Besides just a sore bum and a bruised ego, Ika fortunately was fine. The good news is – this was her first fall! Ika is now a true horse rider! After all, as you should know, you’re not a true horse rider until you’ve fallen off! (This is something we make up to make ourselves feel better – kind of like how your car hasn’t been really driven until it gets its first dent.)
It was because of this that we decided to go on a led walk trail instead of freely riding our horses. Even during the trail ride, I could feel Lucky constantly itching to go faster. The only thing stopping him is the stablehand’s firm grip on his bit.
Having said that, I think Lucky finally learnt who’s boss. After we got back from the trail, I was allowed to go for a few more free rounds in the paddock with him, and during these final rounds, Lucky followed my instructions to a T – no sudden change of direction, no sudden increase in speed.
Still, I wouldn’t put it past him to test me again if I rode him next time!
I would have liked to ride Lucky a little longer, but I knew the next couple was waiting to ride, so I stopped after a few rounds to let them have their own riding experience.
As great as it was to be able to find that I was still able to ride and control a horse even after 12 years, the overall experience at this equestrian centre was quite disappointing. Perhaps it would be better if all the horses and stablehands were back at the stable. At least, for their own sake, I hope so!
* Horses have four speeds of movement: walk (slowest), trot, canter, and gallop (fastest). I personally have only ridden up to canter; I have never been allowed to gallop because I was told it was too fast and too dangerous. When I was younger and bolder, I was disappointed, but I didn’t try because I had too much respect for my trainers to go against their advice, and we didn’t have the space for the horses to gallop anyway. Now, I’m too scared to fall to even try galloping!
For more information about horse riding at this equestrian centre, please call AS Equestrian Centre: 019-354 4472 / 019-354 4470 – Mrs. Saadiah or visit their blog at http://asequine.blogspot.com/.