So… in my first year of Equestrian Sports I did an internship at Hippisch Centrum Muiderberg. HCM is a riding school for both kids and adults and both recreational riders as competitors. As the time passed by I got more and more responsibility. I started out working at the stables as groom and at the end I was a riding instructor for different groups.
The one thing every kid loved was going on a trail ride during summertimes. There was this one time, my first time alone with 6 kids and their ponies, that was a BIG DISASTER!
The trail ride would normally take an hour or so. I rode the horse of my instructor, the fastest horse from the riding school. She was a small, black mare; a little bit shy with a little temper but great spirit. The kids were riding the best behaved ponies. We started next to the road that we followed to the beach where we rode over the dike to a tiny forest or woodland and then the same way back.
The kids were looking forward to ‘go really fast’ (what actually would be a slow canter, but you have to start somewhere, right?!) on a dirt road through the woodlands. Unfortunately there was a man with a dog what meant we could only trot. Can you imagine how disappointed these kids were? So, because I couldn’t resist their sad looks, I promised we would canter later on. But first we would ride the small trails through the bush and woodlands.
As I promised, a little while later as we entered the dirt road again, where we could canter. I told the kids to yell ‘STOP’ if they wanted to back to the walk, so if anyone would be scared everyone knew what to do. And not under any circumstances should they pass me or the rider in front of them. And there we rode a transision from trot to canter as everyone was ready.
To give you an update on these kids: they were about 10 to 13 years old riding ponies no bigger than 1,30 meter.
So there we were about to canter down the dirt road. The first few meters where going perfectly. But then… one of the girls yelled ‘STOP!’ – so I repeated it and made a transision to the trot – and this pony made a run for it. He was the smalles pony of all 6 of them. His name was Hellas, this cheeky, little pony that every child is scared of because he pretends to bite, but of course that’s all an act haha! So Hellas takes off, and the girl riding him still yelled ‘STOP! I WANT TO STOP!’ and as if he had told the other ponies of his mean plan they all followed him!
So now I didn’t have 1 pony on the loose, ooooh no… I HAD SIX!
All the kids where yelling ‘STOP!’ just like I told them to, but of course that wasn’t working. So I told them to pull the reins and turn around but they didn’t have the skills to doso that because they where so young and not experienced enough. As I was riding the fastest horse, the thought of chasing them and pulling them to stop crossed my mind, but that could be very dangerous. So I decided to pass them and cut them off, hoping the ponies wouldn’t see it as a chasing game and run even faster. So, in a little panic but still thinking straight, I made a transision to gallop and try to cut them off.
The worst part of it all, was the fact that the dirt road would end at a road where cars are allowed to drive 80 km/h. Before I got to the end of the dirt road I already stopped 3 ponies. I told them to stay together and walk home carefully as I had to chase the other 3. There was this horrible moment where 2 ponies and their riders ended up on the middle of the road. And some IDIOT – this part makes me still angry – was honking his car horn while he drove behind them! The ponies, who finaly stopped running, went from feeling excited to feeling scared in a flash and took of again and one girl fell off. The other girl jumped for it when her pony reached the tall grass.
So now I had 3 ponies walking with their riders on their backs, 2 ponies on the loose without riders and 1 was still missing.
After checking if they were okay, I told the girls to join the 3 riders and walk back to the riding school together while I searched for the last girl. Luckily, as prepared as I always am, I had my cellphone with me. I took my phone and called the riding school. Kiki awnsered but I was to much in a hurry to let her finish. “Kiki! The ponies took off, I need help! Two fell off and are walking home with 3 others and I am chasing the last girl! Send help to the road next to the beach!” There was a silence, probably blown away by this news. “I am going to send Arjen.”
As I galloped through the field I saw a few men catching a pony. The last girl also fell off her pony and she was sitting against a tree while holding her arm. Praying that it wasn’t broken I stoped in front of her and asked her how she felt. Other than her sore arm she was okay. “We catched this pony for you, but the others to got away.” I thanked the men for helping me.
While waiting for Arjen to arrive the other 5 girls joined us. Arjen told me that the 2 missing ponies made it home save. These crazy ponies where trotting side by side until they were at the stables. He took two girls with him in the car and one girl who found the confidence, rode the catched pony back to the riding school with us.
On our way a lot of people were annoyed that a couple of ponies passed by without their rider. Fortunately there are some nice people left on this world too, pointing out the way were the ponies went, even though we already knew they made it back home save. I apologized to the annoyed ones and thanked the kind and worried ones.
I was so scared the whole time!
Thanks to my professional approuch to the situation, my instructor didn’t criticise me. Instead we turned the situation into a lesson where we could both learn from.
- NEVER EVER EVER go for a canter if the ponies know they are on their way back home. At least not with young riders.
- ALWAYS ask someone to assist you when going on a trail ride, especially when you ride with kids.
All the kids and horses turned out to be fine, the girl with the sore arm had nothing broken and recovered completely. We were just a little bit in shock…