Last weekend I tried a new-to-me outdoor activity – pony trekking.
That’s right. On a horse. An actual horse.
We booked an afternoon on a suitable-for-beginners pony trek in Wales with Grange Pony Trekking courtesy of a Buyagift voucher we received for Christmas. It’s something my husband was very keen to do, and never one to turn down trying a new outdoor activity, I went along for the ride. We actually upgraded the voucher (which was good for a one-hour experience) directly with the School in order to have the whole afternoon with them.
Facing the Fear
You may be surprised. I am. I’m not quiet about my horse-related worry, it’s something I’ve written about before. They’re big and scary and I was definitely very nervous about going trekking.
I’ve made a concerted effort to overcome my fear of horses in the past by taking a horse-riding lesson, which did help a bit, and I’m not quite so bad these days. But I’m still very nervous around horses, I don’t like getting close to them, and will walk extra miles to avoid them when out hiking.
Nerves aside, I was genuinely excited to ride along some trails – pony trekking in the mountains does seem like the sort of One Hour Outside activity I ought to enjoy. So, I did my best to channel my inner Wilm Hoff, vowed to just get on with it (no nervous hesitation, just conscious positive action), and aimed to make the most of the experience out in the countryside.
Grange Trekking Centre
Grange Trekking Centre is based in the small hamlet of Capel-y-ffin on the Powys and Gwent border in Wales, not too far from Hay-on-Wye or Abergavenny. It’s on the edge of the Black Mountains, just within the boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Getting there is a bit of an adventure in itself – it is in the middle of nowhere, what a place to live and work!
We drove along around ten miles of single lane roads, several of which had tall hedges on either side and barely any passing places. No dramas, just long, narrow and windy – we were thankful there wasn’t much traffic coming the other way.
The route in also included the rather spectacular Gospel Pass, which is worth a drive up if you’re in the area. I suspect we’ll be back to ride our motorbikes in this area at some point, an opportunity to enjoy the scenery a little more.
Once at the centre, we parked up, signed in, and were allocated our mounts for the afternoon. Our trek leader was Rebecca, who introduced us to our horses and got us ready to ride.
I admit I was hoping for a horse with a calm and quiet demeanour – you know, with a name like Softie or Peony or Princess. But no, I was allocated a horse named Storm…
My first challenge was to groom Storm. I guess this was part of the getting-to-know-you process. The horses are kept in a stable yard when not out riding during the day, but live out in fields overnight, so they don’t have their own stables as such. I thought I did quite well; Storm was nestled between two other large horses, so I really had to get in there to say hello and give her a brush.
We then had a briefing and demonstration of the basics – how to mount and dismount, how to sit properly, and how to go, stop and steer. Then it was a case of getting Storm tacked up before leading her out of the yard and mounting her ready to ride. The staff were on hand to help mount, but once up and on her back, I was in charge of Storm for the afternoon.
Pony Trekking for Beginners
Most people in the group were beginners of varying sorts, plus a couple of more experienced riders who’d brought their children for an afternoon out. I didn’t feel out of place – it felt like the centre had got the measure of everyone, had allocated horses accordingly, and were tailoring the ride to our abilities so we all had a good afternoon out.
As we started to ride through the centre a man said as he walked by, “oh Storm will want to be at the front” – and off we went. Storm overtook three or four horses and I wondered how I was going to control this beast for the afternoon. But when we got to a narrow section she moved into formation and put up with being in the single file line we were instructed to keep. I liked that Storm had personality, she knew what she wanted.
You’ll be pleased to know that Storm was thankfully nothing like the gnarly weather I can see out of my window as I write this; I was very well looked after.
Wandering the Hills
From Grange Pony Trekking, we rode up onto the mountain, starting with quite a steep winding ascent (nothing like getting straight into it) to get us onto open land. We had Rebecca on a horse at the front, and a second trek leader at the back, and we each followed along in single file in a snaking line. There were maybe 10 of us on horseback, but the group didn’t seem too large.
I held onto the reigns very tightly (too tightly, I know), and did my best to make sure my body was in the right position at all times – heels down, hands down, back straight. It took me a while, maybe 45 minutes, but I did eventually relax into it. Unsurprisingly, it was a much more pleasant experience from that point onwards. Enjoyable, even.
To be honest, the horses did most of the work themselves without needing any kind of instruction from their riders. Other than the occasional “please stop”, Storm knew exactly what she was doing, and how to look after me on this walk. All the horses were very well trained indeed, and knew to follow the leader. Some had their quirks – my husband rode a serial tree-eater called Warrior, another wanted to ride next do his girlfriend, but they were all calm and well behaved.
We walked most of the way, with a few short trots just for fun. This seemed about the right level to me – I’m well aware that technique is everything when horse riding, but it was fun to trot for short stretches. I’m sure a more experienced rider could trot the whole route, although it was covered in obstacles which would have made it an uncomfortable (and probably dangerous) ride for someone with my lack of experience (and nerves).
The trek was on well-trodden tracks in the main, clearly a regular route for pony trekking. There were a few streams to cross (Storm wasn’t keen on getting her feet wet, but I loved the water crossings), a couple of boggy sections, and plenty of rocks and boulders to navigate over and around. Being Wales, it was hilly, so we did a lot of going up and down, too.
Part of the Scenery
The best bit? The views. We were blessed with warm and clear weather, so we were very much part of the scenery; a benefit to Grange Pony Trekking being in the middle of nowhere is we rode in the middle of nowhere – just us, the horses, and the green mountains of Wales. Of course I didn’t get many photographs; I was too busy holding on to be able to get my phone out of my pocket more than once or twice, but hopefully the ones I’ve included in this post give you a flavour.
Looking at the map afterwards, we rode along some of the Cambrian Way, along with some official and locally known bridleways. At the end, when we reached the top of the steep zig-zag section we’d climbed up at the start, we dismounted and lead our horses down. We were on the horses for about an-hour-and-a-half, maybe a bit more. The whole experience was about three hours long from start to finish.
This experience was a far cry from having a riding lesson in a School; this was a real introduction to pony trekking, and I loved that about it. The fact I was in my natural habitat – out on trail – made it much easier for me to relax into it than if I was being judged on my performance in a lesson setting.
Pony Trekking as One Hour Outside
My main hope for my pony trekking experience was to come away having enjoyed a different way to spend One Hour Outside, without having any kind of meltdown, and to understand a little more why people love horses so much. And I would say I did achieve that.
I wouldn’t say I needn’t have worried, it wasn’t an easy thing for me, and I was definitely a very tense rider. I really did enjoy being out on Storm in the sunny Brecon Beacons. After I relaxed, that is. It was a beautiful and lovely ride, and I am glad I went.
Have you been pony trekking? If you fancy it, and are in or around the Brecon Beacons, I would genuinely highly recommend Grange Pony Trekking as a place to spend your time and with. The staff were lovely, the horses were calm and well looked after, and the setting was beautiful.