A journey to the Welsh Brecon Beacons - you can always achieve more than you think you can
As part of the Easter break, 10 young people, two members of staff and a volunteer returned to the Tregoyd Mountain Riding Centre near Talgarth in south Wales.
After an eye wateringly early start, a long journey across London, and down the M4, we finally emerged early afternoon into the beautiful south Welsh countryside.
Hidden in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Tregoyd is a world away from Ebony Horse Club (EHC) in Brixton, south London, where the children have their riding lessons.
We were received with a warm welcome from the staff and owner Carole, a testament to the great relationship between EHC and Tregoyd which grows stronger year on year. After a quick bag drop in the dorms, we changed into riding gear and were quickly matched with ponies pre-chosen for their size, and temperament, and we set off for an afternoon’s ride in Cadarm forest. This gave our young people their chance to see how they liked their ponies and for the staff to make any adjustments or changes if necessary. The trees were being felled in the woods and the first major obstacle to overcome was a rather large, scary bulldozer on the track. All the ponies were pushed on and behaved very well and we continued along the forest tracks through the mud. There were a few trots and a canter and everyone seemed happy. On the short time we were out we had lovely views across the valley from the woods and spotted buzzards in the sky above and lambs, rabbits, goats and their kids, in the fields below. Once we returned, the children took to their tasks of brushing down their ponies, releasing them into the field for the evening, and cleaning their tack. The children were quite tired and after dinner a few of them went for a walk.
Our first full day was a beautiful one, everyone was in high spirits. As our young people were all pretty much at the same level of experience, it was decided to keep them together in one group rather than splitting them into two as had been done the previous year. We were taken out by Karen who has lived in the area for a very long time and knew the mountains like the back of her hand. We went up to Big Common where we saw the many foals that had already been born this year. Karen explained that with the economic crisis biting, domestic horses had been released on to the mountain side. As a consequence, the horse population was growing and the pure welsh mountain ponies were cross breeding with the non-welsh ponies, which was not healthy for the herds. We had a few quick trots and the first canters on open ground, which were exhilarating; everyone had smiles on their faces. After dinner in the evening we drove to the river near Hay on Wye where the children skimmed stones by the river, played and relaxed.
Wow – day two was a big one. Our riders experienced all sorts of terrain on this marathon ride. We road on open ground, thin exposed mountain tracks, stony paths, through streams and bog, along mountain roads and B roads with traffic, and encountered four seasons in one day - wind, sunshine, hail, sleet and snow! Riding in the bad weather did dampen our spirits somewhat but Karen did an amazing job motivating everyone by getting our young people to sing their favourite tunes. We travelled right round the base of the mountain side called Lord Hereford’s Knob, and past windy corner (windy by name and windy by nature). This was a really hard day’s riding for our riders as they spent a long time in the saddle with many trots and canters along the way, which all found physically challenging. We were were very tired in the evening and whilst a group relaxed in their rooms, another group managed to bake delicious biscuits in the kitchen after dinner.
The weather got worse on day three as we set off in drizzle which just would not go away. The children were very tired from the previous day’s ride, and everyone was quiet setting off. The order of the group was changed so that riders at the back could experience the exhilaration of being up front and leading the charge. We were all shocked when the first canter started very quickly, but it certainly woke everyone up. We rode to Dipping Pool Lanes, through Pen-y-hoel chapel and on to Tregoyd Common. Our young people who had been moved to the front were the slightly more nervous riders of the group but being at the front ensured that they got a taste of leadership which they loved. The smiles on their faces said it all and they had a thoroughly enjoyable day. We finished off the day with a very welcome sugar rush courtesy of Carole’s tuck shop. We then had a horse knowledge quiz which was great fun.
We had our final ride on our departure morning taking in the Whipping tree and a daffodil plantation where we learnt that an extract from the daffodils grown here called Galantamine is used to slow Alzheimer’s disease. We rounded back again across Big Common seeing more horse and foal groups and plenty of new born lambs. We did a final brush down of the ponies, cleaned the tack and departed with heavy hearts on the long journey back to London.
A trip of a lifetime
Each member comes to EHC not only to learn to ride but also to develop life skills. Their time at Tregoyd underpins values we introduce at EHC such as teamwork, respect for each other and the horses, and responsibility of caring for the ponies that work so hard for them. The few days at Tregoyd moved us completely out of our comfort zones, far from home, but everyone rose to the challenge; our young people took the tough physical side of this trip, of riding several hours a day, in their stride.
They stayed cheery despite the wind and rain lashing their faces and showed great grit and determination. They all came away having learnt a lot about themselves and just how they can always achieve a little more than they think they can.
Thank you to The Worshipful Company of Loriners for making this trip happen.