Wednesday 3rd June, 2015
Gave ourselves what felt like a lie-in but in reality was only until about eight am. We were using the cottage’s hot tub later in the day and had to meet with the owner to have it all explained.
Made by Rustic Tubs, it’s designed to fit perfectly into its surroundings; the wooden structure and cover blend into the forest behind, and it looks out on a stunning panorama of the Borrowdale Valley. It’s powered by a log fire which we were told would need regular ‘feeding’ from about three hours prior to when we wanted to get in. We were booked in for a horse-ride at eleven-fifteen, so headed back to the cottage to get ready.
Our hack was booked at Rookin House near Ullswater. Once we’d checked in we were taken to the mounting area where we met Jet and Romany, our horses, and Becky, our instructor for the ride. I hopped up on Jet who was a beautiful bay Dales cross – though you’d never tell as she was so finely put together. She had a sweet grey muzzle and such dainty legs I wasn’t sure she could manage the rocky terrain on the fell. I was a little jealous of G’s stocky piebald cob, Romany, who had the cutest face and seemed the safer bet for a fell trek, but Jet knew what she was doing. Light off the leg and responsive to seat as well as hand, she wasn’t your average trekking pony – I knew both Mum and Hazel would adore her.
We set off with Jet in front and Becky asked me if I had my own horse. “No,” I told her, explaining we’d never quite had the funds, “but I’ve been incredibly lucky with the schools I’ve had available to me.” I struggled for the words to explain Nine Acres and Hazel, eventually settling on ‘classical dressage’, but I know it’s not quite that because of the natural horsemanship element, and the steady pace of teaching and learning. I can never really explain Hazel’s style – I guess you have to do it to get it – and it feels unfair to reduce it to such plain terms which ultimately have so many different meanings, or to just tell people that I get asked, “Breathe more into your left lung” in my lessons. The truth is that Hazel is just all about the horse in a way I’ve never seen before, and her methods are in many ways polar opposites to trekking centres.
We nipped across the road and on to a beautiful little track which took us around the foot of a fell, then up and back down. We had a little trot – something G has little experience with, and I was so pleased to see he established rising trot straight away. I mused whether Hazel’s steady pace of teaching, which establishes a perfect seat and a body which is in-tune to the horse’s every movement before anything else, however long it takes, leads to a quicker understanding of the trot and how to rise to it.
Becky asked if I wanted to have a canter up a gravelly path – she and G would trot up and I would canter up to meet them. Knowing I’d regret it if I said no I agreed, and she advised me to not use too much let and to let Jet graze whilst I waited for them to reach the top of the track. It was clear that I’d get nowhere by trying to make her stop eating, even though horses grazing whilst being ridden is a huge pet hate of mine, so I gave in. Becky called down to me to join them so I gathered my reins and gave Jet a squeeze. She’d done this a thousand times and knew exactly what I was asking – we were off like a bullet.
It’s the most amazing feeling, and it’s so long since I’ve experienced it – literally years. I love how hard Hazel makes me work every lesson, and how every tiny detail is critically important, but I definitely miss being able to just hop on board and go for a good canter. Living up to her name, Jet flew up the track, her fine hooves scattering loose stones. I shifted forward into my light seat and gave her her head, trusting that she knew both where to put her feet and where to stop. My heart soared with her, and it was over all too soon.
Grinning like a child after their first canter, I led the way up the track with Jet. It got progressively rockier, so we kept it to a walk until we paused at the very top to take in the view. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take a photograph, but we looked out toward the peaks near Ullswater, and toy villages below. The northern fells stretched out ahead in the distance with the road to Keswick, and the sky was beginning to clear.
The path took us straight along the side of the fell for a few minutes until it started to slope downwards. It wasn’t too steep initially, but the track had suffered with the recent rain and was deep in places. As we rounded a corner the route became much steeper, so I tilted my weight backwards to help Jet balance as she quietly picked her own way down. It was so relaxing to be able to loosen my reins to the buckle and let her do the work; I spent much of the rest of the ride with just one hand on the reins, Western style – Jet knew where she was going.
We had one last trot up to the roadside and then meandered back around the foot of the fell, across the road and back the way we had come at the beginning. I hopped off the beautiful Jet and loosened her girth before handing her over, gushing about how gorgeous she was. It was clear she’s got a bit of a fan club.
Back in the car I started planning what to do next; we were to make our way home and then maybe go for a kayak or a walk. But it was clear that we both needed a bit of a break, so I took to our room to read for a bit whilst G put together some lunch, and then we talked for a long time.
Before long it was time to start setting up the hot tub. I had to get some hundred writing time in so G headed up to start the fires, and then we dashed into town for a few bits for tea. The tub’s fire needed refilling every forty-five minutes, so G went up to do that before we ate. An hour or so after that it was ready for us to get in.
I changed into my gorgeous Boux Avenue bikini and we headed up to the tub, with its beautiful views. It was a rather odd experience. The tub is heated by a wood fire at the back, and because the hot air rises the bottom half, below the bench, remains cold, whilst the top layer reaches an optimum temperature of forty degrees Celsius. We settled this issue by keeping our feet up on the benches, and soon we were extremely comfortable. Sipped rum and coke, and talked as the sun set until our fingers wrinkled.
The light seemed to refuse to disappear, and even when we left the tub a little after ten the sky was a cloudless, dusky blue, willing the day to go on forever – much like we were, I suppose.