So. Sturuss was quite a character and as I had him from a 3-year old, the age that you begin to train a horse or pony in the arts of carrying a rider and learning to behave while doing so, we had a number of adventures in the local countryside.
Flash forward to this November. My eldest daughter now lives bang in the middle of what, for nearly 10 years, was my riding territory in those early days. Young Mael needed a nap and wouldn’t settle, so last week, I set off for a nice walk on a beautifully sunny day, hoping he would drop off in the pram as I went. (funny how that picture reminds me of this – – that was in December 2011, our last winter together!)
Anyway. We set off and of course, I know most of the local paths from all those years riding around them and so decided to head off across the little river and for the first time since about 1987, to follow the path along past the tobacco barn and fields and through a couple of hamlets I’d not seen since way back. In fact, seeing this not only reminded me to show the “bend” in the roofline around here that I’ve mentioned before, but I could swear the last time I passed through here, there was a baby slumbering peacefully in its pram in the sunshine, now probably a strapping 6′ carpenter or something, with a gaggle of kids of his own! (I know the Norwegians practice this “baby napping outdoors in all seasons” thing that leaves English-speakers aghast, but the Swiss do – did – it, too!) The further I went along this road and then off to the right along a track leading to a small footbridge, the broader my grin became. One dull, grey, damp November day, I had trotted along here on Sturuss, heading for a spot just to the right of the bridge where other riders had established a spot where you can ford the river. In those days, there were a lot of rushes and tall grasses on the bank between the bridge and the ford, where now there are several large firewood stores. We would have the tips of them brushing Sturuss’ sides as we carefully picked our way down the bank and through the river. The river is only a couple of feet deep here and Sturuss was happy to pause and splash for a while, pawing the water with his front legs and having a nice long drink (how glad I was that he didn’t try to lie down in the river, as my friend’s Haflinger did, necessitating a nimble jump off!). On the other side of the river (on the left of this picture), there was quite a thick wood surrounding the pathway and the bank is fairly steep to climb back onto it. As we began to head up the bank, seemingly from nowhere, a moped came whizzing along and across our exit. Normally pretty traffic-proof (Sturuss had been driven for 6 months before I got him), this was simply asking too much and, already on the uphill, he wheeled around and plunged back down into the river in a split-second. This also asked rather too much of his rider, and I was unseated, catapulted into the river, where I stood for a moment in disbelief. Alarmed by this unexpected result and unnerved by the moped’s whirring, Sturuss charged past me – and in the process, knocked me straight over backwards. Flat into the river. Under water. Gulp.
Dripping and gasping, I pulled myself to my feet. Sturuss, by now no longer alarmed and simply somewhat bemused, had not dashed off in a mad rush but had gone back up the right bank and was standing in the field beyond, watching to see what I would do. Bless him, despite his temperament, he was never the sort to waste energy on a mad gallop when there was grass around… I was left with no choice but to wade to the closer, left, bank and haul myself up to the path, squelching my way to the footbridge to get back to the other side where Sturuss stood grazing. He didn’t bat an eyelid as I remounted and headed back across the river – best to tackle the “problem” immediately.
To my surprise, there was no trouble about crossing through the river, though he was a little anxious about the possibility of another moped coming along the path on the other side. Due to the distinctly chilly temperatures, I urged him to a trot along to the next village, where a friend’s husband had his workshop – luckily, she was there and lent me a spare fleece jacket to get me out of my wet jumper… We trotted hastily back through the village and up the hill to the farm where Sturuss was living. In those days, Sturuss was young and fit and the long trot did no more than warm him up, too, especially since he was going home and there was always the possibility of food in his own stable!
We clattered into the yard, still dripping somewhat and to find the farmer doubled over with laughter at the sight of us – in fact, I will never forget how he held his stomach in mirth as tears poured down his rosy cheeks at the vision of a comically furry, steaming Haflinger pony with a very wet and soggy rider dismounting… Being a kindly man, he lent me a pair of his wife’s jeans and socks and gave me a hot toddy, while Sturuss happily munched on the hay in his box. Those were the days! Now there’s a woodpile on the other side where the rushes were, and on this side, a rail has been put up to divert riders to the right when fording the river and before hitting the pathway, probably to prevent them charging up in front of walkers, bikers – and mopeds! Sturuss remained unafraid of rivers – but hated mopeds and motorbikes coming up behind him for ever afterwards.