My companion is Storm, an opinionated 12.2 hand British moorland pony. Our playground is the North Wales coast bordering Snowdonia National Park.
A dry, bright Sunday afternoon at the start of November feels made for riding-out. The colours of the season are holding-up, despite the bracken looking flat and rain-washed, and parts of the countryside looking raw, and exposed. Strings of rose-hips are laced through bare branches like ruby necklaces. A breathtaking gallop ensues and at the top, we assume there can’t be much more in the tank, but both ponies prove us wrong. On the rise we stand breathless to study the curve of Anglesey’s coastline amid a cobalt sea – looking and feeling nothing like November – before Lady takes the lead. Storm insists on tail-gaiting, hot on the heels of the mare at every turn. Payback comes in the form of flying mud, including a good mouthful for me. We pass through the old iron gate and head along the North Wales Path for a short distance before taking a left past the swollen pond. The annual pony gathering means that the majority of the wild ponies have been herded over to a hill farm in Llanfairfechan and the landscape is strangely quiet, not even a distant whinny. It feels like the Carneddau has temporarily lost its beating heart.
Up on the roller-coaster track we ignore the presence of a significant cloud bank rolling in. There are more pressing matters at hand, since Storm is still intent on surging in front of Lady and I have my work cut out to ensure he stays in line. And just when we think they’ve surely had their fill of speed wars, both ponies surprise us by bursting into a flat-out gallop on the final stretch, and for long minutes we struggle to pull them up before the scary descent, Storm flying over the heather in a last second attempt to take the lead. But then the rain starts, and shaves considerable shine off our light-hearted bravado. Could we be any further from the yard on this particular circuit? Lady managed to prick the sole of her foot once at this point and Christine walked all the way home, just to be on the safe side. No accidents or minor injuries on this occasion, but perhaps another lesson in the fickleness of mountain weather. Views across the Conwy Valley deteriorate into nothing more than a misted blur as the rain sweeps in, and plans to buy those waterproof thermals move up the wish-list.
Back at base, His Little Lordship devours his afternoon tea. It’s cold and wet now, with more rain forecast after dark, but there’s something intrinsically cosy about evening stables. It’s those soft pools of light in the dusk as horses are safely bedded down for the night. Since the mares are stabled, Storm – aka Houdini – is settled into his evening quarters where the benefits of some large trees and hedges afford plenty of shelter.
He stays in there for all of twenty minutes.
Unknown to us an ornamental gate into an adjoining garden has been left slightly ajar. Not one to miss an opportunity for extra-curricular foraging, Storm manages to alarm a neighbour by suddenly appearing in her garden in his bright blue cagoule. Visions of deep holes in a svelte lawn have us set aside our mugs of steaming tea. No accidents or minor injuries to the foliage on this occasion, but plans to modify the field-shelter for the duration of winter quickly moves up the planning-list. It will likely feature a boarded-up five-bar gate, an alarm, and three high-security searchlights.