Hi all and welcome back,
I began writing this blog while sitting in the Californian sunshine, letting its warmth banish the winter chill from my bones. After a lifetime of British winters, the simple pleasure of seeing blue skies and sun in January is both bizarre and brilliant.
Last year, my sister Samantha told me I needed to go on holiday. At the time, my first thought was ‘I can’t do that’. I had never travelled alone, and hadn’t been on holiday since 2018. Covid had made me never want to leave home and I didn’t think I was capable of going somewhere by myself. But then on Christmas Eve I awoke with a sudden sense of adventure – a restlessness tugging me towards the other side of the world. A few weeks of planning later, I boarded a flight to San Francisco.
I need to give some background to my story. Many years ago, whilst doing junior classes, Carl Hester put me in the saddle of San Piko. I rode Piko for just over a year; we often piaffed through advanced medium tests and narrowly missed out on a spot on the Junior European team, but I just adored him. He was like riding a Ferrari, with power like I’d never felt before. Having Piko in my life when I was 16 really cemented in me that riding was the right career path; I wanted to always ride horse like him. However, he was to be sold and in 2015 I waved him goodbye as he made his way to his new home in the States. I kissed him on his sweet pink-smudged muzzle and promised him that I would find him again one day.
I had always tried to keep contact with Piko and through intense internet stalking, I tracked down his new owner, Alicia, and we have been in contact for a while. When my sudden urge for adventure called, it was Alicia who answered. Like calls to like and it’s been truly amazing to meet such a fantastic friend. We are very similar characters and the fact that our connection started due to our shared love of Piko is a real fairytale story.
So I stayed true to my promise to Piko, and I did find him again. I’ve even ridden him again, going for a trial ride around the ranch and it was one of those experiences that you want to hold on to forever. He felt exactly the same, piaffing around with ears pricked and making us laugh ourselves silly. Hacking round here is amazing, you just have to keep an eye out for the coyotes!
I was staying at Alicia’s place, Willow & Wolf Ranch, and it is truly magical. The barn is idyllic, with white buildings set among rolling green hills. It is everything you would expect from America, with a real Western rodeo ranch next door. I’ve eaten everything from Taco Bell to Boba Tea, with Alicia and her family being the expert tour guides to give me the real American experience.
The dressage horse world there is similar to ours at home. I marvelled at the way the smell of every tack room and feed room is exactly the same, whether it is in Oxfordshire or California. It’s a comforting sense of home.
I had a ride on a cattle roping horse, which was one of the funniest experiences of my life – I turned up in my long dressage boots, full seat breeches and fancy hard hat, while everyone there was in flared jeans and cowboy boots, canned beer in hand and putting on a saddle that comes equipped with a knife holder. The very sweet man who owned the horse couldn’t understand a single word I was saying, and kept looking to Alicia to translate my British English to his American English. We were left to our own devices due to our apparent language barrier, and with no direction the horse and I were as equally confused as each other. It again ended with us in senseless giggles.
Now that I’m back home, I can reflect on how this trip has taught me that I really can do anything. I have made the most amazing friends; have the most amazing memories and have a newfound cowgirl state of mind. Granted – I did get scared senseless a couple of times but here I am, having coped with it all. I have everything I need in myself (thanks to Jackie McCormick who keeps reminding me of this!) It has made me feel refreshed, replenished and ready to throw myself fully into my work back home. If anyone reading this is looking for a sign to go on an adventure – here it is. If I can do it, you can do it.
Until next time,