A Scottish Pony Ride
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
A unique experience in the windswept Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh.
I have a thing for horseback riding. I'm no expert equestrienne, but I love going horseback riding while traveling whenever possible. After researching options for my time in Edinburgh, I settled on Exmoor Pony Trekking, run by students of Edinburgh University. The Exmoor is a specific breed of pony, exceptionally well suited for the often harsh climate in the region.
I arrived via Uber, as public transport takes much longer. You then walk about 15 minutes through the trees and hills to the riding center. I ran into one of the guides and we strolled up together, chatting pleasantly for quite some time as I had arrived rather early. Take note: there are no restrooms or even stables at the location, as the ponies typically roam more or less wild. There is a restaurant/golf shop by the car park before you set off on the trail, so if ya gotta go, go then. Bring minimal belongings, though I was able to leave my bag in the tack shed, which does lock.
The ride takes about 2-3 hours and winds through the Pentland Hills Regional Park, and I chose the Intermediate-Advanced ride. I've galloped through the hills of Tuscany, trotted through the King's Forest in France, and cantered the beaches of Half Moon Bay - all without incident. Folks, riding a pony is NOT like riding a horse. Your center of gravity is very different, as they are tiny lil fellas and your feet will nearly touch the ground (I'm 5'7" for reference) and it's just a smaller space to balance in overall. It requires a greater degree of control and to be honest, balance has never been my strong suit anyhow. Their short (though powerful) legs mean short strides, translating to a bumpier ride.
After about an hour we all took a try at cantering. The ride gets much bumpier here and balance even trickier. If you are not an exceptionally experienced rider, you will find yourself having to REALLY focus. The first couple passes were successful, though much of the ride was spent walking or trotting. In the final hour of the ride and as we headed back towards the not-barn, the guides asked if we wanted to go for a proper gallop. Everyone was in, especially the hardy little ponies.
Off we were, with the fella behind me ready to race ahead and show off a bit. As he gained ground behind me, I anticipated cutting right to avoid crossing paths. Well, both ponies had different ideas about that and mine ended up swiftly cutting left. With my balance and expectation ready for the opposite direction, my mount effectively ran right out from under me. Ass over teakettle I went, with my tailbone taking the first impact to earth and my head right after.
Folks: WEAR YOUR HELMETS. Like I said, those ponies can haul some ass, so I met the ground with quite some speed. My ass screamed and my vision swam for a second, though mostly from the involuntary tears that sprang to my eyes. While I had a headache for the rest of the day, I'm quite sure I'd have had one hell of a concussion without that helmet. The guide I had met at the start of the day quickly made her way over to check on me while the others collected the other riders to wait as the situation was assessed.
Accidents happen, especially with animals involved. The guides demonstrated genuine concern, and one walked with me a bit as I shook off the fall. Thankfully while my tailbone smarted and my head ached a bit, my pride took the biggest injury. I fell off a freakin' pony, man. How ignominious! I felt bad for the rest of the group, as there was no more trotting much less galloping as we ambled back to base.
While it was an interesting experience, I think I'll stick to horses for my rides. Maybe a camel one day. I will say, the staff was friendly, professional, and responsive on all fronts. I filled out an incident form, and they even checked up on me in the following days to make sure I was indeed okay.
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