Death by horses. Wouldn’t that be a fabulous way to go? It would certainly provide a few laughs at the funeral, but thankfully that day, for me and my friend Tarryn, didn’t come to pass. Still, it was ‘on the cards’ for rather too many frightening minutes during what was meant to be a relaxing holiday!
Picture it. You’ve awoken after a deep and satisfying sleep and decided today is the day to get out and climb a mountain of some sort. You’ve dressed, gulped down an athletes breakfast, made a carb-heavy lunch and sourced a map from your hosts.
Hiking boots on, you embark with the usual expectations – uphill climbs, beautiful views, a nice picturesque spot for lunch, a leisurely descent and celebratory cider.
Perfection in a day. Right? Wrong!
Laughing, exhaling great cackles we recalled our story to our hosts a few days afterwards. “We were surrounded! Our lives flashed before our eyes!!” Others in the vicinity laughed too.
We were surprised to hear that the lady who had directed us into the Horses Den had known about the dangers all along. “Cheers!” We thought, and laughed some more, in astonishment.
So, what happened? Well, everything from the deep, satisfying sleep to the embark was as normal. Omlettes in our bellies, sandwiches prepared, map in hand we set off. Beginning the ascent we took a wrong turn and came to a dead end. There was nothing unusual about that, so we retraced our steps to find the right path. We were fifteen minutes or so in, enjoying the surrounding stillness and emerging views, when we noticed a pack of horses cantering up a path to our right. They reached our level, blocking the gate of our exit, and stared. Less than 50 metres away, we too stood still, and stared back.
Now, neither Tarryn nor I are horsey people. We’ve never felt at home in a stable and have never shovelled poo to earn favour and a free gallop. Our lives have been spent firmly on the outside of the paddock, yet somehow we found ourselves in the centre of one, without a stone or a sling.
A minute of well managed panic later, the situation intensified. The horses had friends. Another 5 or 6 horses thundered up the hill to join the already 6 strong gang. We were outnumbered, with only a few cheese and ham cobs for pacifying leverage.
“Let’s go back.” I suggested. I was not up for a duel.
“Ok.” Tarryn replied. We hoped they’d forget about us, move on.
As we turned and walked slowly back the way we came, the horses followed, and at increasing pace. We walked some more then panicked and walked off the path in a faint hope that we were really just blocking their morning running route. “Maybe they just want to get past.” I said bleakly. “Let’s just wait.”
As they approached the part of the path that we had sidestepped, they stopped, turned, looked us straight in the eyes, then advanced. Tarryn and I grabbed each other. My knees began to shake. I prayed!
Six or seven large horses snuffled our coats and nibbled our rucksacks. The others formed a barbed wire fence behind, munching the grass and exhaling violently. Tails flapped, hooves padded the ground.
“God!! Help!! Help!! I’m completely unqualified for this situation!! Help!!”
Tarryn and I must have looked a picture! Clinging to each other as if our lives depended on it (quite literally) praying whatever we could muster!
Suddenly, a small gap opened up between the heavy set horses. A pure white stallion, their leader, had either stumbled, or deliberately fallen into our nibbling friends and scattered them. Our escape route! Hearts beating and legs a-wobbling we slowly took steps past our unwanted friends.
“Left or right?” I said under my breath. Do we retreat and just get back home safely, or do we continue the walk regardless, oblivious to how many horses could be lurking in the unfamiliar Welsh hills.
“Left.” said Tarryn defiantly.
“Ok.” I said, surprised at her courage. We race-walked to the next style.
Once home and dry, with the horses safely behind the last fence, we let go of each other and bent over in relief! We laughed, but mostly were just glad to be alive!
As we sat atop the mountain, looking down to the sea, Tarryn made a suggestion. “Different route back?”