“They’re really fucking big!” Adam says, eyeing the sturdy Welsh Cobs. The hardy breed of fairly small but strong horses has a recorded history of around 400 years. They’re renowned for their good nature and are used in riding schools around the world.
It’s Adam’s first time in the saddle. He’s nervous. I can see the fear in his eyes as we drink coffee and eat a tuna sandwich at the Cantref Riding Centre café prior to heading out on our trek in Wales’ Brecon Beacons National Park.
But I know he’s a resilient human with a love of nature, adventures and freedom, all which I know horse riding can provide.
After signing papers proclaiming our previous experience, height, weight, address and emergency contacts, the lovely Tegan Barnard fitted helmets on our heads and gave us the rundown – how you tighten the girth (which keeps the saddle in place) and how make the horse do what you want.
Tegan, 21, who’s been working at the centre for seven years throughout school and university, tries to comfort the 30-year-old frightened man: “It’s like riding a motorbike with its own mind and will.” Despite being an experienced motorcyclist, Adam isn’t feeling any more confident.
It’s a shitty Welsh November day: rain in various strengths, a sudden second of sunshine per hour, wind and greyness. Over the enchanting Brecon hills lie heavy clouds – it’s all looking rather Lord of the Rings-esque.
No wonder: J.R.R Tolkien was heavily influenced by the Welsh landscape and language while writing his trilogy.
No wonder: J.R.R Tolkien was heavily influenced by the Welsh landscape and language while writing his trilogy. Coming here it’s hard not to notice how powerful an inspiration it is.
Because of the weather, we were recommended to split our full-day trek into two half-days, stopping for lunch back at the centre instead of eating it in the rain. We couldn’t really get up in the mountains anyway with the clouds so low and trails so slippery.
But as uninviting as the conditions seemed, it only added ambiance to this mystical place.
No one else seemed to want to ride on a rainy November day, so we were lucky enough to be the only ones on our tour. Me on Viking (fitting, as I’m a descendant of those brutes) – a 15 year old with stunning looks: one blue and one dark brown eye. Adam was on Kit, a 13 year old of measured disposition and an elevated stature.
We started off through the valley on narrow country roads and through small villages, now high up enough to see the sheep over compact hedges. In Llanfrynach we rode past what must be the world’s smallest library – housed in a red phone booth. We tried a little trot on the straighter bits of road and much to my amusement, and to the agony of Adam’s bum, there was much bouncing around in front of me.
Through rivers and holly we came back soaked but happy. “I kinda like this horse-riding thing!” Adam announced as we rode through the rain and wind.
Tegan, an ex-ballerina whose professional dancing aspirations were ended by injury, took immaculate care of us, knowledgeably sharing interesting information about the area, ballet, the riding centre, and various animals we encountered (she’s now studying to become a veterinary nurse).
As we rode up into the clouds I couldn’t believe the landscape – more reminiscent of images I’ve seen of Iceland than Britain
“We do have some very fat people coming here who we have to reject for the welfare of the animals,” she explained. Cantref has a weight limit of 16 stone. However, if you’re a biggie (but under 16 stone) you’ll get to ride the Shire-Cob mix Gandalf.
Apparently the centre also includes three escapist buffaloes and a ‘shonkey’ (a mix between a Shetland pony and a donkey), but we never witnessed the latter.
After a chilli con carne lunch at the café we were grateful the centre provided plenty of rain clothes and warm jumpers to borrow for free, as we were soaked from our morning ride. For our second, we were going up the hills.
Magic. Pure magic. As we rode up into the clouds, I couldn’t believe the landscape – more reminiscent of images I’ve seen of Iceland than Britain.
Driving back to Swansea, where we were staying the weekend, the Beacons looked extra mythical and eerie in the darkening dusk. With aching muscles we were exhilarated by our day in spite of rain and wind.
We’re planning on coming again in the summer. Adam is considering riding lessons and dreaming of cantering over green fields.
A full day (or two half days coming back to the centre for lunch) of riding Welsh Cobs in Brecon Beacons National Park on a rainy November day will cost you £55 per person with Cantref Riding Centre, if purchased online. However you’ll have to drive there either from Cardiff, or all the way from wherever you are. I realise this can be a bit of a hassle, but totally worth it if you fancy a #microadventure.
Photography by Paula Wik