I spent last weekend and the latter part of last week riding at a clinic with Martin Black, which was excellent. But before I get to that, I'm going to talk a little about how we got there.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a horse box. The logic for this was that I had just got a bit of a bonus from the tax man, having overpaid last year, and I knew I would be doing the journey to Doncaster ( approximately 200 miles ) and need transport. Hiring a box for that time would have cost me about £800, so given that I was going to spend that much money anyway, I thought I might as well buy one and treat that as a £800 discount on the price I would end up paying anyways.
So I spent most of what I had on a new ( old ) horsebox, which is one of those nice Renault Master ones with the half-length ramp where the horses travel facing backwards in the middle of the van so it has a low centre of gravity. The box was in Carmarthen ( classic bit of ebay buying ) and I figured that the 200 miles home would be a fair indicator that it would hold up to a decent length of travel on the way to the clinic. It performed admirably and after a week and a bit at the yard, it was time to pack my stuff up, load Iris onto the bus and make for the north.
We made pretty good progress for the first 100 miles or so, stopping at Peterborough for a coffee and sandwich and then back en route. About 10 miles later, while going at 60 along the dual carriageway section of the A1 where there is no hard shoulder, the wheel fell off the box.
I have never been driving a vehicle where the wheel fell off before. I threw the coffee I was sipping away into the corner, and we scraped along to a fortuitously placed sliproad. It should have been scary, but when it happened I was too busy not crashing, once it had finished and I got out and looked at the smoking remains of my rear wheel while I called for rescue. Happily Iris seemed fine, I was alright, we had rescue cover and I had managed to throw my coffee in such a way that very little of it spilled. It was a very bad situation but it could have been a thousand times worse.
The rescue people seemed quite interested in whether I had a spare wheel, which I did but I also pointed out that it wasn't much use because I hadn't lost the tyre, the whole wheel had fallen off and I had slid along the road on the axle. They reassured me that help would arrive in 60-90 minutes.
Sure enough, a rescue van pulled up, looked at my horsebox and said "this isn't a puncture, your wheel has fallen off." "Yes, I told them that." "You're going to need a low-loader." "Yes, I told them that, too." Fortunately my rescue company know I'm a mechanical idiot, so they ignored what I told them. It took an hour for them to locate a low-loader, then they told me it would be 60-90 minutes before they arrived. By the time they got to me it had been dark for a while and my horsebox battery was almost completely flat from running the hazard lights. At midnight we arrived at our destination, the box sliding backwards when the low-loader ramp was raised until the rear wheel/axle were on the ground, then the low-loader driving out from underneath it. The ideal way to meet our fellow campers. Iris had been in the box for 11 hours by this point.
The clinic was really good fun, but the state of the horsebox did weigh on me a little. The organisers did a great job of sorting out a mechanic and sure enough on the Friday my box vanished during the afternoon session, my friends making a great effort of rescuing my stuff while I was riding.
I also had the very generous offer of a lift part-way home at the end of the clinic from one of the other riders- she was a bit north of Peterborough, but could take Iris and I to that area. Fortunately herecirm
's parents are just a little south of there and have a bit of land with some horses on it, and had offered to let Iris stay so that was quite a good option.
We loaded up at the end of the clinic- Iris looking into the trailer or a moment, then stepping straight in - that horse so generous with her trust and I felt as though I was absolutely betraying her as she was not terribly impressed to be in there, but she was travelling with another horse and there was nothing else I could do. It was dark by the time we got to Alconbury but Mare unloaded beautifully and was happy to be out in her field. Once she settled I unloaded my gear and said goodbye to the lady who had given me the lift.
The next morning I got a lift with herecirm
's parents to the station and took a train home. That evening I had a message from the lady who gave us a lift home. Iris had been so bothered in the box that she had kicked the door hard enough to break it. I wished I had checked my mare's back legs better before I left. Later it transpired that Iris had also gone through the neigbours' fence where she is staying at the moment, so that is more fixing to pay for.
The lorry is fixed now, but it was an expensive endeavour- partly my fault because I asked them to make it safe to travel in, but at the same time, what other option did I have? It would have cost £850 just to have it shipped home and I would still have had to fix or scrap it and get Iris home somehow.
As far as I can guess, in travel alone this clinic will have cost me more than £2000. I don't exactly know how I'm going to afford it.