Emulating Jack Harper: Swimming with my Horse

My character Jack Harper goes swimming with his horse, but I had never done it myself until last weekend.

It had been on my bucket list for several years, but whenever my riding group organized their annual ‘Pony Swim’ I always found a way to avoid joining in. I was simply too scared!

This year I verbally committed to taking Cruz Bay into the river with a mere fourteen or so friends and their horses and if I chickened out this time I was going to look like a real loser! I would have to do it now.

My original intent was to ride in an old saddle which I didn’t mind getting wet. But I longed for the courage to ride bareback like the other riders.

I had never ridden my gelding without a saddle, and didn’t want the day of the Pony Swim to be my first time.  Supposing I slid off into the water as soon as he waded in?

So I put a bridle on my horse the evening before, and asked my son to come down with me (a) for moral support and (b) to take photos as proof that I had indeed sat on Cruz Bay bareback regardless of whether I was brave enough to do it the next day.

Of course the wind began to blow hard and the sky to darken as I led my gelding down the hill to the arena. But he was a rock star and didn’t react at all to the unusual feel of my climbing onto his back with no saddle between us.

I nudged him forwards and he behaved impeccably for the whole five minutes I rode him around in walk.

Riding Bareback the Day Before

Here is yours truly, rather nervous and riding Cruz Bay in the shorts and water proof shoes that I planned to wear for the next day’s swim.

That night and the next morning I visualized swimming bareback.  With the old saddle packed into the trailer as my security blanket,  I drove in convoy with three great friends and our horses to the venue, a field by the river.

Once there it was clear that everyone else planned to ride bareback. I was going to look like a total wimp if I didn’t do the same.

We used the tailgate of a friend’s truck as a mounting block and walked our horses the fifty yards or so to the water’s edge.

Cruz’s stable mate, a big Clydesdale named Gabe, marched straight into the water which gave my bay gelding the confidence to join him and paddle about with the others.

The Three Horseketeers
The Three Horseketeers

I was astounded at how well all our horses behaved. There were tons of jellyfish floating in the water but thankfully they didn’t sting us or our gallant mounts.

Kelli, my friend on the left in the photo, took her horse deeper and deeper into the river until her mare was swimming, while I admired them from a safe distance. She then came back and told me I should try it.

“No,” I said, “this is already way out of my comfort zone!”

But she insisted and I’m so glad she did.  We followed her horse out, and suddenly the mare was gliding easily through the water.

Kelli shows how to do it

She is shorter than Cruz, so we had to walk out a little farther. Then I became aware of a change of motion. The transition was so smooth! I’d expected him to panic when he felt the ground fall away, but instead he quietly began to swim.

On my GoPro film you can hear me saying “Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh!” over and over again. It was such a fantastic feeling!

Cruz’s ears were pricked forwards the whole time: he was enjoying this as much as I was. And when we turned back towards the shore, he continued swimming even when the water was shallow enough for him to walk.

There was an iffy moment when he lost his footing and spun round. But luckily I stayed on, so now I am rather proud of that video footage. If I’d fallen off it would have been a different story.

To finish, here is a photo of my reaction to the whole experience.

We did it! cropped
Thank you, Celeste and Timothy Behsmann for this photo

Enough said!

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