I’m galloping flat out. I can’t remember the last time I did this. I don’t own a horse at the moment, and despite the fact that I occasionally help exercise racehorses at a friend’s yard, I haven’t ridden “work” (ie, flat out) for years.
I’m in Wiltshire, at the gorgeous Lucknam Park, on a big bay Thoroughbred called Charlie and he’s got the bit between his teeth. The 500 acres of parkland that surround Lucknam is old turf and many years ago home to a racehorse trainer, so the stretch that Charlie and I are, erm, stretched out on, is an old gallops so I can trust it not to have holes. Or moles.
I arrived the previous afternoon and had walked up the wide, tree-lined drive looking at the horses and ponies of various shapes and sizes in fields on my left, while simultaneously admiring (and going over) the solid timber cross-country fences in the parkland to my right. Lucknam has 35 different horses and ponies, most of which are on working livery but some owned by the hotel, all of which for the guests to ride — and although it might be pricey, there’s no kicking ponies round the sandschool here.
“We get everyone out, it’s far nicer — we ride and lead, children much prefer to be out on a ride and not in the school,” says Nicky, who is accompanying me on my ride around the estate this morning. “We do a brilliant pub ride – it’s about four hours – which is great for families, and we encourage anyone to come along.”
Lucknam Park is a gorgeous five-star hotel just outside Bath. The night I stayed there, David Hasselhoff had turned up in his red Ferrari: it’s that kind of place. It has a Michelin-starred restaurant, cookery school, fabulous spa and swimming pool — but it also has an equestrian centre that packs a punch.
The cross-country course I’d mentally jumped in my mind while strolling with my Ridgeback was built by the Willis Brothers — of Badminton fame — and there’s a full size all-weather arena. And its not all pub rides and beginner lessons — the centre runs clinics throughout the year with Stephen Hadley and Richard Waygood.
Before my spin around the park, I’d had a gridwork lesson with one of the resident instructors, Ella, and Charlie — who’s turned his hoof to dressage in his past — stepped right up to the mark and had me sweating within 10 minutes. It was fantastic to have a proper ride — I’ve only previously ridden in this kind of scenario (ie, paying and not riding a friend’s horse) in Richmond Park and found the poor horse, and the bureaucratic walking and trotting, interminably dull. It needed to be safe. At Lucknam in the Cotswolds, they know if you can ride — and you get the ride you want.
Afterwards, I eased my soon-to-be aching muscles in the outdoor hot pool, cursing the fact I’d spent too much time on a horse (can you?) and not enough time checking out the spa — I had to leave all too soon to continue my journey to Dartmoor.
I’d thoroughly recommend anyone with friends who want to learn to ride to head to Lucknam for the weekend, they’ll get the proper experience. Meanwhile, I’m checking out the dates of this year’s clinics as I want to do more than jump around the cross-country course in my mind. The hotel, however, was so good, that as I left I reserved a room for my parents to stay two weeks’ later — surely you can’t get a better recommendation than that?
Lucknam Park Hotel & Spa, near Bath (01225 742777) offers Classic Rooms from ￡260 per night based on two adults sharing on a room only basis, inclusive of full use of the spa facilities. A one-hour instructional hack is £116 per person.
Images courtesy of Lucknam Park and Abi Butcher