Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Hip Hip Hooray

I really thought I couldn't find a better Hip pun than my brilliant definition, Hippochondria, the depressingly common delusion that your horse is suffering from an expensive veterinary problem, when in reality, like its owner, it needs to get out more.
But the truly ghasty pun, Hip Hip Hooray pretty much sums up the history of the Instant release system which I invented for the Saddlechariot, and have been road testing with the Bannedwaggon.
The first Hip reference is to the very start of the instant release system when I was driving an early saddlechariot in North Devon on a 15/16hh animal. In those days, to release the Saddlechariot took two, maybe three seconds, but you had to be next to the animal. It made it the quickest vehicle release system available, but that wasn't saying much.
Ditto it was the safest horsedrawn vehicle available, and again that wasn't saying much.
So I am driving a green animal, in shafts that were too short and narrow, in a snaffle, because I hate Liverpools, blinkerless, and I have been assured that the animal concerned is the most complete slug. So I shake the reins and it is trotting, cross over the sand school to the other rein and it feels the shafts touch its bum and it is cantering.
At this stage I try the brakes, totally zilch. I could have stepped off really easily, that is after all the point of the Saddlechariot, but the horse's owner was standing watching with a cheque book in his pocket, and "I'm all right mate, not sure about your horse!" isn't one of the great sales pitches. More importantly, I feel guilty getting a horse into a dangerous situation and stepping off to safety and leaving it to sort it out itself.
Now guilt is a perfectly treatable problem. Hundreds of shrinks will queue up to reassure you that it is someone else's fault, or that abusing animals is perfectly natural, you pay your money, you get your absolution. But there's the rub, money. Saddlechariots don't make money, so paying a shrink wasn't an option, and they won't let you run up a tab either. So there I am, staying on a Saddlechariot behind a rapidly accelerating horse, careering round a sandschool, giving a damn fine impersonation of Barry Sheene until finally centrifugal force took over and I flew elegantly into the fence.
In that brief moment between leaving the Saddlechariot, and hitting the fence, I had my Eureka moment, and the instant release system was absolutely clear and solid in my head. Unfortunately, baths are a less painful location for Eureka moments, than sandschools, especially those where railway sleepers have been used as fence posts.
By a stroke of luck my hip hit the first post, the luck was not in hitting the post, the luck was that my head hit the second post by which time I was going a lot slower. It is a crash that still replays in my dreams, but I walked away, the bruises faded, the haematoma shrank and the horse had one small graze on his leg.
Over the next few years the instant release system has been gradually improved until 2009 when the Mark10 Saddlechariot appeared. The combination of internal swingle tree collar, all round rip cord and the instant release embedded in the HDPE shaft tips looked pretty cool so I left it alone and concentrated on the Bannedwaggon, the wheelchair enabled version.
The Bannedwaggon shares the Saddlechariot shafts and harness, and this summer I decided to drive a wheelchair from Exeter to London, and drive solo, in a wheelchair, pony drawn, bitless, whip free etc round Hyde Park. The reason for driving to London was that I couldn't actually afford to get there any other way, so with a friend, Lee, a pony that needed training, the Bannnedwaggon and a standard Mark 10 Saddlechariot, and all our camping gear, we set off for London.
At Newbury, Lee had to head back to Exeter, and I needed to attend Ryan's Ryde, a brilliant biker's rally near Birmingham so I took a weeks "holiday" and Obama and I stooged around the country, and then returned to Thatcham, and the final assault on the Capital.
We got there, drove round Hyde Park, and were heading back down the Grand Union Camal when the second Hip featured.
The towpath, not far from Perivale has been shut to motorbikes, pushchairs, wheelchairs and incidentally ponies and horses. This is the path that was built for ponies and horses.
So I loop back, and try to find an alternative route, and exiting the towpath by a narrow alley, and not really concentrating, I let one wheel climb a wall, and flip the vehicle. Obama was deeply unimpressed, and was sufferning from the stress of driving too damn much of Central London.
He freaked and all I could see, as he dragged me off my feet between a vehicle being dragged at high speed on its side, and a block wall, was his backside exploding with power. Stupidly I hung onto the reins. letting go would have let the ripcord pull itself, but as long as I dragged level, the ripcord didn't pull, but I managed to give it a tug, and within twenty feet, Obama had gone from terrified, to standing looking at me, wondering what on earth I thought I was doing.
Mostly, I was contemplating a low blockwork wall which no longer looked vertical or straight, and wondering why my arm still worked since my left arm appeared to have done the damage. The gravel rash up my arm and across my shoulder certainly hurt enough, but given the state of the wall, it shouldn't  have functioned.
But when I got into a shower I found that, yet again my hip, the left one this time, had taken the strain. It was nothing like as bad as the first time, the bruising only localised, not going the whole way round my waist, and no massive haematoma, either. And as an added bonus, I can walk pretty normally as well.
So the first Hip, gave me the instant release system, but the second Hip has given me something better, a live test of the system in extremis. I would never push a pony into a crash like that, but to see with my own eyes, a panicking pony stop, and relax when the ripcord releases him, proves the system works.
Now I can leave the instant release system alone, knowing I can trust it, that others can trust it. I can get on with the Bannedwaggon, and find stupid ways to see just how far you can take a wheelchair enabled, one  man, pony drawn vehicle. Across Dartmoor is irresitible, and across France is tempting. Across Europe would be fun.
But first, I need to spend some time getting Obama to chill, and relax, so I think blatting through the surf will be our next challenge. Obama is scared of water, especially waves, but the great thing is that I can take him to the beach, let him see the waves, and back off, bring him back and retreat again, and work at a pace Obama can cope with.
In London, there was nowhere to retreat, and I asked far too much, but I had nowhere to retreat to, no safe refuge, so we had to keep going on. Now I know the system works, I will never put Obama under that sort of pressure again, and I think he will go Hooray.

To see some of my marginally more organised rants, try these links. If all else fails, try hitting them with whips. It works with horses, doesn't it?

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