Horse riding

This week’s Remember The Time Blog Hop is a Wild Card. Here I recall one of my embarrassing moments from back in the day. 

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“So,” my boyfriend of a whole week said to me, “J and I are going riding tomorrow afternoon. Would you like to come along?” Well of course I wanted to join them; I wanted to spend all the time I could with this adorable guy (who stopped being quite so adorable in my eyes pretty quickly but, at this stage, was my dreamboat). “You can ride, can’t you?” he asked. “Yeah, sure” I replied confidently. I had been on a horse before, I knew the rules; or so I thought.

Growing up it was my sister who adored animals. Over the course of the years that we lived with our parents she had a rabbit, a cat and a dog. What she really wanted though was a horse. She just adored horses. She read the books, watched the films and, every year, would ask Father Christmas to deliver her a pony. On Christmas morning she would wake up and pull back the curtains in our shared bedroom, hopeful that there would be a horse grazing in my parent’s back garden. I mean, wouldn’t this be just the perfect place to keep one?

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My sister had a best friend who also loved these equine creatures. They would spend hours playing with their large collection of Sindy dolls, each of whom was given their own toy animal to ride. On fine days in the summer they would set up gymkhanas on the front lawns of their parents houses, which were just a few doors apart. Occasionally there would be a disaster when the front leg of one of the competitor’s mounts would snap off going over a jump, resulting in copious tears and the immediate application of glue and sticky tape. The dolls were dressed in jodhpurs and tweed jackets more often than the fancy dresses that other girls chose for their improbably proportioned mini mannequins. My sister would get frustrated that their legs could not be properly flexed to sit astride. Getting feet to fit in the plastic stirrups was an irritating challenge.

And then my sister’s friend was given a real pony, kept in a field a few miles from her house. Naturally, my sister got to ride it. On one memorable occasion, I was invited along as well.

Lady was a calm and docile creature. I was shown how to mount, start, stop and steer. For the short time that I was permitted to walk her around the field she did as I asked. I thought that all horses would be like that. I thought that I could now ride.

Thus it was that, ten years later, I borrowed my sister’s riding hat (unsurprisingly my head had grown and it was uncomfortably tight) and set off for a hack with my boyfriend and J. Although I noticed that my brightly coloured, puffy anorak did not look as appropriate for the planned activity as their country jackets, it was not until we arrived at the stables that I began to feel that first inkling of concern over what I had so confidently let myself in for. It became obvious that these guys rode regularly; the horses that had been selected for them were active, sleek and huge!

The stable hand saw through my act immediately, but my pride was at stake. I assured her that I was competent and she reluctantly handed over the reins of the horse that had been tacked up for me. From this moment on, my troubles began.

The guys had taken their reins and mounted in what looked like one, fluid movement. My horse kept moving around the yard with me when I tried to approach the stirrups, leading me on a merry dance. The stable hand retrieved the reins impatiently and gave me a leg up in order that I may board the beast. Determined to avert a fast approaching farce, I confidently kicked my horse on and we set off at an unexpectedly sudden, fast trot. This was not a speed that I had experienced before.

The poor creature must have wondered at the dead weight bouncing around on it’s back; I dread to think what I must have looked like. I was holding on for dear life while my boyfriend and J assessed the situation incredulously. This hack was obviously not going to turn out as they had expected.

We reached the woods in which we were to ride and a short canter was proposed. My mount had obviously had enough and was no longer cooperating; this was probably just as well. J set off, by now showing his exasperation at my performance. My boyfriend glanced from friend to me and silently accepted that he had been conned. He knew that he couldn’t just abandon me and was gentlemanly enough to forgo his planned amusement to ensure that I came to no harm. We walked sedately along a few paths before calling it a day and returning the horses to the stables. I was mortified, but also silently relieved that I was still in one piece. At the very least, I had avoided falling off.

From the stables we drove to our university to attend a lecture. I had to carry my riding hat into the hall and was asked several times about my day by other enthusiasts. My boyfriend listened attentively as I tried to bat off interest without being shown up as the fraud he now knew me to be.

When I moved to England a few years later I decided that I would like to learn to ride properly. I booked some lessons and enjoyed the schooling I received until a pony decided to head towards a pole at speed and then stop, sending me somersaulting over his head. Winded but otherwise uninjured, I returned to the saddle but did not book another lesson. As far as I was concerned, horses and I were done.

The humiliation I felt at my experience with my boyfriend taught me a valuable lesson. It is probably as well that things did not work out in other ways between us as I would not have wished to live with the shared memory of that day. From then on I was a lot less cocky about what I could or couldn’t do, even if it did mean missing out on a few adventures. I had also learnt a healthy respect for animals larger than me, particularly lively ones, which stood me in good stead when my daughter developed a passion for all things equine.

Just like my sister, she dreamed for many years of having her own horse one day. If it does ever happen, it will not be on my watch.

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Read the other posts in this week’s Blog Hop by clicking on the link below.

People watching

Yesterday I attended the final day of a CIC*** International Eventing show that is held annually close to where I live. Basking in glorious sunshine, I spent the morning watching show jumping and the afternoon watching the cross country event. The horses and riders were magnificent.

As well as the main competition, there were a number of smaller entertainments going on around the site. These included a relay challenge for local Hunts, birds of prey and working dog displays, and an It’s a Knockout Competition to raise money for the local air ambulance. There was also a Festival of Food with a number of ‘celebrity chef’ cookery demonstrations that I did not explore.

I was there to watch the skill and beauty of the horses. They are amazing creatures and, being live animals, can behave in unpredictable ways at times. There were plenty of thrills and spills but, thankfully, no serious injuries to either horses or riders. The weather was hot and sunny with just a light, cooling breeze on the exposed hillside; I had a fabulous day out.

Like most of the vast crowd attending the event, I took a camping chair and a picnic which I set up on a slope overlooking the course to view the cross country event. For the show jumping I sat on the grass by the side of the arena. For those who chose to pay considerably more for their entrance ticket, there were hospitality tents that offered refreshments, seats and the shelter of a couple of massive marquees. These people may have been able to sit in more comfort than the main crowd, but they did not get as good a view of the arena and course. What they did get though was a large screen TV which, later in the afternoon, showed the tennis from Wimbledon.

I do not understand why people would choose to attend an event where some of the best riders in the world are competing and then spend much of the exciting finale watching television. If their interest was in the tennis then why did they not stay home and watch it there? Mind you, these people did seem quite different to the main crowd. Their floaty dresses and smart suits contrasted notably with the casual shorts and light tops of the majority of the attendees. High heels are impractical if one wishes to walk the rough, cross country course in order to get up close to the action; I even saw one sensibly clad supporter in crocs.

What struck me most about the event though was the contrast between the behaviour of the crowd on this site and the pictures that I had seen in the media of the Glastonbury Festival that is also staged not too far from where I live. The horse trials will not have drawn anything like the crowds that Glastonbury attracts, but it had many of the same elements: camping, food outlets, portaloos and transient visitors.

I did not come across any bins yet there was no loose rubbish anywhere to be seen. Despite the copious quantities of food and drink being consumed throughout the day, all debris was carefully packed away and removed from the site by those who attended. I saw a small number of empty bags blowing in the wind and all were caught by whoever had inadvertently let them go, or simply picked up and stowed away by someone else. The site remained immaculate throughout.

I wonder what it is about the mindset of music festival goers that makes them so uncaring of the mess that they leave behind. Horsey people would be considered by many to be posh and privileged; it is a very expensive sport. It is notable that the top eventers seem to come from families that have established ties to the horse world as well as personal wealth. From yesterday’s experience it would seem that, however many silver spoons they may have been born with, they do not expect others to clean up after them.

I am unlikely ever to wish to attend Glastonbury whereas this is the fourth or fifth time that I have enjoyed a day out at the horse trials. Whatever it is that draws a particular type of crowd I feel more at ease with the horsey people than the festival supporters, despite the fact that I do not ride and will never own a horse. Their attitude to all their animals appears to chime more closely with my own views. They do not, generally, look on their pets as fluffy accessories to be pampered but rather as useful companions. The animals are trained to work with their owner and are valued for their contribution to rural life. The displays by the sheep and gun dogs were impressive; they served a purpose beyond being something to love.

I was grateful that the dogs that attended yesterday’s event with their owners were kept on leads and prevented from sniffing any passing person. The owners seemed to realise that their much loved pooch was not going to be equally adored by everyone; I wish that all dog owners had this attitude.

I dislike being judged and pigeon holed based on the behaviour of a particular crowd that I may choose to mingle with from time to time. I dare say there are music festival regulars who do not abandon rubbish wherever they go as well as horsey people who can be haughty and conceited. I will try not to judge those I have little experience of based on newspaper reports. After all, I have already stated how little I trust the mainstream media.

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