I rode a horse once, when I was 18. She was a big old chestnut mare who graciously carried me up onto Bodmin Moor despite the fact that all I had going for me was good balance, strong legs, and the confidence of the terminally stupid. My companion, a highly experienced jockey, decided to pop off for a quick gallop. He said, “Just wait there,” but the mare had other ideas. The minute his back was turned she reared up, whinnied, and set off at full speed back down the hill. Head and neck were nowhere to be seen as she threw herself into the descent.
Instinctively, I wrapped my legs around her as tightly as I could, which made her go even faster. There was a brief moment of relief as the ground evened out and her head reappeared, but then I saw the gate, right in front of us. I thought she’d stop, but no. On she went – straight over the gate – my first (and only) jump! If my companion hadn’t appeared beside us, breathlessly grabbing the reins, and bringing us to a rather abrupt halt, I think she’d have galloped all the way to Bristol. Any sensible person would have been put off, but then I’m not any sensible person.
After 19 years of waiting patiently (read: saving up) I had my first ‘proper’ riding lesson on 12th September last year. I loved every ridiculously expensive second of it. The lady at the riding school told me not to rush out and spend a fortune until I’d had a few more lessons. Very sensible, I agreed, then drove straight to the nearest tack shop and bought a lovely black velvet riding hat, leather riding boots, and a pair of jodhpurs – with full seat no less!
After almost 5 months, I still love going to the stables. I can’t wait until summer when I can spend more time down there. It never fails to amaze me just how hard everyone works – lugging heavy skips of manure to the tip, stuffing hay nets, grooming the horses, sweeping the yard, and a thousand other jobs that can’t be ignored.
Here’s what I've learned so far:
1. Riding is really hard work, and that’s not including all the stuff on the ground! Have you ever tried to get half a tonne (78 stone!) of muscle and bloody mindedness to move over using just your inside leg?!
2. Horses can bite. It hurts like hell. Not only that but they're really fast. They can also kick. I imagine this also hurts like hell.
3. Top class show-jumpers do not mix well with complete beginners. It’s like putting a six year old behind the wheel of a Ferrari. Needless to say, I haven’t been invited back!
4. Good school horses, by contrast, are the most patient teachers you’ll ever meet; forgiving (as in please sit properly, my back’s killing me!), helpful (as in I think you want me to trot/go left/etc. so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and do it for you), and most concerned should they suddenly find you in a heap on the ground!
5. There’s a billion different things to learn, a billion different opinions on how to do them.
6. The crotch area is called ‘the fork’ – as in “Sit back, you’re on your fork!”
7. Horses are expensive. No, like I mean really expensive! Stabling, Vet’s fees, rugs, saddles, bridles, riding lessons, insurance, and we haven’t even started on food, transport (trailers & 4 x 4s), and all the rest of the kit.
8. They also need new shoes, or their feet trimmed every 4 – 6 weeks, so there’s the Farrier to pay too.
9. The world’s largest living horse is called Radar. He stands at 6 feet 7½ inches to the withers (19 hands 3 ½ inches). The withers is at the base of the neck.
The world’s smallest living horse is called Thumbelina. She stands at 17 inches to the withers.
Whereas Radar drinks 20 gallons of water a day, and eats 40 lbs of hay, Thumbelina has a handful of hay twice a day!
10. Not everyone rides horses by sitting in the saddle. The Puszta Team school in Hungary drive a team of horses whilst standing on their backs! And it all started from a painting called the Hungarian Post.
Watch them in action under the link on the left at The History of The Pusza.