Sally and Alex gave a hugely entertaining talk about what it takes to be a top-level rider – and how to calm down your monkey brain enough to keep calm and kick on! I paid rapt attention to all of this, given that my brain is pretty much in chimp mode 70% of the time, and I’ll certainly be looking out the book they recommended – The Chimp Paradox – to try and make sure that the rational side of my brain is in charge more than the panic side. But I also adored meeting other likeminded London riders, many of whom also don’t have their own horses, and hearing about the fabulous horses that Sally and Alex have raised up to Grand Prix level. A chestnut mare affectionately nicknamed “Double D” has totally got my attention!
On Thursday it was time for Jilly Cooper Book Club, where I was completely delighted to be presented with the most wonderful Thelwell print: The Stirrup Cup. Having managed to spill my port all over a gleaming set of withers more than once, I seriously need to channel the extreme sang froid on exhibition here.
Hunting still feels sadly far off for me this year, but some good endurance practise was had nonetheless, along with a prize. This week I acquired my first rosette since I was 13 and won a fluffy toy horse named Gordon at my riding school gymkhana. Admittedly, everyone got one, but I got to choose the colour, damn it. I am so proud, and thrilled – and good grief, I am in so much pain.
This blog comes to you from a chair, where I’ve been sitting for some period of time because frankly I ache so incredibly much that the very idea of standing up requires at least an hour of really working towards it. I thought my body ached after hunting, but wow. It turns out that what you need to *really* learn pain, is several hours of hills.
Yes, I did my first sponsored ride, and my body still hasn’t forgiven me! On Sunday I went to the Surrey Hills Sponsored Ride and loved every single minute of it – what a complete joy. About 22 years ago I remember sitting tucked up in Dad’s old car with Mum, jump judging at a sponsored ride in Hampshire and thinking it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen, but that actually, I’d much rather be the one doing the riding than sitting in a freezing Fiat Panda in March.
I was supposed to be doing it with my dear friend F, but as detailed in my last blog, she got chucked off very badly during a hack, and is still convalescing. So instead I was nannied by another Jilly Cooper Book Club friend, and had the MOST wonderful day.
Godalming is a few train stops away from where I grew up, and the countryside was so stunning I felt like I’d fallen into one of the big art rooms at Petworth House. The hills were so particularly green – I feel this very strongly, as currently my life is largely verdant paint charts for the sitting room – and the sky was completely delirious with plump white clouds, as though someone had been around plumping them all up ready for our visit.
After going down the most preposterously steep hill, we waited until everything evened out a bit before going off for a gallop up the other side. I was my usual nervous self about how WIllie, my hireling, might behave, but he ADORED the whole thing – was the most beautiful ride and went like a rocket. We all climbed the top of the hill grinning like loons, which were immediately wiped off by concentrating down a steep muddy slope. But barring a few slides, which alarmed me much more than him, Willie was totally chilled about proceedings.
This was the first time since hunting last year that I’d been out with people who ride all the time, so I was overcome with relief to be joined with a chorus of “Not jumping *that* thanks,” on seeing the first jumps, which looked hideously solid and at the sort of drunken angle I usually approach my cross poles. We carried on through the fields keeping an eye out for a nice little jump to warm up on – but no, these were all fairly “jump” sort of things, so we carried on until we got to a jumping field, at which all the horses ran out as though they were in a Benny Hill sketch.
F had previously told me that Willie was solid as a rock but absolutely did not jump. This was proven quite conclusively when I spent 10 minutes trying to persuade him, tell him and ORDER him over the most pathetic little thing you’ve ever seen. Eventually he grumbled over it, to many cheers, at which point he was duly nicknamed “Six Inch Willie” because that was the height of the wretched thing.
I felt incredibly glad that I hadn’t tried one of the earlier jumps on him, as I’d probably have bounced straight off, and all my confidence with it!
So, jumping wasn’t going to be our crowning achievement of the day, but good grief the day was wonderful. We trekked up and down and around Surrey’s most beautiful landscapes, stretching out for lovely canters, going up the gears into gallop, until I had the near constant expression of one who has been visited by an angel, albeit one in chaps and jodhpur boots. Did we really just motor up that hill? Look back at that view! Who knew Surrey was this ridiculously lovely! Oh hurray, we’re not even halfway round yet!
We came to a sign saying “quiet ride this way, gallops that way.”
“Which way shall we go?” said my Jilly book club nanny friend.
“The gallops!” we all chorused, and duly lolloped around for the longest time that I’ve ever cantered, galloped, anything in my life. God bless Six Inch Willie!
We got back and inhaled cans of Fanta and Diet Coke, and took pictures of ourselves with our rosettes – note to self: next time, get a picture of you looking lovely and smart BEFORE you get this disgustingly sweaty – and I loaded my hot limbs onto the train back to London. When I got home, I found out that, despite setting my Go Pro up, I must have not hit record properly, because none of the gallops or anything had recorded. And at that point, really tragically, I burst into tears. Fortunately, I was in a bath with a kilo of Epsom Salts at the time so the salt content was unaffected.
Hearing my wails, my husband tried to understand why I was so upset, and all I could do was howl how much I’d wanted a video that I could show people – you lot! And me, really, above all, me – that I was now a *galloping* rider; how beautiful the countryside you get to see while riding is; and that I was doing *something*.
But really, the crying was because the place I work is changing wildly, and that soon there isn’t going to be a place for me there, or many of my friends. I’m so sad for the team, and nervous of what I’m going to do next. It’s also put the kibosh on my plans for my much-longed for riding holiday in Exmoor, and I don’t know quite what to do. So I lie there in the bath and keen, sadly, like a whale who can’t find its pod.
A few days post-bath, I feel less teary. I don’t think I have any more tears, to be honest. So it’s time to get back into a routine: Thursday jumping lesson. Find out about more cross country lessons. And look forward to opening meets, investigate getting a back protector, and make plans with friends. Because you know what? When life gets tricky, it’s time to get on horseback.