What I thought was going to be my last riding week of 2017 turned out less than auspiciously when I was taking a horse I’ve been riding for the last few months to the mounting block, at which point he (mercifully barefoot) kicked me over and stood on my left foot while trying to get back to his grass. Merry Christmas to me!
After four hours in A&E hoping that the bloody thing hadn’t been broken (my foot, not the horse), I’d missed my eventing lesson, but at least been rewarded with the news that my skeleton had remained intact and I was just going to get some bruising. I’m now umming and ahhing about whether to see the horse again, or leave him to his grass. Hmm.
A few days later, I had a much cheerier outing planned, which was my Christmas treat to myself of a beach ride with Riding Club London. My grandparents lived in West Wittering, and I had long dreamed of jumping over breakwaters and galloping along the beach, all of which was potentially going to happen today!
Our gang of four met Alex from Horse Riding Surrey outside The Black Prince pub in Climping, and I was duly united with the lovely JB, a beautiful bay chap who was apparently “a bit lazy in walk” which suited me perfectly as someone who has never knowingly been active in walk. Alex was riding a horse called Colin – very boring names on animals are one of my all-time favourite things, and I held a moment of silence to chew on the excellent of this name.
Down on the beach we had a couple of lovely canters to warm up, before heading around the breakwaters (and the sea) with mixed enthusiasm from the horses. JB did the equine equivalent of dipping a toe in before reluctantly agreeing to get his fetlocks wet.
We’d all been eyeing up the breakwaters, most of which were lovely and small. If this sounds incredibly wimpy, please bear in mind how it feels when you’re trying something new, and when that something new is incredibly solid and attached to the ground by more incredibly solid things! A few of us decided to go for it, and we had a lovely run of jumps through the little breakwaters, which JB popped over happily while I counted strides for no good reason under my breath like a Gregorian chant.
One of our number cantered on ahead, and then we went to head back. Maybe I wasn’t concentrating, or trying to find the right breakwater to go through, but after happily popping over one, we suddenly had a “look” just before the second, and then another look on landing. A tiny, TINY patch of seaweed had made JB look, but unfortunately for him, I ended up sitting in front of his saddle with no stirrups, while he cantered off to God knows where while I was shrieking like an opera singer on his back wondering how on earth this was going to resolve itself.
The answer? I fell off INTO THE FLIPPING SEA. And lo! I had my Go Pro on so we can watch the whole sorry affair gloriously unfold (a friend on Twitter said it was like Peep Show with Miranda Hart, which sounds about right).
I fell off into the sea, somehow pulling his bridle off with me, like an absolute plank, and then got up, and was absolutely EUPHORIC that I was not only still alive, but in one piece. I haven’t fallen off in 20 years, and honestly, it’s been one of my biggest fears since I started riding again. Every time a horse spooked, bucked, or tripped over its hooves, I would go into paroxysms of terror about coming off. And you know what? It was fine. Yes, admittedly, half of my body was pretty drenched (but not so much, thanks to my many, many layers and my father-in-law’s country coat), but I was fine! Even my iPhone was ok! I wandered around in an overjoyed daze, as though someone had told me the secret of fear. I fell – I failed – and it was FINE! YES!
JB was duly rounded up, and I climbed back on, and we sauntered off. I grinned for about 20 minutes, as though I’d just discovered the meaning of life.
Later, we went for a promised gallop and bloody hell, to say JB went like the clappers is like saying Red Rum had a nifty turn of pace. But this time, my mind was almost completely empty. I was just loving it – I wasn’t worrying about falling off, just occasionally noticing sand flying up from the hooves of the (only! I said JB was bloody quick) horse in front. And when JB was cooling down in canter, and took another dislike to a patch of seaweed almost imperceptible to the naked eye (it goes without saying that he was entirely unbothered by tractors/giant seaweed/dogs etc), I managed to cling on, regain my stirrup, and refuse to go overboard. Hurrah!
That weekend, I had planned to go and see the Horse of Errant Hoof again, but bottled it in case something knocked me off course – it was the last week of my eventing course, and we were doing a mock One Day Event! I hadn’t so much as seen the dressage test since we’d had our lesson three weeks previously, so decided to just treat it as a fun outing with Garibaldi, who is Trent Park’s most outgoing cob and has a stable in prime position in the yard so he can chat to everyone who comes in and get more than his fair share of Polos and photo opps.
Gari couldn’t really be bothered during the warm-up, but like the true luvvie he is, turned it up to 11 when we went in the ring. I was grinning so much I managed to make circles that were more like tragic walnuts, but we came out with 62% which I was thrilled with.
The jumping was a completely new thing to me – normally in lessons we have a go at each bit and then put the course together. This time, I felt the joyous sensation of being in one of the riding books I read as a child (and, realistically, every month since): we did a warm-up over a cross pole and then a vertical, and then OFF!
The Solicitor pulled an absolute blinder as pathfinder, and didn’t put a foot wrong. Then me and Gari headed off and oh! Oh how lovely. Over a little oxer, and round over an unrelated double (is that a thing? Good thing I’m not doing my Stage 2 til next year), and then round over the double, then the cross country triple, and then round again to the rolltop where…I wasn’t being forward enough and Gari smoothly ran out three times. AWKWARD!
But much like my driving test, we got through it eventually, and then it was round to the skinny, and wiggling round to the corner. And done! My first competition, and Garibaldi jumping with all the care of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
I’d love to tell you that the field was enormous, and we battled through pluckily, but only half of that is true. The hard as nails kids were scored separately, and due to two women not coming to the event, the adults field was…three.
But you know what? I came second! A rosette, hurrah! A prize for every child!
“Shouldn’t I have been eliminated for three refusals?” I asked my instructor later.
“We don’t do that here,” she grinned (and also fibbed as this is clearly not true, but was true for the eventing course). And I could have kissed her. I’ll keep elimination for my first proper ODE – and hopefully avoid it.
A Happy New Year from Gari, JB and I, and the many, many bruises flowering on my feet, legs, arms and beyond. Here’s to more fun in 2018!