Friday, March 20, 2009

Four Legs Good

I’ve never really been a horse person. I learned to ride as a child, because that’s what all the other girls did, when I was growing up in the English countryside, but I had a largely undistinguished career, the main memories that linger being freeze frames: me left hanging from the branch of tree when the pony decided to take a shortcut home and the steering failed; me on ‘my’ pony that refused to go over the jumps for me but obliged for more determined riders; the loss of my big toenail when a horse I was holding leaned on my foot without noticing. I hit adolescence and left ponies behind without a backward glance.

Once in Italy as an adult I joined some friends on a gentle country ride and was quite enjoying it, thinking that there was something to be said for horses after all, until on the homeward stretch a pheasant rocketed from the verge, startling the horse, who bolted for home and, my leg muscles having turned to jelly from the unaccustomed exercise, I gracefully slid to the ground, breaking a rib or two. My new found appreciation of the delights of riding was promptly doused, as I spent the next two weeks trying to make picnics for my clients without sneezing or laughing.

Now we live on a smallholding and have plenty of space. Youngest has been dreaming of having a pony for years. Last year I took the girls riding with their friends for the first time and they had about 5 minutes each on a pony. Youngest’s face was beaming the whole time and I felt guilty for my reluctance to associate with these big four-hooved creatures. Finally at the beginning of this year I organized proper riding lessons for her and told her that when she’s big enough to look after a horse entirely by herself then perhaps we can give a home to one.

She immediately loved riding, taking to it like a natural and trotting comfortably on her first lesson. It was a huge confidence boost for her, as she settled in to her first term in big school.

Ginger and Youngest

Within a couple of weeks of her starting riding lessons, the extra murals we’d found for the others dwindled (our son didn’t enjoy the cricket club, which was too far, too late and too boring; Middle Daughter found photography something she could do anytime, so was looking slightly enviously at the riding lessons) and the older children both tried out riding too. Our son was OK but not enthusiastic enough to continue, but Middle Daughter also took to it like a natural, so I found myself being drawn into the world of ponies.

Roxy and Middle Daughter

And then my husband took the girls to their riding lesson one week. By the time he returned home he’d signed himself up for lessons too! He’d never been on a horse in his life, but has wanted to learn for a long time, so that one day he can go riding on horseback through the forest or along the beach into the sunset.

All three of them have turned out to be naturals at it, according to their teacher, picking up the rising trot easily and with a good seat. My husband’s muscles were jellified after the first lesson, but he is determined to get fitter.

So this leaves me having to become acquainted with horses again, if only to hold reins and feed carrots, and dredge from my memory all the terminology I acquired as a child studying the points of the horse and the names of all the straps on the bridle. The ponies and horses at this stables are far more friendly and obliging than the ones I remember from my riding days. They seem to allow themselves to be caught and saddled without cantering to the far end of the paddock. They usually trot when asked and steer in the right direction, and ask for carrots very politely without pushing you over!

The girls have been in for their riding stable show(best walk and trot on the leading rein, with Dad on the leading rein as Mum bottled out) and won rosettes already, and a pony camp is threatened for the holidays and then another show. Soon we’re going to have to go out and buy them jodhpurs and their own riding hats and riding boots …it’s a bit like being caught up in an inexorable fast flowing current, but I’m standing firm on one thing. We do not give a home to pony, even if it is a gift horse, until they are old enough to do all the looking after themselves... the age is rapidly decreasing ...I thought I was safe for at least five years!

Their first rosettes

If family riding holidays are going to be part of our future I need to do something about my thigh muscles too. I wonder if belly dancing exercises the right ones to help stop me falling off again?


  1. Love the photos...and the history with horses. Belly dancing or maybe wild mountain bike riding? Keeping that balance thing? I don't know what would be most effective. I was talking about horses with my sister last night. I said "I love a distance..grazing in beautiful fields, not under me so much." She said "You like horses as scenery then?" "Yes. as scenery, they are so beautiful."

  2. Hmm. What I know about horses: They have big, metal-tipped hooves attached to very muscular, kicky legs. They have big teeth.

    'Nuff said! And clearly I never was a rider, nor do I plan to be one... Best of luck with your re-entry into the equine world ;-)


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