“Feel the fear and do it anyway” isn’t that what they say? Well I can safely say I managed to accomplish that this week. My arms might be two inches longer than they were before (unfortunately not my legs!) but I am still in one piece and haven’t sprained my Jennifer muscle too badly.
Has anyone else ever watched the movie ‘Minis First Time’ it’s a rather odd but awesome film about a rebellious teenager who decided to embark on a series of ‘firsts’. While the main characters ‘firsts’ included getting high and joining an escort agency my own were slightly less exotic or illegal. Still the concepts of ‘firsts’ is not bad one all the same and once I started to embrace with a side saddle theme last week.
Teaching pony camp two weeks ago one of my easier tasks was riding the course to show campers their course for their competition. Six cross poles so I decided to man up (or woman up?) and do it side saddle. Your probably reading this thinking for gods sake I could walk over those but let me give you a brief reminder of the horse’s reaction to poles on the ground –yeah – just because they are small does not mean you have to give them any less respect people:
In a rare fit of relaxation and calm the horse decided to make a total liar out of me and complete everything very calmly and quietly. We did randomly jump two feet over one cross pole but apart from that there was no drama. Rather than having sense and progressing steadily I got bored as usual and decided that if we could survive the cross poles we could survive something bigger and decided to ride in our yard show side saddle. From cross poles to an 80cm track sideways in a few days sounds like a big jump and normally would have required valium but I have learned that when you spend some time in the company of talented people who make jumping 5 feet and hunting in a side saddle look fun and easy you start to get rather skewed view of reality and tell yourself anything less than three feet must surely be very achievable. Ladies I love you but you are having a bad influence on me!
Naturally having fooled me by being calm the last day the horse decided to throw off the cloak of relaxation and sanity and was off like a bullet within about twenty seconds and this was only the warm up. Our round started off like a jump off and I lost an argument in the corner about acceptable speed. There was only one option – aim for the arena corner for a pit stop and then carry on again. I spent half the round fearing for my life and wondering what the hell I had been thinking and the other half quite admiring the fact that I was still somehow attached to the saddle and the horse. I gave up trying to control the and just steered instead. The horse was having a party and the irony of the whole thing was we managed a clear round which has never happened at that speed astride.
On Saturday we decided to attend a hack at Borris House in Carlow. With the horse all plaited up and me dressing up in all of our gear the mare was on her toes and seemed to think we were heading for a showing class. Bless her she was a little unprepared for the great outdoors and spent the first while with her eyes on stalks. We hacked up through a beautiful old stable yard and past a field of mares and foals and another with a huge heard of panicky sheep. I’d warned the organiser that given my high speed performance during the week I would be putting myself into the novice group that would only trot together. The organiser rather wisely didn’t tell me that this hack didn’t have two groups and instead shouted out ‘canter on’. Given that we live in an area where we can only walk and trot while hacking the horse seemed very excited that for once cantering was not just allowed it was encouraged. This was a bit like sending a child into a sweet shop with twenty quid and telling them to enjoy. I have never been quite so grateful for a double bridle as I was while riding the big orange train through the woods! Thankfully two saints advised me that it was absolutely fine to be right up behind them (you know who you are ladies thank you!) and so the mare made two new friends – Polo and Ralph. Unfortunately the mare’s affection for Ralph didn’t spread as far as being brave enough to follow him through a fast flowing river. We got within two feet of the water before she whipped round, hopped up a bank instead (do you think she would have jumped up that if I asked – eh – nope) and decided that water is not for her. Even when the entire group including two stallions had passed she was not quite brave enough to get her toes wet and happily went over a bridge instead. In fairness for a mare normally spends her time doing dressage, show jumping and showing this experience was probably the equestrian equivalent of being on acid. As for the water – this is the only horse who will object to being hosed off in thirty degree heat so a reluctance to splash through it was not a shock.
We headed on through the estate through fabulous scenery and had many canters along grassy trails before heading back to the starting point for a fabulous canter around the big field with Ralph and his rider with the sun on our backs and the wind in our faces. Not a bad days work for the big orange mare that could. The next day we hacked astride with a friend and the mare was up in front, ears up and striding out and seems to have new confidence. Not a bad thing considering we met a giant friendly dog, a giant unfriendly dog and two ducks that decided to fly up and at us from the water!