I went on a gentle hack yesterday on a particularly dopey horse. I rode a lot when I was younger. I was never very good at it and after I got thrown off a bucking horse and broke an arm – my horse Chantilly was snorting and puffing his way up the field and naughty Ben behind us nipped his bum – I gradually stopped going.
So I went along to just enjoy pottering along, with nothing more in mind than a gentle trot, to remember what I’d enjoyed about it, without beating myself up because I didn’t actually want to jump six foot fences.
The brilliant thing was that my teacher also had her levels of fear and stretching her comfort zone. ‘I love the idea of galloping along, jumping over all those fences on a really sharp horse,’ she said, ‘but I also like being safe.’
I also read a book recently called Zen and the Art of Horseriding. Ingrid Soren identified that horsey people like horses. They don’t all necessarily want to be teachers. So it’s nothing personal if the girl at the riding school isn’t a natural at patiently helping you overcome your fears. My teacher, fortunately, was great. But ones in the past haven’t been so good at putting me at my ease.
Horses are beautiful and intelligent and don’t suffer fools. Again, it’s nothing personal if they get spooked or bored or frustrated when you’re yanking on the reins all wrong. Seamus, for example, was very placid and seemingly content to follow the horse in front. I was content to sit there doing nothing and chat to the teacher. At one point, bored and a bit naughty, he sidled into a tree, leaving me with a huge branch in my stomach. Had he chosen to gallop off at that point, I would have ended up in that comedy dangling in mid-air on a branch scenario. But luckily, he responded to my – now unsurprisingly – quite firm commands for him to stop. I paid attention after that!