Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In which I try to overcome my irrational fear of the horse

They do say that even a fish wouldn't get caught if it kept its mouth shut. How true. Almost as soon as I had said 'Of course, no problems - I'll come with you' I regretted opening my trap.

'You'll be fine' said my lovely neighbour Di, briskly and firmly sealing the deal.

I quickly added '...but I'm not going to be much use to you' and my voice trailed off as I muttered something about not being much good with horses, terrified of them in fact.

"That's OK' she said 'I'll deal with Rocky. I need you there In Case.'

So there I was committed to a day with a horse - and as it turned out hundreds of them and their besotted owners, minders and associated hangers-on. My role was, I think chief spur carrier, wrist watch bearer, confidence booster and potential horse box driver should Di damage herself in one or other of the horsey challenges.

I am a stranger to the world of the horse - the horse-loving gene is absent. Frankly the things scare the pants off me - all hooves and teeth. I make lengthy detours to keep a field and a fence between us and being in confined spaces....well, we won't go there. You can understand then that if the Eventing programme at Sapey in Herefordshire was a challenge for Di and Rocky it was equally so for me. (Not helped by the fact that when looking for this link I find that a young rider was killed on the cross country course a couple of years ago - dangerous stuff. I rest my case.)

The drive down there was wonderful. Sitting high up in the lorry, as a passenger, I looked out on the spring countryside. We ticked off the counties; Shropshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. A gentle rolling landscape of bosky valleys, rich red ploughland and fat contented lazing lambs. A rural idyll.

Old fruit trees, sadly many are neglected now, were coming into bloom; there are many orchards here. Fresh green leaves and frothy white blossom unfurled in the sunshine. Sapey is near Tenbury Wells where the mistletoe auction is held in the late autumn - many of the orchard trees have clumps of this strange plant high up in the branches.

We leave this world behind though and enter the world of British Eventing.
Lorries are parked up and range from modest trailers towed by a sturdy 4 x 4 to massive vehicles bigger than a lot of houses (and probably better equipped).  I am hardly able to stop gawping at the opulence and the amount of kit and caboodle needed for...well, a horse.
Horses of course are everywhere. Polished and shiny like conkers, manes plaited, tails bandaged and hoofs probably polished. Their riders are similarly turned out. How very smart everybody is.

There is Dressage. To me, an outsider, it's absolutely incomprehensible - and try as I may I couldn't make head or tail of the trotting about in a confined space. Is it to do with control and discipline? In a warm-up ring a couple of dozen horses and riders circled, each in their own 'bubble'. I was reminded of the Red Kite Feeding station at Rhyader - the circling birds and the circling horses were very similar. I found a sunny spot in the lee of a hedge - out of a bitter wind, drank hot chocolate, ate flapjack and tried to make sense of it all.

Next up was Show Jumping - I understand that. A change of costume and a chance for both horse and rider to let off a bit of steam.
The final event is Cross Country - and first we must walk the course - but for heaven's sake we are walking it and other competitors are using it. There are thundering hooves and there is jumping and there is abject terror as a huge, snorting, galloping beast is way too close for comfort. Di is completely unconcerned while I (actually doing very well at keeping most of the fear at bay elsewhere) am close to panic. I leave Di to walk the 'other loop' alone and retire to somewhere safe where I can watch people fall in the water jump and someone get stretchered off.

Di does very well. She and Rocky are not placed but she is pleased with his first performance of the season. I am brave enough to hold him while he has a nibble at some grass so am quite pleased too. I do not have to drive the lorry either - phew! It has been a long day. My face is sunburned and I am generally windswept. I probably wear a delicate whiff of horse too.

I've really had a very interesting day. I'm still baffled and no nearer understanding why grown men and women should be so obsessive about horses though. Any less scared? Nope, not much.

Would I go again? I heard myself saying, as I got out of the lorry when we reached home, 'Anytime Di, anytime' - and you know?  I think I meant it.


Wipso said...

A gorgeous day out in the sunshine and all that fab country to drive through....Yessss's a No from me too. I think they are really gorgeous animals but I will only admire from a distance.
A x

rachel said...

Hmmmm... not convinced. Having heard many tales of bitten friends, I have always said to horsy types who tried to egg me on, "No, no! Horses bite." And horsey types have NEVER denied this. Horses would bite me, I'm sure of it.

Pondside said...

Horses will also step on your foot, given half a chance. I'm glad you returned home unscathed - and actually had a rather good experience. It's always good to try new things!

Mrs Jones said...

When I reached my 40th birthday, I decided to have a go at something I'd never done before. The choices were ice skating, scuba diving and horse riding. I had actually ice skated before and didn't like it, we're too far from the coast for scuba diving to be of much point so horse riding it was. I found it quite easy to start off with but the more I learned, the more I realised how dangerous it all was until I completely lost my confidence sometime last year. After 7 years of riding I gave it up and haven't missed it since. Glad I gave it a go and, come the petrol wars and we're all back to using a horse and cart for transport, I like to think I'd be confident enough to deal with one, but only if I had to. They're lovely to look at but still dangerous creatures because they're too easily freaked out.

elizabethm said...

Oh lovely stuff M. Loved your day. Like you I am not sure about horses but I would love to have gone.

Preseli Mags said...

I spent many a day like that with my horses in my youth. I used to go to an event near Upper Sapey (I lived just outsdie Worcester then) - I wonder if it's the same place? Feeling all nostalgic now!

Pamela said...

It's funny to hear you say you are scared on them because you seem so capable and at one with all things earthy and natural.
When my parents took us on holiday years ago they'd always take us cross-country riding and I always got the fat one that never moved but just ate grass. I'd be sat doing the giddy-up thing for ages before someone would come back and get me. Good memories...

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

As a teenager , I spent one summer working for a small catering company . One of the contracts was feeding and watering a Pony Club camp .
Interesting . Even more interesting when one of the little girls rushed in in a panic .... her pony had a pitchfork stuck up its nose .
I volunteered to carry on stirring the vat of custard while my boss dealt with the emergency .
I can probably still ride but have no plans to take it up again in the near future .... if ever !

Diary Farmer said...

Haven't ridden a horse in ages. I really enjoyed the thrill of the range in Southern Alberta. Those western saddles take some getting used to. Someone once described a horse as - bites at one end, kicks at the other and uncomfortable in the middle. I would still take my chances!

Julia Dunnit said...

I couldn't have written this article, I'm not lyrical enough. But I could have written this article!

Twiglet said...

I am with you and Wipso - they are beautiful animals - when enjoyed from a safe distance! Sounds like a fun day out though.
hehe word verific......
prosialk - just what you need to calm you down and settle your tummy!!

snailbeachshepherdess said...


bayou said...

If you love animals you cannot not love horses. So easy. And whether it is admiring from a distance or sitting on it, they are soo cute creatures! I am proud of you, that you have made now this good experience. We have the saying: a horse is dangerous on its front and dangerous on its rear and uncomfortable in the middle.

Nikki-ann said...

I'm OK with horses as long as I'm not on the back of one! It stems from an incident when I was a kid and one bolted off down the road with me on the back of it clinging on for dear life!

Angie said...

What an enthralling post write so well. I have never under stood much to do with horses ...but I can enjoy a bit of jumping as it makes sense. LOVE that tail.