Saturday, 8 May 2010

The ride of my life

We all have to face our demons sometimes. One of mine has always been horses. Specifically, horseriding.

Why would you want to climb onto the back of a huge, highly-strung creature liable to freak out if a car backfires or a mischievous dog starts snapping around its far-too-thin legs?

Why would you want to risk being concussed or even spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair when The Good Lord gave us the intelligence to invent the pedal cycle and internal combustion engine, not to mention providing us with a perfectly serviceable pair of legs?

This has always been my view: I was never the little boy rushing to the gate to give Dobbin a sugar lump. I wanted to keep my fingers safe for piano practice, thanks all the same. Female friends who went all misty-eyed at the thought of owning a pony filled me with baffled disdain.

But, of course, all one’s chickens – and, indeed, horses – eventually come home to roost and, this past week, my weekly challenge on my lunchtime show on BBC Radio Leicester has been to learn to ride.

As you may know from my last blog, I’ve already successfully tackled bingo calling, floristry, street cleaning, maypole dancing, pork pie making, beatboxing and town crying. None of those dismayed me anything like as much as getting into the saddle.

It was with a heavy heart, therefore, that I headed to the charming village of Somerby in rural Leicestershire for my first lesson. When I got hopelessly lost and had to drive back to the centre of Leicester and start again, I was secretly pleased. I rang the equestrian centre to explain that I would be terribly late: would they still be able to fit me in? Of course, no problem, laughed the lady on the phone. Damn!

Fast forward an hour, and I’ve started my recording machine, been fitted for a hard hat and am on my way to meet J.T. who is to be my (hopefully) trusty steed. Interesting name, I muse, as the recording machine whirs, why J.T.? Gail, the riding school owner, becomes hesitant and coy for the first time. “Oh, it’s, erm, an abbreviation for, you know, er, John Thomas,” she finally gets out. It takes me a second to catch on; J.T. is so named because he is unusually well-blessed, even for a horse. I sneak a peek but see nothing out of the ordinary. Mind you, he is a pensioner these days and I am not a lash-fluttering filly.

Soon, I’ve climbed a set of wooden steps (so that’s my first fear, that I wouldn’t even be able to mount the wretched thing, dealt with) and am in the saddle. Blimey, it’s high up there! I’m breathless and tense but fortunately, I have a job to do and that keeps my terror under control: I focus on the fact that I must return with some good radio.

Before long, a young lady who initially led J.T., has relinquished the reigns and I am starting him, stopping him, and turning him right and left all by myself. And it’s fine!

Just as I’m becoming relatively comfortable, owner Gail says it’s time to trot. The secret to trotting, it turns out, is rising and falling in unison with the horse. If the horse is going up whilst you are coming down, your nether regions connect with the saddle on a regular and painful basis. I have a hunch this repeated slapping of the undercarriage is less of an issue for women than men. I never quite got the rhythm, as my cry of ‘ow!’, ‘ow!’, ‘ow!’ confirmed, but I did trot.

As it was still going so well, Gail suggested we leave the safe predictability of the indoor arena for a hack down the lane. What, on a first lesson? What about barking dogs and backfiring cars and a hundred other horse-spooking possibilities? An experienced horseman could no doubt cope with most of them but what chance would I have?

Gail, of course, pooh-poohed my fears. The weather and countryside were beautiful. The few dogs we encountered were friendly and the odd vehicle was driven with consideration. To my utter astonishment, I walked, trotted, stopped, started and turned J.T. around the Leicestershire fields, if not like an old hand, certainly with little fear and even with a degree of relaxed confidence.

Gail pronounced that I had passed my weekly challenge and that she could certainly make a horseman out of me. 

I won’t be granting her that opportunity. I haven’t experienced a bridle-path-to-Damascus conversion. I was still pleased to dismount and retake control of my destiny. However, the experience was a reasonably pleasant one, and I definitely conquered my riding demons.

This week, I am to learn the art of tattooing. Unbelievably, a volunteer has been found who is prepared to allow me to permanently ink his body after just a couple of hours’ tuition. I feel the ante has been upped once again. I can’t help feeling that, as the needle whirs and my hand trembles and my victim looks up at me with a trusting smile, I shall wish I was back in the saddle.

And if you’d told me that a week ago…..


  1. well done, not my cuppa either

  2. Bless you, Margie! I appreciate your support.