Excitement and fear are intrinsically linked and those butterflies fluttering in our stomachs can indicate either emotion. My favourite experience on horseback was both exciting and petrifying at the same time.
It began on a wintery Monday morning about four years ago; one of those really cold days when you actually look forward to mucking so you can warm up. I was employed as a working student at Newton Hall Riding Centre, and it was our job to exercise and look after the horses there. The previous week, a few new horses had arrived, one of them being Bluebell, a 5 year old piebald cob. I loved her immediately, greeting her the first moment I could, with a little piece of carrot, a symbol of friendship that I’d nicked from the feed room. So, when I was asked to take her out for her first hack, I was ecstatic, I’d been waiting impatiently for the chance to ride her for days. Bluebell had been ridden in the school a few times by the senior instructors and apparently seemed a bit highly strung but on the whole, she went pretty well.
Off we went, accompanied by two other horses and their riders, plodding down a little road towards the hacking fields. I felt comfortable but a little nervous, a familiar feeling when riding a strange horse for the first time, as you never really know what to expect. As we turned into the first field I felt Bluebell lurch forwards in excitement as the open space beckoned her to enjoy its expansive beauty and freedom. I stiffened but gently asked her back and she complied with a brisk walk, her head bobbing up and down happily. Everything was fine until my friend asked, “Shall we have a little trot up the hill?” Before I could reply, Bluebell was off, not at a trot like the others but at a flat-out gallop.
There was nothing I could do to slow her down as disastrous scenarios ran equally as fast through my mind, “what if I fall off… I could die… I might never be able to ride again…”. I felt the icy wind cut past my stinging cheeks, heard the repetitive thud of hooves against the hard, semi frozen mud. I pulled firmly on the reins, leaning back, pushing my feet forward into the stirrups, trying my best to win this tug of war. Of course, it was useless. Bluebell was possessed, ignoring my requests to slow down as we thundered across the field. My heart beat fast and hard in my chest, I gulped down air, slightly choking on snips of mud churned up from the hooves of my now uncontrollable steed. I helplessly looked to my left, faintly hearing the low drone of the huge combine harvester in the neighbouring field. Then Bluebell threw her body to the right and everything went blurry.
I saw the distorted ground rush closer as I began to fall but somehow I managed to hold on, my arms wrapped around Bluebells thick neck, one leg scooped around the top of the saddle. She slowed slightly, cantering through the middle of the field away from the big monstrous machine. I heaved myself back into the saddle, gathering the reins, I gave one last pull and sat there limp and shaky, grateful for the relatively slower pace of a brisk trot. I have no Idea how I stayed in the saddle that day. My hacking buddies finally reached us as I was nervously trotting Bluebell round in a small circle, thanking God that we were both unscathed, and slightly calmer now. We then continued the hack at a very sedate pace, with a few excitable bursts of energy from Bluebell, in the form of a little buck or two. Amazingly, we managed to get home in one piece and when I dismounted, honestly, I nearly fell to the yard floor. My legs were like jelly.
I’m sure we’ve all had one of those moments- your heart skips a beat and the adrenaline pumps around your body as you glance at the ground and realise just how fast you’re going. For me the excitement of moments like these are intrinsically linked with the frisson of fear, and that’s what makes riding so exhilarating. Let’s face it, it’s the chance of a spill that gives you that thrill!.It’s rather like when you’re standing on the edge of a cliff or tall building and you just have to look down when you know it’s only going to scare you. You have to do it!