It’s a Chance of a Spill that gives Horse Riders the Thrill!

 

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 Mos-l300nday 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!

 

 

Short story- ‘For Victory’

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Blood mingles with the shrapnel littered soil. It wasn’t meant to be like this. The crimson liquid is pulled in the direction of small divots in its vicinity; like it’s searching for the body it once filled. I don’t want it to touch my face. I’ve never seen blood like this; it looks like it has a life of its own. Is it mine?

I haven’t tried moving yet. I can see whorls of smoke rising from behind mounds of charred earth. Panic rises in my throat; I’m breathing but suffocating, choking on my need to cry, scream, anything. I can hear the distant shouts and sobs of the boys I marched with. It wasn’t meant to be like this. I carefully try and move my head; I feel a sharp sting as I pull the side of my head free from the red russet mud. At least my neck isn’t broken. As I lie face up, staring at the sky, blinking through the foreign stretch of vivid light, a string of birds chirp their way across the tranquil blueness. I am trapped between the sky and ground, the air pressing down on my static body, paralysed. I forget where I am for a minute.

My mind wanders to home. The comfort of your touch, knowing my darling girl is waiting for my return from work at the mill, the warm smell of doughy bread as I tiresomely stroll through the wooden cottage door to our sanctuary. I see you turn at the sound of the brittle door closing shut; a slow smile captures your lovely face. I remember the optimistic joy of watching our British men walk in unison, parading bravery through the streets. I yearn to make you proud of me, desperate to be a part of the great fight for our nation, and I’ll be the man you deserve Mary.

A terrible bang jerks me from my precious memory. I must be hurt, my legs might be broken. Or blown 100 yards east or west from my awkwardly positioned form. The last thing I saw was Jimmy to my left, same as the rest of us, marching rhythmically toward the hammering machinegun fire. Toward the jaws of the beast, teeth of barbed wire, fetid lips of sandbag lolling over the edge of a dirt mouth. It roars, waiting to devour us as we systematically march into the thunderous hunger.

Jimmy fell, like a broken marionette, legs collapsing beneath him. Not yet old enough to shave, he dropped face first into the decaying stomach of a formerly departed Tom. As his head hit the protruding mound of the corpse, a festering explosion of yellow and red foam escaped the holes caused by low hitting perpetual gunfire and a prior attack of chlorine gas. The bodies became one.

It happened quickly, as I watched Jimmy’s impolite demise, my eyes flickered along the never ending line of boys just like Jimmy, snuffed out like a row of long stemmed candles, down they went. So many, just gone. Disappearing amongst the upsurge of dirt, smoke and spluttering red.

Anticipating the same fate, I turned to face forward, still walking. Slower now, how can I keep a collective pace without the rest of my army? Men are falling around me and yet I am not hit. Ordered to just keep going, not allowed to stop for nothing. As I look down at my tattered boots, moving over the debris littered field I am deafened by a terrible shrill screaming, louder and louder. The shell hits and all I see is blinding white then black.

For a moment, I’m lying relaxed on the red and white picnic blanket Mary made. My Mary. Im looking above at the clear powdery sky, the warmth of the sun seeping into my skin. I can smell fresh lavender and pipe tobacco, scents mingling. Mary lies next to me. She smiles slowly pulling a sharp bread knife from beneath her petticoat. Still her eyes are locked with mine as she presses the tip of the blade between my ribcage and hipbone. Looking into my eyes, she giggles and gently pushes on the blade, my body engulfs the foreign sharpness. I laugh with her.

I lurch awake, blinking through dust and something sticky, a copper taste drips down the back of my throat. I turn my body slightly to the left with an explosion of pain; something’s coming out of me. My left side feels soft, not like skin, more like flesh. Blood is glugging out of my side, its all wrong. How am I alive?

The air, thick with smoke smells like matches, I could do with a cigarette. Pungent mud has seeped into my ears. The relief of being able to work my body into moving is overwhelming. I can see a khaki-covered arm to my right. I gently lift my head to check it’s not one of mine. Thank Christ, its not. The arm is lying ownerless, half submerged among the crimson-soaked earth. I can reach it, hand to hand; the anonymous brother lends me his sleeve.

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Im not sure how long I’ve been laying here, it’s all gone quiet, apart from the distant sound of groans and a stammering echo of German shots. Back in the trenches, our watery dugout seemed like hell. Endlessly awaiting the big push to ‘victory’. What a joke. Pointless. The moment before we went over the top, each of us boys lined up before a crooked wooden ladder. I thought of the constant orders to keep our feet dry, trying to maintain the health of our feet before we reach the point of becoming cannon fodder. I yearn for the semi-safety of living just under the threat of gunfire, not knowing the devastation that awaited our surge toward the enemy.

As the daylight dwindles, I can feel my mind relenting into fatigue. I think of you, and fight the crushing urge to give in. I pray your photo and four letters haven’t been ripped from my inside pocket when I was thrown. I gently move my hand to check and feel thick globs of something wet between the folds of my uniform’s course material. I can’t feel the folded paper. My breathing becomes desperate, gulping the murky air. I’m panicking. All I can do is look up at the sky as I hear another penetrating shrill obliterating my focus.

I find you again, Mary. In the depths of my mind. Hearing your sweet, delicate voice as you absently chatter to the growing rise of life within you. Your rosy hued cheeks against your alabaster skin make me think of a red apple crumble, the bittersweet warmth. I’ve got something to tell you, it could make everything better. I walk towards you my darling, but you don’t seem to notice me. I open my mouth to tell you the news and a sudden blackness surrounds you and our homely scene. I’m running as fast as I can but the growing length of the tunnel disallows my gain. I need to tell you something. You become smaller and smaller, slowly moving out of sight, down the unfathomable deep of the ever-growing channel. Enveloped by the dark.

The night has finally suffocated the day, almost veiling the destruction that surrounds me. It doesn’t look real anymore. The dead man’s sleeve is balled up and pressed into my side, keeping in what’s trying to escape me. Maybe I wont be noticed under the blanket of night, I slowly roll towards the dead medic. His unmoving eyes have been staring at nothing for hours. An expression of shock stuck onto his pale face, open mouthed, head twisting unnaturally to reveal too much bone. I reach him finally. He’s half a man now, gone from the waist down.

I scramble for his pack; desperately I claw for the morphine that must be there. Got it. I find sutures from a small front pocket and a long bandage. I hear movement, No, not now. I was so careful. I grit my teeth and heave my body over a small mound in the dirt. Anticipating a small painful drop, I panic- the star flickered sky rushes away from me as I fall.

Im back with you, in our kitchen the smell of the fresh winter breeze rolls in through the slightly open shutter. You’re standing with your back to me, at the sink. You’re wearing the white dress I like, with the small red roses on it. The colours muddle and it looks pink from my position at the table. This is the first time you’ve cooked me breakfast in two weeks. You aren’t the same. The look upon your terrified face will haunt me. The scream’s of our realisation can never be etched form my mind. I glimpse a small trail of red, dripping down your leg, the liquid spreading with tiny tendrils against your white stockings. It slowly travels over your brown buckled shoe and begins to rest in a building pool between your feet. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

I wake to the discordant din of metal against metal. I sit rigidly against the chemically washed white pillow, supporting my aching form. I look across the small, private room, barren of personality or life. The smell of disinfectant and cheap mass dinner’s being churned in a huge steel cooking pot sickens me. This is what I survived for.

My superiors wrote of bravery and courage as we faced the enemy, all-safe and warm a mile behind the frontline. They didn’t tell you of the fear, how we cried out for anyone as tears washed the gore from our cheeks. Oh no, they wouldn’t tell of what it was like. I was just another boy, tarnished by our bloody victory against the army of enemy boys. I probably could have had a pint with most of them if it wasn’t for the orders of slaughter in the name of English pride.

The overhead florescent lights flicker in the hallway, visible from my bedridden position. Not again. Mary. Standing at the foot of my bed with our too- small baby clutched to your chest. Smiling a tight smile, eyes staring through me you hold out the quiet child. I close my eyes instinctively; balling sections of the starched white sheet in each fist- there is no sanctuary within my mind- I’m back.

The only solace in trudging toward the enemy was the hope I’d see you again Mary. Our lives could have been so much more; we could of had so much. My dreams of you got me through it all in the beginning, our two week long tryst provoking an imagined existence. The flash of white as the shell hit was like nothing else, it changed me. I lay amongst the festering mass of earth; the once green, peaceful expanse of The Western Front has become a terrible ever-growing necropolis. Blurry eyed, breathing in the remnants of dusty earth, I watch helplessly as blood mingles with the shrapnel littered soil. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

The Accidental Stagbeetle Murder

Remember those childhood moments where you’d entertain yourself for hours doing something ridiculous and obscure?

Here’s one of mine.

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At the age of 7 and 8, my brother and I became enchanted with a large stag beetle we found. It was the summer holidays and the weightless feeling of being free from school was beginning to dim as September loomed. We had become accustomed to the late nights and late starts that framed our pyjama clad days of fighting and playing. After enjoying another morning of playing our Gameboy’s side by side, arguing about whose Pokémon is more powerful, we proceeded to join Mum in the garden and dig for worms. On our way out, I froze at the sight of the delicate yet unnaturally scary, almost spider-like creature slowly picking its way across my path. It was really big. Callum being Callum, hopped about around it, eventually falling to his knees and pushing his face about a centimetre from its little dark horns. He wasn’t worried at all, in fact he suggested we construct an elaborate train track, and allow the stag beetle to be a passenger on one of the little toy trains. I allowed this only out of sheer amusement. Being the oldest, I was always the leader and consequently, had the final say on all major decisions.

During the building of the train track (Callum did this of course, because under no circumstances was anyone else allowed to even breath near his toys) I build a small fort around the stag beetle with lots of large stones. After what seemed like forever, Callum bravely coaxed the beetle onto his spindly little hand and placed it onto the cargo section of his second favourite train and off it went, round and round. Oddly the beetle didn’t move much after the first half an hour. I began to lose interest until Callum decided too that this game had ended, and so too had the poor Stag beetle.

FOUND POETRY- One woman’s form of journelling.

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This has been one of my favourite things to do since I was about 15. Sitting idly in my bedroom drenched in the melodramatic tears of adolescent anguish, I discovered Found Poetry. It is essentially literary collage,  Annie Dillard has said that turning a piece of text into a poem ‘doubles its meaning’.

I like to think the meaning is deconstructed, stripped down to the skeletal expression of whatever you’d like it to be in that emotion-driven moment where actual writing seems far too cliché.

You also get to colour in. Another way I try and cling to my childhood that seems to evade me every time I consult the mirror desperately hoping that today is the day my beloved ‘my little pony’ t shirt will be appropriate. It never is because I’m 24.

This is a wonderful way to have a little go at creating a work of literary mastery, You will be surprised how clever you feel without agonizing over the metre/ rhythm etc that comes with actual poetry writing.

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