When I ask around, I find there are a surprising number of 50 or 60 somethings who yearn to get on a horse again , including those who have done just that. We’re a more cautious breed, don’t want to fall off, don’t want to gallop though maybe the teensiest jump would be OK. But the body remembers, and it’s a marvellous feeling when you just know what to do, even if the muscles aren’t quite back in top form again. Today I am aching in the thigh area, result of two excellent, efficient, and strenuous lessons that have touched parts that nothing else has for a long time.
My inspiration has come mostly from the fact that we’ve booked a gite, a full four weeks in the foothills of the Cevennes mountains in southern France. And they have three fabulous horses on site, which experienced riders can exercise, under the kindly but watchful eye of their owners, who also run the ranch and attached gite.
‘I have to be good enough for this,’ I thought. ‘I can’t bear to be living literally next door to horses’ (the gite’s kitchen window opens straight out into the covered alley where they’re groomed and tacked up) ‘and not get on one.’
We had a week’s reccy in June, and two blissful rides on the handsome and gentlemanly Ebene (‘Ebony’) convinced me that I needed to do as much as I could before our return in late August.
Here’s a potted history of me and the horse: My original name ‘Phillips’, means ‘lover of horses’ and there’s Irish stock on that side who I am sure did just that. Rode at Miss Gilbert’s stables in Lapworth, Warwicks from age of 8. No money to have own pony. Jodphurs with baggy tops and jolly good fun at gymkhanas. Object of first affections: Boozy, a hackney pony with an odd high-stepping gait. Stables well kept, secure, formal. Move to other side of Birmingham, go to shambles of a stables where horses kick each other and some are housed in pig sties. Whole place smells of chicken shit, vintage piles of which bear tribute to a failed chicken farm. Move to Streetly Riding School, run by ancient Colonel who whacks his boots with a cane and frequently asks me to sort out Buster, the naughtiest pony. Sultan, a more vicious horse whips off the top of my thumb with one bite while I’m taking off his saddle. him. Texting with two thumbs is not for me. Move again, to two more stables, each with teenage lingerers who have spiteful habits. Did I say that riding was a happy pastime? Well, mostly, as far as the horses were concerned. Age 16 or so, boys take over, horses fade into background.
Age 28, horses back on the agenda; age 34, move to Exmoor means that after several years of riding other people’s horses, I finally have my own. First of all, bad-tempered Cally who rears up and falls over backwards on top of me. Quickly sell him and buy Orion. If he does ever buck me off, he stops immediately in surprise, and comes over to sniff me, as if to say, ‘I didn’t mean to.’ Also half Exmoor pony on loan for children; Eccles masterminds regular breakouts from the field, taking Orion and livery horse along with him down the lane. His secret technique is to lean on the fence till it gives way. Loan of showjumper, Zebedee, a disaster, as his favourite practice is to jump out of the field.
Well, it’s been a big gap since then, and I’m taking it one step or one turn on the forehand at a time. Have hat, jods, and boots, and we’ll see what the summer brings. Updates later, perhaps from the glorious Cevennes.
If you’re reading this and are either a late returner or even a late starter with riding, do leave a comment here. Solidarity in the saddle.