To be completely honest, I was nervous. And not the type of nervous that goes away after a little while. No, this was the type of nervous that makes you think “What the hell am I even doing?!” I stood on the mounting block, looking at Jethro’s back, and all that ran through my head was “Help!”
I’d ridden horses regularly when I was younger. Used to love turning up at the riding school and helping to tack up the ponies. There was something comforting about the smell and the warmth of their bodies. I can still recall the names of some of those ponies at the first riding school I went to, a good twenty years or so ago now. There was Marmaduke (favourite of a lot of people), Spider (no one really liked him) and Minstrel (could be cheeky, but wasn’t as bad as Spider). Rode Spider quite a bit, since no one else wanted to, and to be honest, he really wasn’t that bad when ridden. He was a right little bugger to handle, but aside from a cheeky buck or two, was fine under saddle. I do recall falling off Minstrel at a fun day. We were all having a canter, and he decided to put his head down. Of course, this unbalanced me, and I slid over his head and onto the ground. He just stopped and walked over to the instructor!
Can remember being taught to sit up straight in the saddle, heels down etc. Once the lessons were over, everyone would end up being rather sore and achy. My sister, who had ridden up until that point, decided to quit, since it wasn’t for her. I carried on though. Yes, it was hard, and at times I did wonder why I was continuing with it, but at the end of the day, it was something I loved. Something that I could look forward to after school.
Went to a few riding schools in the following years. The second one I didn’t enjoy that much. There were only a few ponies I felt safe on, and one of them was a little too small for me to ride. I started to lose confidence, and didn’t really want to go to the yard. The place shut down a year or so after I started going there, so had to look for somewhere else.
The third one was a five minute drive from my senior school. Dad would pick me up, I’d change into my riding clothes, and off we’d go. It was perched on a hill. Just a small yard, with stables and fields surrounding it, but I loved it. Mainly because of the pony I rode when I first got there. Shazzie was a twenty year old Arabian x Welsh gelding. Been there, done that, worn the T-shirt type of pony. From the moment I sat in the saddle, I felt safe. He didn’t put a foot wrong. Well, apart from jumping over the instructor’s dog the very first lesson, but we couldn’t help that!
Rode a few others in my time there, those being Tally and Rusty. Also rode round the field bareback on a Shire called Jesse. Her son was there too, but I can’t recall his name.
I spent a happy few years there, but it changed hands, became a private livery yard, and many of the ponies got sold. Shazzie was one of them. I knew his owner from school, so I’m pretty sure he had a good retirement.
Around the age of sixteen, I stopped riding. Lost contact with the last riding stables I went to, and besides, I had exams to concentrate on. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that I’d like to ride again, but maybe once my exams were over. So ten or so years past. I didn’t ride once in them. Didn’t even have that much contact with horses. But then that changed.
As part of my college course, I had to do a few weeks work experience. As it happened, I ended up doing them at a Riding for the Disabled centre. And stayed on once those weeks were up. At first, riding hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was just happy to be back in contact with horses again. The smells had brought all the old memories up. It was hard work, but I enjoyed every single minute of it.
Spent around two and a bit years there. Did get to ride a few times, but only round the school, and to be honest, I was so tense I couldn’t really enjoy myself. The saddles were harder than I remembered, and the movement of the ponies felt strange after so many years of not riding. Found it difficult to relax, even though I tried.
Which brings me to what I wrote at the beginning. I moved house a few months back, going from Gloucestershire to Cornwall. Took about a month or so just to adjust to such a big move, but I started thinking about riding properly again, not just hopping on and walking/trotting round the school, as I had at the RDA. Found a riding school online, and emailed them to ask if I could arrange some lessons. Yes, I just had to ring up. So I did the next day. Arranged a lesson for the day after. Dusted off my hat, got my boots (that my aunt had brought me for Christmas) and made sure I had money.
So, there I was the next day, about to get on Jethro and feeling really nervous. I knew he wasn’t going to walk off, or do anything, I just couldn’t bring myself to mount. It took a member of staff to help me into the saddle. Once I was on board, I was fine. The nerves had disappeared. Gone without trace. I relaxed almost instantly. Remembered how to sit, heel down, how to hold the reins. Wasn’t tense or anything. It felt like coming home, in a way. It just felt right. I enjoyed every single moment of that half an hour lesson. Yes, the yard is a bit rough round the edges, but the horses are happy and healthy, the staff are friendly, and the instructors make sure that you understand what they want you to do.
It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally back to riding regularly. And I love every moment of it.