If you follow me on any social media platforms, you might have already seen that, at the beginning of this week, I got back in the saddle; well, the metaphorical saddle, as I was actually on bareback! It was a spur of the moment thing, although I’ve known for a little while that it wouldn’t do my health too much damage to have a little ride- I’ve just been waiting for the right time… when the unpredictable weather and my equally unpredictable body aligned!
I spent my whole childhood on horseback, bar a couple of illness or injury breaks; but before Monday, I hadn’t been well enough to see the world through those ears since April 2012. In fact, until this January, I hadn’t even seen them without a window between us for about 6 years!
I never imagined I could survive a life without horses (bit dramatic, I know, but I was a teenager so drama comes with the territory!), it’s safe to say they were what I grieved the most when I first became ill. For many years, it felt like there was a piece of me missing. I missed the partnership, the bond you form, the escapism a solo hack brought, and the adrenaline rush of galloping across stubble fields or taking part in mounted games, the sport I’d loved since I was 4 years old. There was a dull ache in the centre of my chest when I heard the rhythmic thudding of hooves outside the window.
Wounds heal though- something I wish I’d known at the time! I found a new way of being, a different but no less meaningful way. A way where I could hold onto my passion for these magnificent creatures, without it suffocating me. And this year, I’ve been lucky enough to get the chance to start enjoying their company again, in person.
I still can’t quite believe I’m getting to tell you all about this! It’s a ‘pinch me’ moment; heck, I’m still in the ‘pinch me, I’m outside’ stage! At the time, my mum asked how it felt to be back on board, my words were, “it feels like home”. That’s still the best I can come up with.
I would say it was just like old times, but it wasn’t; we’ve both changed, everything does with time, though that’s not a bad thing. We both have more awareness of each other and how precious each moment together is. Everything is slowed down, but somehow, creates even more of an impact.
I’ve owned Bella, my little grey Fell Pony, since I was 14. We bonded the second I sat on her, and I knew that, even though she wasn’t your average games pony (with her giant hooves which make the ground vibrate and a backend which takes a little more room to manoeuvre than a nippy, little, ‘turn on a sixpence’ pony), she was the one for me. She’s strong willed but fair, honest and cheeky, and loves to work. It’s been fantastic to get to spend time with her again and learn just how much can be achieved when working her from the ground.
I wasn’t sure whether I’d feel any fear once I got back on, with it being so long… Well, I should have known the answer to that would be a resounding no. Especially since Bella seems to have taken up the role of Mother Hen– she gave me two small circles at walk, then took me back to the mounting block and firmly planted her feet until I was safely on the ground again. Quite a good thing really, since the urge to canter off across the field was strong! (The next day was NOT a pretty sight with just a brief walk, so I dread to think how I’d have fared if I’d done that!)
There was another unexpected lesson from those few minutes of freedom… Although feeling those familiar four legs move underneath me was magical, it was no higher up the enjoyment rankings than spending time on the ground with the horses; whether that’s watching others ride, or doing groundwork or lunging. Very surprising, since even a few years ago, I couldn’t have imagined uttering those words with any honesty behind them!
I’ve come to recognise how much more there is to horses than speed. I sometimes wish I could go back and put all the theory I’ve learnt whilst being away from them, about how they learn, and the hows and whys of riding, into practice… But I’ve realised, there’s no need to go back, I can use it all now, just in a different way. I’m never going to be that girl again, throwing herself on and off without a care in the world, and that’s fine with me. The stakes are too high now, anyway.
I’m enjoying watching others, and figuring out how to work the animals I love in a way that benefits us both. I’d like to share a little of this journey with you here, to have a record of it all to look back on- especially with Poppet-the-project-pony, who I’m going to introduce you to soon. I’m thinking more about sharing the training side than anything else. You know when you have all this information in your head, you feel like it’s going to bubble over? Yeah, that‘s my head with everything I’ve absorbed over the last several years! It’d be good to get it out, if only to keep track of it! We’ll see…
Whether I write about it or not, you’ll hopefully see some more photos of me on horseback cropping up on Instagram or Facebook over the next couple of months. Watch this space!
“Sometimes, LOVE has four hooves and an attitude.”