One day, when I was three years old, I fell in love with horses. I have no memory of this happening, but the fact that I’m still here, willingly returning to an activity which has left me more than bruised in the past, is the only logical explanation for what happened that day. I don’t think I sat on a horse at that time, I may not even have touched one, but the obsession began: a family friend – who, unsurprisingly, remains a friend – was taking care of a horse for a friend of hers and, as she was also looking after her son, my sister and myself, we were in tow when she visited the stables.
I had my first riding lesson on my fourth birthday, and no other activity has held my interest in quite the same way ever since. Although I have had some negative experiences in the saddle – something which should be expected when participating in a risky sport on a regular basis over a long period of time – I think it speaks volumes that my abiding memories are positive ones. My earliest recollections are of sunny days, fancy dress on horseback, the unwavering support of my parents (and their enthusiasm for my hobby despite their own lack of interest) and the occasional rosette.
Riding isn’t something that I was born or forced into, so every recovery, each time I’ve dusted myself down and climbed back into the saddle has been my own choice (sort of: there’s normally an instructor shouting at you to get on with it, that it was all your fault and if you’ve got any sense, you’ll listen to them next time and apologise to the horse for the silly mistake you’ve made). From the outside looking in, it must appear to be madness, as there is little to no obvious reward from trotting around in circles all day.
But what can’t be seen are the best parts of the experience: the generosity with which horses give themselves to humans; the tests that horses present us with, and the lessons that they teach us throughout these labours; the feeling you get when it all goes well, sailing successfully over a fence, or flying along a beach at a gallop, or even the more simple acts of learning to stop, go or turn for the first time.
Getting on a horse is a different experience every time, even if it is an animal you have ridden many times before along a well-beaten path. And that, perhaps, is the crux: you never know what will happen. It’s the excitement of opening a surprise gift mixed with the buzz of getting something right – finally – having worked at it for days, weeks or months. It’s something I always look forward to, just as I’m looking forward to watching and helping other people – no matter what their age – to go faster, slower or in a different direction.
I can’t remember starting to ride, but I know it’s something that I continue to enjoy.