MARCH, 2007 I have finally gone beyond standing next to the horse like a pillock. A great, stupid, beginner pillock. A pillock looking gormless [although by definition one doubts a pillock can be considered to have gorm], waiting to be told to get up there, instructor bringing over the block, holding the horse, leaning on the offside stirrup.

The odds of not being able to get up there were, of course, astronomical. Horses tend to understand when a ‘rider’ is fluttering with nerves, is that slightest fraction less than totally confident, and will often just… drift away from a block, often when the mounter has her foot in the near stirrup. What follows is a frustrating and fruitless attempt to first, stop the horse moving, by, oh, grabbing at whatever’s closest to hand; second, trying a yank on the reins, which should have been in hand; last, getting down and moving the block forward, closer, gripping the reins tighter, trying to get up there faster, which in turn encourages the horse to move sooner, even before you’ve got a foot in the stirrup. Suddenly you’re shuffling across the arena like teenagers slow dancing.

And there’s the bit about upper body strength, the arms and chest and back together with enough puissance to allow that teeny bit of cantle you can grab to be enough purchase. Yeah, right. Somehow, I’d get up there, but not without many bounces, grabbing all the way over to the other side of the saddle, and prayers peppered with the F word [Sorry, God.]

I had no idea that this day was to be the day. I had to go fetch Delilah, after she’d been put back after the two o’clock, reins wrapped, girth loosened. The women who’d stabled her laughed at me as they walked away— ‘Glad I’m not you!’`— and I apologised profusely to the mare, but she took the girth tightening in stride, without even trying to bite my belly.

All the advanced kids were mounted as I led Delilah to the top of the arena. I tossed the reins over her head, rechecked the girth, rolled down the stirrups, and grabbed the block over by Ruby.

Okay, so the stirrup leather was at its usual length [dragging on the ground], and okay, I had the block on its short end so it was at its maximum height, but so what: I grabbed the reins, stuck my left foot in the iron, grabbed the saddle, and got up.

Delilah, unimpressed, didn’t even flick an ear.

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