MY SECOND LESSON [16 SEPTEMBER, 2007] I’ve been thinking about trotting all week. Everyday. Waiting for the bus, walking to get a salad at lunch, staring ahead of myself, bored, at work.

Some of the seemingly unintelligible sounds issuing from the mouth of last Saturday’s instructor [this is the correct term, not teacher] appear to have been processed as knowledge in the far reaches of my brain. Talking to a couple of girls at work who had ridden before, I realised that I had learned something, well, in theory, at least. Shauna showed what rising trot was meant to look like, rising and lowering in her desk chair, and Heidi said something about heels and leg on the girth. I had figured that part out already! Cool.

So I’m thinking about trotting all week. About how to hold the reins properly, pinkie finger closed, of not trying to balance on my seat bones [a tentative, frightened posture, which not surprisingly invites gravity to do what it does best], of sitting then rising, sitting, rising, sitting, rising, around and around in a big circle, sitting rising sitting rising— the horse trots, which is faster than a walk and I— I don’t care. I’m going to do it.

I know what to do now. I now have a procedure. I change into my boots, dress boots, I’ll need proper riding boots if I keep this up, and hang my rucksack on the pegs near the loo. I choose a helmet— hat— wincing; need one of these too, if I stick with this. I can’t bear to put it on my head until the absolute last minute. I hook the chinstrap closed and dangle the hat from my hand, wondering if this is how people carry them if they are actually horse people and know what they’re doing. I pass the arena, the little girls going round and round and I watch for a while, and learn.

I glance occasionally towards the barn. The doorway is empty. I walk up the rise, and go in.

It’s dark, and it smells, and the concrete floor is littered with hay and little plops of poo, I smell horses and horse piss and suddenly know that were I a Viking spirit rising from its burning bark all of this would be redolent of Valhalla.

The horses all look at me, watch me— two legs, food bearing?— and I greet them all, all so different, dark bay, light bay, brown, chestnut [I bought a book in Eason’s], some curious, some not bothered, some ears pricked forward, some laid back, I move along, patting, stroking, exchanging breath with a big brown guy who is interested enough to want to know me a little better. I wander down the aisle, from stable to stable, saying hello, alone, no one telling me to stop, no one telling me it wasn’t allowed, no one telling me that I didn’t belong. They seem to like me, the horses, and I become calm, calm, calm. They seem to like me— it’s going to be okay.

Until, back in the arena, I’m told to take Argo. I’d been ‘practicing’ trotting on Mercury all week. The sturdy Welsh cob [okay, I bought a bunch of books at Eason’s] was maybe, oh, 14 hands high [ha!] and certainly patient, if last week was anything to go by, and I was looking forward to actually knowing his name while we worked.

‘Sue, take Argo.’

The woman holding his reins smiles at me and waves.

Holy shit.

‘He’s big,’ I say, breathless all over again.

‘Oh, he’s lovely,’ says his most recent tenant as she fed him Polo mints.

‘Big.’ I take the reins and stare at the bottom of his neck—which has some equine anatomical name I hadn’t swotted enough to recall— the bottom of his neck, the top of his shoulder— shoulder? Is it called a shoulder, on a horse?— whatever— at my eye level.

I am 5’ 9”.
Shit.

‘He’s a beautiful guy,’ the woman croons as she gives him one more stroke down the flash of white on his face. I struggle to unhunch my shoulders, hell, my whole body, and am left alone in charge of this massive chestnut.

I look in his eye.

He turns his head, his gigantic head, and rubs it up and down my entire torso.

‘Hey, man!’ I laugh, bracing myself, stroking a hand down his neck. I go to pat his cheek, and he throws his head up and away.

Ah, Headshy. I lower my hand.

He rubs and rubs and I whisper nonsense in the general direction of his left [near] ear. A couple of the books I read said a horse shows a lack of respect when he gets in your space like this, uninvited, but at that moment, right then, I decided that was total rubbish— I am delighted— ecstatic— he rests his forehead, for a moment, on my chest, and we both breathe together.

I mount Argo.

We trot.

I’m hooked.

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