JUNE 2007 Riding out sucks. It’s boring. Up the road, down the road, up the road, good luck if your mount has the munchies, spending half the time in walk, it is dull, dull, dull—

And it scares me stupid.

My first walk out— and in fairness, I had no business being on the back of a horse— ended in tears and valium. The horse, Silver— Silver? I’m not sure I even knew his name, no clue, well, no wonder it was a disaster, we hadn’t even been properly introduced— the horse decided, after several serious yanks on his mouth by yours truly, the taunting of some wee fecker on a dirt bike, and several abortive attempts to swallow a gorse bush whole, to trot around a puddle.

I wanted to write ‘water hazard’.

It was a puddle.

I, having a stunningly minimal amount of contact with the horse whilst still actually on it, went flying off the back of him, smack on my arse: chipped tailbone = drugs. This was the fitting culmination to a mere twenty minutes of having walked down a (narrow, Irish) road teeming with speeding traffic (not really), and a ride leader who was shouting things for me to do, despite having been told I didn’t know how to do anything. The horse took off at a gallop (he began to step into a trot) and I fell; I got back on, but eventually had to get back off him and lead him down a muddy slope to the barn.

So Nikki says, ‘Ride out’ and I start having flashbacks.

Even with the PTSD, I am slightly peeved to be given Argo, my beloved Argo, always beloved— but, well, I’ve moved on, I’m better than Argo now, grumpy, slow Argo, with his ponderous trot and his increasingly stiff canter—

Ah. Okay. Good.

So it’s unlikely that he’s going to go haring off to Sandyford, but then he has been known to get seriously peeved by the exuberance of others, and there’s plenty of exuberance around, the ponies in the ride ready to go mad with the freedom of being out of the school, turned out horses calling to each other, rolling around on the ground…

I don’t have a choice, but then, in the main lack of choice (do what you’re told!) has made me a— no, I’m not a rider yet. I am a person who can competently manage a horse.

We walk out of the indoor arena, Argo and I buried in the middle of the ride. He grumpily picks his way around the stupidly, thoughtlessly parked cars, my foot swinging dangerously close to a wing mirror, he pricks his ears up as we swing away from the road that leads to the outdoor arena, and we head towards the long drive. He sighs heavily.

‘Who you telling, pal,’ I grunt, busily making sure that I have plenty of contact everywhere it is possible to have contact. The road is deserted— tea time, Tuesday night— and we walk down the lane, trot back up, no incident. Argo is sluggish, no one’s gotten hurt.

I lift my gaze to the top of the hill we’re heading for. A breeze comes up from miles away, Dublin Bay, and a horse in the lean-to knickers. I have to agree: it is a beautiful night.

‘Right,’ Nikki shouts, ‘we’re going to canter up this hill. Shorten your reins, lean over, not jumping position but—‘ and more instructions in a torrent. Up that hill? The high one? What?

We walk up to the gate, and muttering drifts forward from the back of the ride. ‘Light seat? Which leg?’ and suddenly the front of the ride is flying up the hill and Argo channels some fire from his younger days and we follow. My body naturally leans forward, I lift my seat, I drop my heels, I clutch Argo’s sides with my calves, cheat and grab some mane— and holler, whoop, laugh like a lunatic as we both just go, go forward, go up, go up the green, green hill in the highest field at a million miles an hour (ten, maybe) under the bluest summer sky.

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