I AM A RIDER What a day. It’s exactly the kind of day that causes Dubliners to remark to one another, known and unknown: ‘What a day!’ Bright, clear, bluest sky, the sun with some heat still in it, but the breath of a nip in the air. Simply gorgeous. Add to this the fact that I was as excited to go to my lesson this Saturday as if it were my third week, over one year ago, as excited as if I was still that early in the journey, a realization that only added to my sense of pure joy, as I’m the sort that picks up something, achieves a certain competency, and is off on the next thing fairly sharpish. This change in me seems to be maturity, then— and/or else everything else, every other interest was simply a side track to negotiate until I got here.

My Saturday routine has changed since last year, as the time of my lesson has changed, so now I take the 12.35 number 45 bus, one which tries my patience every single journey, and yet on every single journey does manage to get me to the bus stop past Cabinteely in time to be collected by Lainie and her mum, Lorraine. We are all delighted by the weather— what a day!— and I am stuffed full to the brim with well being.

Until Ruth tells me to take Tango.

I droop like a petulant child. ‘Can’t I have Rebel?’ I whine — I do, I absolutely do, I whine— and Ruth, who is patience on a monument, as they say, shows me the list with all of Rebel’s hours and I slouch off to the barn, grumbling, ‘I’m going to need to borrow a whip.’

I stomp down the aisle, sighing heavily, still sulking like an eight year old, and I grab Tango’s bridle and tack him up. ‘Listen, dude,’ I say, trying to be authoritative and yet… friendly? This is already, I expect, not such a great approach. ‘Let’s just… go today, okay? Look, I’ll show you the sun, right? It’s not so scary, I promise.’ I’m sounding less convincing than beseeching. Oh, man.

I lead him into the arena; some the new parents gape as we walk by, because he is so enormous, and frankly, that puffs me up— oh, sure, me? I can handle this guy. I walk him up to a patch of light, and try to educate Tango as to the harmless properties of a ray of sunshine. He is keen, however, on unearthing something edible from the dirt floor. I get up, not convinced I’ve made any impression at all. Ruth says we’re going out and I perk up— hell, it’s all sunshine out there today, maybe it’s the contrast that gets up his nose, and I think it might be okay.

It’s not okay. It’s much the same as last week. I am less bothered about getting after him, as they say in the school, getting more adept at whacking him on the arse with my borrowed crop, and Ruth was supportive although I think she was laughing at me a bit.

We make it through the circles and the serpentines and then get to the jumping, which is going great guns until the last one, one last time over a double. I get him going, after a concerted effort involving legs and smacks on the shoulder and we’re going around and he’s cutting it kind of short but listen, he’s moving. Then four strides from the first fence he breaks into a canter and I’m mentally thrown off a little, and we clear that one and I do it again, I start to jump before the horse again, and there’s this feeling of the world [Tango] crashing to a halt and I’m physically thrown off, dammit!

I raise myself halfway to my knees and Ruth is there, and Tango hasn’t moved, and I’ve gotten the wind knocked out of me again, and I feel, argh, embarrassed, falling is hell on the ego.

I get up. ‘Can I go again.’ It is a statement rather than a question.

‘Of course.’ Ruth goes to get a block.

I pat Tango on the off side of his neck and move around him. He looks at me— contrite? Well, well, well. He rubs my nose inquisitively with his own. Wow! ‘Ah, dude, not your fault, not your fault.’ I move in, and he dips his head, and we look each other obliquely in the eye. This is the stillest I’ve ever known him to be, and we stand, neck to neck, until Ruth sets down the block.

I get back up. We take the fences in trot, cleanly. My seventh fall.

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