TUESDAY, 8 JANUARY 2008 Oh, the weather outside was frightful: rain that was threatening to turn into sleet, rain like Someone left a Celestial Tub running to overflow, rain that, as I waited for the bus out to the taxi out to the stable, completely soaked the left arm of my heavy-duty, wretchedly unflattering, bulky but warm ski jacket. All day long, I had watched the sky change from a promising blue to a menacing gray to an unrelenting black.

I thought, Will I give it a miss? And then I thought, Don’t be ridiculous! I hadn’t ridden for a week, and after having ridden evey day for almost a week, I was jonesing.

Besides, I was desperately curious to see had my Spanish adventure had any real effect on my riding.

The lights glowed from the indoor arena; I could see them from the bottom of the hill. I had wondered if the forecast 150-mile-an-hour gale force winds would shut things down, but past experience assured me that nothing would cancel a lesson— only my own discomfort would do that. Amazing how fragile I’d gotten after five days out under cloudless blue skies. Last winter, while not as windy, was as chilly, as muddy, as this was promising to be. I survived that; I’d survive this.

And as ever, the first footfalls over the barn threshold had any reservations blowing away in the frisky breeze. I had carrots, and the need to see some familiar muzzles. Rebel accepted his proferred portion gladly, as playful as ever. Argo, who’d had a holiday from humans for the last two weeks, was more restive than usual. Poor guy: once, during the summer, it took the lads three days to get him back in from the field. Tango, who has a particular fancy for carrots, just about took my hand off. Geez, he’s big. I can’t believe I’ve fallen off him three times. [Four?]

And Delilah was as sweet as could be. Sweeter than usual. Happy enough about the carrots, not in the mood for a grooming, but we passed the time before the lesson in accord. I think she doesn’t mind the work, and in fact, she was remarkably docile as I bridled her up. In fact, as I was fussing with it— it seemed like the whole thing could be let out a notch— she dropped her head down my back. I rubbed her neck with both hands, and her cheek rested against mine, and we stood there, quiet, peaceful, content. Oh. I think I got my first horse hug.

She didn’t even try to bite me while Nikki tightened her girth.

It was all wonderfully uphill from there. Only two of us in the lesson, and it took some time to reconcile myself once again to the narrowness of Delilah’s back, the bounciness of her gait— I could feel my legs flapping around for the first ten minutes— but I had a new security in my seat that allowed me to really get her going, to reach back and tap her on the flank to encourage her forward. In the past, this move had me bouncing around like she was an inflatable castle, but with my newly confident seat, I simply sat back and off we went.

It was time to canter. I was ready. I sat the trot, gave the aid— and holy cow, she went right into it. This has never happened before. She went right into it, and I stayed well back in my seat, and we flew around the arena. I smiled, thrilled, not a sliver of light between my arse and the leather, my inside leg on, not a single corner cut.

Okay, maybe that was just luck. So, again. And again, another flawless transition, and I laughed, I laughed as kept my leg on, not letting her lose stride, I laughed with excitement and wonder as we stayed dead on the track and Nikki shouted, ‘You feel that? That’s it! You feel that?’ and I shouted, ‘Yeah! I do! Yeah!” and then— again, a first— perfectly transitioned into the trot [as opposed to yanking on the reins a bit, bouncing for a few strides, slowing down to walk, and then getting her to trot again.]

Just as good on the right rein. By the end of the last canter I was frankly delirious. I did learn! I did improve! I leaned over and ran my hand up and down Delilah’s neck. ‘See that? Did you feel that? Isn’t that great? Wasn’t that great?’

If Delilah had possessed a brow to arch, arch it she would have done as she looked back at me. Well, that is the way it’s meant to be…

We jumped. She’s slow to warm up, is Delilah, and on the third go at the crosspoles, I felt her skitter, stutter, and dammit, I knew I was doing it, but I started to jump before she did, and off I went again. Argh! I hung on, Nikki said I was stretched out along her body for like, a stride, and then I hit the dirt. I bounced, got back on, took it again. When will I learn this? Ach, maybe this is this last time.

And then we took two fences at the canter, and she wouldn’t pick it up on the turn, so I’d take her in a circle, get it and go. Every single time, she wouldn’t listen to the aid, I’d take her in a circle… at one stage she threw a look over her shoulder at me and snorted, and I said, aloud, ‘Well, if you’d just listen we wouldn’t have to do this!’ and Nikki laughed. Luckily, I’m not the only one who talks aloud to her mount.

Once we’d get it, though, it was bliss, and my God, my seat was good. I could feel it, I wasn’t thinking about it, I was looking at the fence, secure in the saddle, even— so bold!— adjusting my feet in the stirrups as we took the turn to approach. The last series was over a crosspole, then a straight, the straight at 70, maybe 80cms. I dismounted and cried, ebullient, ‘Nikki, I want to jump a metre!’

She said we’d work on it. It was my goal for last year— let’s see how soon I can meet it in this.

On Friday’s, in the summer, there’s showjumping in the early evening. Anybody can do it, I can use one of the lesson horses. A short course of six fences done twice, fences at 80. I think I’ve got something else to shoot for in 2008…

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