An Ill Wind

It’s been months since I’ve had to walk up the long, long road to the yard. I can summon a fairly robust nostalgia for it, that walk, I can remember the very first day I walked it, the mounting excitement [and by excitement, I mean ‘fear’], the uncertainty of direction, the first few strides up the drive to the yard, fields and horses on both sides, the overwhelming feeling of daring, adventure, of what-the-fuck-am-I-doing, that greets me at the outset of every big, seemingly crazy thing I do in life. I liked sloping up the road, my big bag of riding stuff slung over my shoulder, liked getting the occasional lift from a yard-bound mum or dad, liked seeing the indoor arena perched on the rise of the hill.

Did I say hill? It really is kind of like a mountain. The equestrian centre is in fact in the middle of the Dublin mountains. In fact, during the summer ride outs, when we galloped up the hill in the top field, we could see straight to Howth, all the way over across Dublin Bay, on the north side.

The view is miraculous. The protection from the elements… not so much.

I am predicting a wolfish winter in sheep’s clothing: many a day has begun with an innocently blue sky, only to descend into darkness and hail by early evening. Saturday was such a day, a glorious bowl of robin’s egg blue on high, a crisp breeze, ach, the occasional, odd little shower of rain, lasting a minute or two— altogether promising, and I’d hoped that us grown ups would be sent outdoors for our lesson.

Once the gloom lowered, I still wanted to be outside, because the wind gusting down the mountain was sure to cause a ruckus in the ride.

Did I say gusting? More like a full out, stereo-amplified, surround-sound experience of crashing, thumping, blowing, wailing— a Michael Bay blow out that I knew would make the horses crazy. Having discovered Rebel’s acutely sensitive aural faculties, and having been allocated Rebel for the hour, I was, in a word, freaked.

I wasn’t alone. I had turned to talk to a lesson mate, just as an extraordinary wave of sound thundered across the roof, as if the Almighty, in a snit, had tossed aside all those rocks He’d gathered on holiday in Nice; the size of the rocks, of course, being relative to the size of the Collector. Rebel thought they were pretty big, too, and he jumped straight up in the air, knocking me sideways, freaking everyone else out.


I got up there, and we waited, and I sincerely— sincerely— wanted to be outside, even when the rain started coming down, even when it started coming down horizontally. I wanted to be outside when Rebel started leaping and jigging left every time another gust rattled the walls of the arena. I felt the fear spike throughout my body, explosions of cold under my skin, and I knew he could feel it, and crap, what a recipe for disaster. I did what the books say, and I breathed and I breathed, and we started going, and he was happier moving than not, and the next little jig wasn’t that terrifying, and I wondered at the fear— and I occurred to me that it wasn’t only mine.

Well, listen, if he can feel how I feel, why can’t I feel how he feels? And I know that, even for a horse, his hearing is seriously supersenstive, and what must all that deafening blowing sound like to him? Everybody else was fine, no one else was spooking, apart from a piebald called Cowboy who danced around in circles every time we halted. Just us. Bugger.

So I kept breathing, and I tried to soothe Reb as much as possible, telling him that I knew how bad it was for him, although it’s debatable that even more noise, in the form of the sound of my voice, was going to calm him down.

We managed. Every time I felt the chill river of fear flood my veins, I breathed. Every time we halted, I stroked his neck. We fought like siblings over the bit [so much for practising softer hands— I had the reins in a death grip], but apart from a buck or two in the last canter— which I didn’t even know happened until it was over, which is dead exciting, my seat is getting more secure— we made it. I dismounted hurriedly, and Rebel went right for my pocket, bless him. If anyone deserved a Polo mint, it was he.

I am so glad I didn’t pack it in, because once it became apparent that I was sitting on a potentially loose cannon, I did what I’m bloody well meant to do every single time: my legs were my anchor, strong, secure, alerting Rebel to my authoritative presence, truly feeling that authority myself. No more lazy legs from now on, whatever the weather. Perhaps the wind wasn’t ill after all.

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