The yard was dead. Very unusual for a Saturday. One of the Livery Lasses was lingering in front of the barn, and told me that the polocrossers were off in South Africa, at some tournament or other. Ah. Only one class was going on, ‘summer’ hours in place, the intermediate ladies on a ride out, and I slogged up to the upper arena — still rather mucky about the place — and stopped dead.
The course, from Friday’s showjumping league, was still up.
I scurried and slid down the hill and into the indoor.
‘Are we riding out?’ I asked Nikki, who shook her head.
‘Can we jump the course?’ Yes! Delilah was suggested and I was happy enough — no way was I taking Tango up there, and Ruby, well, I’m not sure enough of her yet.
Up we went, and walked, trotted and cantered around the whole of the sandy ring. Only Lorraine and I were in the lesson — yes! yes! — and Nikki and Lainie went about resetting the poles. They had been set at one metre ten, I reckoned. Well, high, anyway. We had 60 centimetres and that was fine by me.
On the warm up jumps, Lorraine fell on a landing, Cowboy’s bridle coming off completely. Never had seen that before. He eventually took off, pelting through the open gate [who left it open?!] and Mercury was brought up, but that was it for my lesson mate. I know the feeling, especially on a horse that you don’t jump much. There was a lot to be thinking about, without having to think too much about your mount.
Well. I did the course twice, straight through, nary a fault. Oh, I love jumping! I could do it all day long! And jumping a course! I was going to write ‘not a thought but the direction’ but it’s not that, not at all. All the thoughts are happening at once, leg on, heels down, sit on my bum, look up, look at the next fence, get Delilah on the right leg in the canter, inside leg on, get a good line in, all of that is happening at once, but in the focus of the work, all those thoughts become… one thought. All thoughts are one thought, jumping a course.
Four along the E side of the arena, two of them in a wide double [at least four strides between] and then around and get that line in to the next double [two strides] back to the first fence, changing the lead, around to one more, and then one other, and clear! And clear again! Awesome!
Then Nikki put the fences up two holes. Two holes? Another half a foot? So let’s say somewhere within spitting distance of 70cms. Ooh, I got a bit nervy, as I know how Delilah can be, draggy, I can’t always count on her to pick up her feet — and so I did the thing I always forget to do in a lesson, when it’s only the one fence, one boring, lonely fence, and kept my leg on, even tapping her up with the long stick a stride out. Bold!
And off we went, around, around, my hands not banging on her neck on the landing, once or twice a little late in the position, but Delilah is my girl and she forgives me. Over the first fence for the second time, and we’re drifting left, she’d been drifting dead left at this jump, a flat white board stretched between the wings, a pole now atop it, and she quite obviously hates the white board, and she drifts… drifts… and my toe hits the wing and the whole left side comes crashing down. We make the last fence and I laugh.
‘That’s gotta count for at least two faults!’ I shout as Nikki and Lainie wrest the wing out of the sand.
I go at it one more time, just those last two fences, and urge Delilah into a better line, keep the leg on, and up and over, and up and over the last. Yes!
There is absolutely nothing like this in the whole wide world. I really feel like I’m riding, in total concert with the horse, heading in a direction, a smooth, flowing run, in command, sharing the control, telling the horse what to do, where to go, and she listens! And we do it! And I don’t think if anything, there is nothing else but the next fence, and Delilah, no self-consciousness, no thought but the one thought, nothing but the pattern and the sheer un-fucking-believable joy of up and over.
I used to have such a feeling of un-self-consciousness in acting class. Waiting to be told by the teacher to start, standing around the playing area, thinking about whether or not my clothes were comfortable or flattering, thinking about where the prop was for the middle of the scene… then Elizabeth would say, ‘Whenever you’re ready,’ and off we’d go, and everything would fall away, there was nothing but words and action and relationship.
No words here, just action, but it’s exactly the same. The course is my script, and Delilah my scene-partner, and why the ‘audience’ didn’t burst into applause a the end of it all, I’ll never know.