Ridin’ Strange

DATELINE: BATH, ENGLAND It simply wasn’t going to happen. I couldn’t not go to a new place and not try to go for a ride.

I hadn’t succumbed when I went back to the States in June; anyway, I’d already been. But I had yet to ride in England, and despite having to go over for a full week’s worth of study, there was a big, blank spot on the timetable where Tuesday afternoon was supposed to be.

What did people do, before the internet? I know, I know, we went to libraries and used phone books — hey, I’m old, I did those very things myself. I made entire short films without the world wide web. But, geez, life sure is easier, and potentially bigger, when you’ve got yer Google on.

In no time a’tall, when I decided that I wasn’t not going to ride, I found an equestrian centre outside of Bath, booked myself into two hour trail ride, and crossed my fingers.

Please: not too much road work.

Please: nice, calm horse.

Please: not too heavy in the head for the whole thing.

I’m a ‘heady’ person anyway, but after two and half days of 9 a.m to 9 p.m. lectures, discussions, negotiations, and just plain chat [not counting the time spent in the uni bar, oh, sigh], I was a bit concerned that I wasn’t able for a trek through unknown environs on an unknown equine.

But then I put on the clobber. After twelve years of Catholic school, you’d think I’d had it with uniforms. I prefer to think of them as accessories, all the bits and pieces that are required to undertake a venture. Maybe ‘accessories’ is the wrong term, sounds too frivolous, but ‘uniform’ is wrong, too, there are too many ways in which to kit oneself out, too many two-toned jodhs to avail of, too many cunning designs of half-chaps, myriad gloves, and countless tops, for it to be like those plaid skirts and white blouses and navy blue knee socks.

I put on the jodhs, the paddock boots, and my favourite long-sleeved T shirt, got on the Bath University bus and headed into town, to pick up a taxi at the train station. I had brought along a wee map, and we were good to go.

The roads narrowed, and arrowed up and down, as we headed for the centre. My English taxi man was as affable as any Irish sort, and I was desperately happy not to be talking about cognitive psychology and stats and participants. He wound me up a bit — he’d seen those horses go flying down this road, sure! Ha ha ha… ha?

The Wellow Trekking Centre was an open welcoming place, an outdoor arena flush up against the wall that looks over the hill it is perched upon. Everything was perfectly labelled, and there was actually a receptionist at reception, sitting across from a full wall of helmets and half boots. I filled out the form, was shown my horse from afar, and proceeded to wait, gormless, for the whole thing to begin.

My guy looked smaller, from afar. Up close, Colt was most assuredly not: he was 16.3, if not 17hh. Tango-sized. [Shite.] But no, not shite: the second I got up on him, seat barely in the saddle, I knew. I knew this guy was steady. Strong, big, sure, but no messing in him. It’s an incredible feeling, to get that feeling off a horse, to be able to gauge any feeling I get from a horse, and I felt the nerves drift off. A couple of the horsey girls, as all horsey girls will, all over the world, immediately set about helping me with my stirrups, and we fell into the common language without a missed beat. Love this! Just love it.

So I got my nice, calm horse. Got more road work than I like, but when you’re on a nice, calm horse, it’s not that big a deal. Up the downs we went: our leader pointed out the chalk horse thingie in the distance, a cool thing, a landmark even, one that I could Wiki for greater precision, but: meh. The internet does that to you, makes you a little lazy. Surely everybody can look that one up for themselves…

Colt — such an anonymous name, it’s too bad, he’s so lovely, and aged enough to have well outgrown it, it’s a thoughtless naming, as if he wasn’t anything but a label— well, Colt ran out of gas towards the end, perhaps out of sheer boredom, as we cantered only three times, and trotted not much more than that. I revelled in my ability to ride him properly, and to prevent him eating too many hedges along the way.

The way was gorgeous, despite a short soaking, through fields and along hillsides, past bubbling brooks and under arching trees. About halfway through, I realised I’d forgotten what I was doing in England in the first place, which, little hard riding notwithstanding, is one of the best things that you can ask for a couple of hours on horseback.

I used the walk to practice keeping my leg on, and I was pleasantly wobbly once my feet were on the ground. What a great relief, to be in my body again, to have left the overwhelming headiness behind for a few hours, and I had a resurgence of energy, one that got me through the rest of the residential school. A few lectures and hangovers later, I was on my way home, happy to have gone, but happiest to heading back.

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