The Great Outdoors, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cross Country

I hated horseback riding outside from the start.

As I recount in Many Brave Fools, the fear started when I went on a ride out without ever having taken a lesson. The horse took off on me (the horse lightly cantered over a puddle and I went flying); my coccyx took the brunt; it would be literal years before I gave it another go.

I had been taking lessons for… at least nine months the first time I went out into the fields again. I had been riding twice a week, and jumping too, but the terror was as fresh as if I’d never been on a horse—as fresh as it had been when I’d picked myself up from that first tumble.

Here’s what I wrote about that feeling:

Nothing is as scary as feeling like a horse is out of control. Nothing feels as terrifying as a horse going too fast; nothing is as tense as the anticipation of a horse freaking out at a cartwheeling snack packet; nothing makes one feel as helpless as being unable to make a horse stop.

When a horse does something that he is not supposed to do, the rider learns to recognize it within a stride, and the instructor immediately begins instructing, but… it is so hard to hear when the horse you are on is racing around the arena at top speed, if not impossible, because your brain just freezes up. So now the horse is in flight, the rider is in freeze, and it feels like the racing around will never end, or that there is only one way it will end—and that is with you flat on your back.

I’ve improved over the years. I’ve taken lessons at an equestrian centre famed for its cross country lessons and courses; I’ve managed Cathal with no problem. Since I started with William, I was leery of taking him out. Last week I didn’t have a choice.

Butter wouldn’t melt.

Except I always have a choice. I tacked him up and decided if I was getting nervous I would stop. I wouldn’t jump, maybe just trot or canter around. If I was in any way afraid, I would pull in and stand by the instructor.

We left the indoor after mounting; we walked across the car park to the gate; we filed into the field. We trotted as a ride and then lined up to canter one by one around the perimeter. William and I were second last. We cantered; it was grand.

We did it again; he was a little bit faster but nothing mad.

And then we started jumping.

And he went fast.

And it was FUN.

The first few times I was like whaaaaaaaaa— and the faces on my lesson mates were hilarious because speed is not my thing, and also because I was going for it, up in lightseat, beaming like a fool.

He got very hoppy towards the end but unlike the above anecdote, I could hear what my instructor was instructing me to do, and I did it. I was in control.

It was fantastic.

We had moved from the back to the front of the queue, which helped a little but not all that much. After we did a run that included tyres and a log, he kind of… kept going? And there was a big puddle? So I thought, Oh, nope, let’s not do that and I guess I sat back even more than I reckoned I was already sitting back and he pulled up and stopped.

We didn’t get one last go at the four obstacles in the middle field; I was a bit bummed by that but respected the decision. As we made our way back to the indoor to dismount, I asked, “Was there anything I could have done differently?” I was wondering, had I been winding him up? Had I used enough leg? Should I have pulled him up at any stage?

My instructor barely let me finish the sentence: I had done really well, he was listening to me, I had listened to her and did what I was told and yeah, I had done really, really well.

Will I take him out again, knowing what’s in front of me?

Watch this space…


Many Brave Fools: A Story of Addiction, Dysfunction, Codependency… and Horses is AVAILABLE NOW.

Order your copy today:
> In the US, click on over to Trafalgar Square Books’ site.
> In the UK and Europe, visit Quiller Publishing’s page.

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