This year, after accidents have kept me grounded for the best part of 9 months, I’ve travelled the internet like a tourist desperate to use up air miles. I’ve discovered sites so many and various, I’ve completely redefined my understanding of the word “weird”. But then – young people! I know very few and I’ll leave most of that futuristic stuff to them ….
Before you bridle at the direction this post could be taking, please stay on the bit. If you’ve tuned in to this post it’s unlikely you’re under forty. Or a man. Or if you are a man, maybe you’re middle-aged too. In which case, you’re very welcome, but be prepared to be referred to in the feminine gender.
Like so many kids, I started to ride around 7. My parents weren’t particularly well-off, but I was an only, so they let me try out a lot of stuff they would have liked to do, vicariously. (Or maybe it was the only way to get time on their own!) Bearing in mind the limits of the sixties, I tried and liked ballet and piano, but I must have nagged and nagged until I got to have riding lessons. In an earlier post I’ve described the incomparable Miss Whittam who was my earliest instructress. She of the silk blouse with the mis-matched buttons, elephant-ear jodhpurs and “Do Not Touch The Dog’s Ears” painted in foot high letters on the barn wall. (In certain corners of the horsy world I think her spiritual heiresses still operate!)
Scroll down the years, through attending a wonderful riding school “up north”, started by a sixteen year old instructor, where I had lots of pre-teen friends. Then a move to London, a loss of friends and riding family, teenage loneliness and the eventual capitulation of the parents who allowed me £100 to buy a pony, as long as, at 13, I got weekend jobs to pay for its upkeep myself. Cinema usherette, mushroom picker, button sorter; I did many interesting things and even got to see a few adult rated movies, but bay, Welsh, Godolphin Juniper got to be my teenage accomplice, with many an embarrassing gymkhana appearance to our discredit.
Studies, relationships and work occupied most of my twenties. But after a move to France at 31 and having the outrageous good fortune to find a house with land to restore, I couldn’t wait to get back to having horses in my life. I had a wonderful time with my marvellous Aly, though we were restricted to our own company, being miles from anywhere and having no access to transport. The Pie arrived to carry my husband in our wake. (He will happily admit to being more of a horse-lover than a horse-rider.)
But then Aly got wheezier and the Pie got stiffer and we retired the pair of them about 7 years ago. From their work, that is. Looking after them got more complicated if anything. So it didn’t mean we were suddenly free to have weekends away on a whim or take up hangliding or some other kick to adrenalin production. I got seriously into gardening. Well what else can you do if you’re worried about leaving a colic-prone horse, have plentiful supplies of manure and the wild boar turn over bits of your lawn so you may as well make flower beds? Yes, I love my garden, but …..
A neighbour called Patrick, from over the valley called. He’d broken in his young Quarter Horse, but would I be interested in exercising his Lusitanian? Like the call of the siren, I was unable to resist. And then Athos wasn’t enough, but I had been bitten by the Iberian bug and Spanish Pom entered my life, through an internet ad.
So, this is how I became aware of all the “less youthful” women who crowd the net with their horse queries, forums, websites, blogs; raising horses, training, riding, trekking, competing; so many of us not wanting to quit, intent on taking up the reins again and keeping hold, when people think we should be concentrating on taking our HRT or even babysitting grandchildren.
Ladies, and some gents, I know you’re out there, because your voices are all over the web and I find you fascinating, informative and inspirational. At our age we tend to be aspirational rather than competitive. A shoulder-in well executed is as much a cause for joy as a promotion at work might have been. A nuzzle from the beloved (horse) is – well, I won’t spell it out for fear of angering the spouses – wonderfully gratifying.
We tend to have an obsessional need to be well-informed, to do our best for (our) horses and the horse community in general and often we have a wealth of life (even if not always horse) experience behind us. Jodhpurs may not always flatter us, nor hard hats; we don’t care. Husbands may kvetch (not mine, to be fair), non-horsy friends may tut and wag their fingers – particularly if, like me, you have an accident or two. Why don’t I get rid of the pesky animals? Why do I put up with the muck, the dust and hay in my hair?
If you’re reading this and, even if you’re young enough not to be braving creaky knees and brittle bones, you can’t contemplate a life without horses, then you’ll know the answer.
I’d love to hear your version…..