The thing is... I’ve always been totally rubbish at anything even vaguely “sporty”. The simplest things my pals in primary school could do (skipping rope/running/jumping) were challenges I tried – and failed – to master. Annual sport events were a tragedy, with last place in the egg-and-spoon race the best I could offer, and even then minus the damn egg. Oh the will was there, certainly – but the legs just refused to pay attention and sluggishly did their own thing.
My sister was equally blessed, although I do recall her winning a sprint once – only problem was she’d started too soon so it didn’t count. She also failed to notice that she was the only one charging down the grass towards the ribbon. Which made it just a little sad, so my mother and I cheered ourselves hoarse when she triumphantly passed the finish line. Because that’s what you do for your loved ones.
By the time I’d passed the big old age of 27, I realised I needed to master something – anything – sporty. Just to show ‘the world’ that I was more than a shopaholic in high heels and could achieve perfect balance in something other than holding up a bar. Which led to many discussions with hubby-to-be. Because not only was I ready to launch myself into some new, physically challenging caper, I wanted him to do it with me. (I’d read somewhere it was good for couples to do things like that). Problem was, we couldn’t agree on what the something would be.
Weeks it took to make a decision, with neither of us liking any of the standard activities like tennis/squash etc. Eventually we settled on horse riding. I liked the sound of it. I even quite liked horses (in films anyway). I also liked the mental image of me galloping over the hills on a beautiful horse, my hair tossed by the wind… He was already very good at it, so I figured I could lean on him for manly support, and sob into his shoulder if it came to it. A win-win, you might say.
We chose a riding school that had a special program for beginners. This reassured me. Beginners wouldn’t have to ‘ride’ the damn horse, at least not for weeks – right? Wrong. Our first lesson consisted out of a grooming session (which I spent tentatively fingering the pretty horse’s shiny locks from as far back as I could, the brush I’d been given hanging loosely in my other hand) followed by a half hour in the indoor ring.
All very well except no one had let the horse in on the secret. Chomping quietly in his stall, he happily ignored my whispered efforts to guide him forwards, swishing his head at me every so often to remind me he was boss. After ten minutes hubby came to get him. The trainer looked at me witheringly, “you’re supposed to walk the horse yourself!” she barked. I smiled at her to show my good will, my stomach twitching with fear. It didn’t seem to help.
By the time I’d hoiked myself into the saddle, my new boots gleaming in the lights, the ground looked terrifyingly far away. Mustering all my courage I soldiered on, after all, this stuff was good for couples – right??! Minutes later, my bottom aching from repeated, off-beat collisions with the saddle as I tried (and failed) to do a proper ‘trot’, a horrid buzzing had begun in my left ear. I’d had enough. “I want to get off!!” I screeched, “No! You must try harder” the trainer yelled back.
“I have a fly in my ear!!” I shouted, as the horse began to dance in circles, my left leg now dangling loose from the stirrup, “let me off!!”.
“No!” she again yelled back (the biddy).
Glancing up into the observation room as we thundered by, I spotted my sister-in-law howling with laughter. An accomplished horsewoman herself, I guess it had been quite some time since she’d seen anyone cavort around the ring that way. We’ve laughed about it many times since. Later that evening my hero held his head in his hands, trying to figure out how a simple riding lesson had gone quite so amok. It wouldn’t surprise him now though, he’s too used to my ways.
But I guess ‘they’ were right after all – it did us some good anyway, ‘cos we can still giggle about it now.
I do still have the boots and yes, they’re still shiny.