What Did Horses Ever Do for Us?
Good Day: Bad Day. Why horses are the great levellers.
Site Administrator Warning
This anecdote is about horses. Getting involved with these animals can seriously damage your health wealth. Both, actually.
Everyone with even the slightest involvement with horses has a story to tell.
I have loads of them, courtesy of nearly forty years ownership. And because horses are 90% frustration and only 10% elation, a great many are sad.
But sometimes, very occasionally, everything comes together. Those times can be magical.
My personal favourite story isn’t like that. Nearly, but not quite, because…well, horses are horses. So it’s fairly typical. And if you’re a rider, I bet you’ve been there too.
I’d taken two horses to compete at a Riding Club One-Day-Event. For the uninitiated that’s dressage, showjumping and cross-country -Badminton Horse Trials, if you like, but on a MUCH smaller scale.
As well as my then elderly first horse, Sundance, I had a very nice sixteen-hand dark bay mare on loan. My old fellow had got to the stage where jumping in a single class per day was plenty for him: having the younger mare to compete as well made travelling to a show worthwhile.
The old horse did his usual obedient dressage test. By then in his mid-twenties, apart from the fact he’d always considered dressage the boring bit before the jumping, he tended to move a little stiffly which affected his score. He ended up midway down the list in his class; pretty good, considering.
But the mare was a revelation. She led her class after her test, a position I’d never found myself in before. So to say I was chuffed would be a massive understatement.
While I tacked the mare up for the cross-country, in the back of my mind was a warning from her owner – that she was ‘sticky’ over fixed fences. I’d already found she showjumped fine, so how difficult could she be?I thought I’d just take her round steadily; give her plenty of time to have a look at each fence as she approached it. No problem.
Just goes to show how wrong you can be.
Three fences from home was a Coffin. That’s a jump, one horse-stride, then a ditch, another horse-stride, then another jump. Not easy at the best of times.
Problem was, I’d used my legs so much to get the mare that far – kick, kick, kick, all the way round – I had no grip left. None at all.
You can probably guess what happened. She jumped the first fence, spotted the ditch and came to a stop. I mean a sudden stop, like hitting a brick wall. Yours truly shot straight over her head and into the ditch. Good job it wasn’t deep. Or filled with water.
I got straight up, of course, as one does. Luckily, someone had caught the mare because in-flight I’d managed to scrape off her bridle. Which now hung between her front legs like so much leather spaghetti.
For some reason my left hand had decided not to work very well. If you’ve ever tried unbuckling a tight grakle noseband to re-bridle a horse, one-handed, wearing gloves, you’ll understand my predicament. Slightly wobbly legs don’t help much, either.
What was worse, while I was fiddling about a spectator came over to help. To be fair, he did first ask me if I was okay. But then he added, ‘I’m sorry, but I can only give you six out of ten for artistic impression.’
There are times when you really itch to give another human being a good slap.
By now, two fingers on my hand had gone completely numb. This was something of a problem as I still had the old horse to ride around the
course. And across country he had just one speed – flat out. Not exactly ideal if the steering’s a bit dodgy.
But since I’d paid my entry fee, I wasn’t going to waste it!
So in the end it turned out a pretty typical horse-day: good and bad.
My old horse pulled up, from fifteenth after the dressage, to third place with two clear jumping rounds.
The mare never ever jumped clear across country, unless she was following another horse. For some unaccountable reason she just didn’t enjoy it.
And one of my fingers turned out to be broken. Cold weather always reminds me of this story because the damned digit aches like mad.
See? Good times and bad – and all in one day.
That’s what horses’ll do for you.