When introducing a new beau to your friends, there is a lot to worry about. Will they like him? Will he survive meeting them for the first time? And, most importantly, will he get that all important friends’ approval?
As He was my first horsey-boyf, I soon found out that alongside all of these worries, there was a whole new matter to consider. Horsey-pals seemed to care very little if He was funny, smart or sophisticated. No, the first thing they wanted to know was can he ACTUALLY ride, and if so, how well?
Most, if not all of us, have met people who have fibbed about their horse riding abilities (we might’ve even done it ourselves…). I can recall the sinking feeling when I took a school friend out hacking and realised that “I can canter” actually meant “I can just about cling on as a complete passenger to this half-tonne beast, who is now having a wonderful time because he’s just realised he’s in charge”. For some reason, many friends of mine assumed He was one of these fibbers. On every occasion it happened, I’d argue this really wasn’t the case.
“He’s been riding since he was a child. He’s probably better than me,” I’d insist.
“Oh,” they’d say with interest. “What does he do usually? Maybe we could all go out riding together some time?”
“Ah, well at the moment he mainly does polo, but…”
The mention of polo would be the final nail in the coffin. The friend would smile politely, and the offer for Him to ride their horses would subtly melt away, never to be mentioned again.
This all changed one Christmas, when we were staying at my parents’ house. Having never had horses, I had often relied on the kindness of many friends (and their families), who would get me out riding as much as possible. One such friend rang to tell me that I must come out hacking with her while I was back.
“Thanks so much for the offer,” I replied. “But He’s down for the week too so I probably shouldn’t ditch him.”
Not a problem, the friend said, he could take one of their horses and come too, as it was about time she met him.
I paled after putting down the phone. I had been truthful — He was a great rider — but the friend had a stable full of wonderfully talented show horses. I didn’t want to risk almost a decade-and-a-half’s worth of friendship if He managed to cause a disaster. Images of cut tendons, accidents with gates, or legs getting twisted down holes flooded my mind, not to mention the thought of this all happening while He was getting a grilling from one of my best friends!
Nevertheless, the day came and we went to friend’s house. The hack was going well and had been fantastically uneventful (and He had gained brownie points for being able to groom, tack up AND load the ponies with ease). Even better, the friend and Him were riding along, reins loose to the buckle, nattering away and getting on like a house on fire.
Just when I was starting to relax, His ride (a very talented showing prospect) did a hop, skip and jump, before launching into a cavalry charge along the track (the friend later explained that when doing our route backwards, this section was the usual canter spot and the mare had obviously clocked this!). He had been caught completely by surprise and had done well to sit to the horse’s leaps, but with such loose reins the pair were rapidly disappearing off into the distance.
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Mortified, I kicked on after them, the friend also in hot pursuit. As we galloped round the corner, I was dreading the inevitable carnage that would be waiting for us. Only then to find Him as cool as a cucumber, calmly stroking and coo-ing the mare, who was quietly standing waiting for us.
“Well,” the friend beamed, “you weren’t lying — He can actually ride! I thought He wouldn’t be able to stop her so easily; she took us all surprise and can be tricky when she wants to be.”
Truthfully, I thought that the friend was just being kind, but subsequent invitations to not only go riding again, but join in with dinner parties too, meant that He had definitely gained the friend’s approval!