One day, after being dragged along to watch me in yet another flat work lesson, He impulsively expressed some interest in having a go at dressage himself. (Evidently He had witnessed one too many of my specialities; the wonky 20 metre ‘egg’ at C, and felt compelled to see if he could do better — which wouldn’t be a hard task at all…)
He had been a classic boy in Pony Club, putting up with dressage rallies for only so long before switching to an equestrian discipline that, in his words, required “less fuss and more speed”. Tetrathlons and polo matches soon meant that lateral work and three-loop serpentines became a distant memory.
So when the opportunity came up to do a course of weekly group dressage lessons at a different yard, I reminded him of his off-hand remark. Expecting to be met with protest, I was in fact rather surprised to find that He was as keen as ever to get back into the flat work groove. Fantastic, I thought, all those hours spent in the arena will really pay off! I can wow him with my dressage skills that I had diligently (albeit rather fruitlessly) spent years trying to master. And, even better, He can finally see that dressage is much harder than it looks (and how deceptively easy it is for a ‘circle’ to acquire a corner or two).
The day came to head to the yard. The beauty of the course was that the horses were provided for you. On the way there, I thought what a wonderful ‘date night’ this could turn out to be, and how special and romantic it was that we could share this together. How wrong I was!
At the yard, we met the other riders on the course, where it dawned on me — just as He had been one of the only boys in Pony Club, He was now the only boy at dressage club. In my Pony Club days the girls were too shy to speak to the boy. Decades later, I soon learnt that this changes and the ‘girls’ are only too happy to speak to the tall, approachable guy who shares their passion for horses. He was quickly acquainted with to the group of ladies, who were rather less interested in me!
Rather than getting green with envy, I told myself that I’d just have to ride extra well to make Him proud that he was with me (and not with one of the slowly growing flock that surrounded him!).
We were allocated horses, and the lesson began. One lady’s mount was proving a bit much for her, so when the instructor asked if I’d be happy to swap onto that horse I valiantly agreed. He was known to be a bit tricky, especially around other horses, but I thought nothing more of it as the six of us warmed up in the school so that the instructor could later sub-divide us into smaller groups. My mount was settling nicely, and I looked over to see that despite it being his first lesson in decades, He actually had his horse going rather well — surely it was beginner’s luck?
Suddenly, one of the other riders cantered straight into our back end, and my horse leapt athletically into the air, bronking and twisting as he went. One, two, three, four bronks in and I could feel my grip loosening, and despite my best efforts he had no intention of stopping.
I don’t know what was more mortifying — my face as I flew off, or the fact I felt compelled to yell: “I’m go-iiiinnnnng”, as I catapulted over the horse’s head and into the sand. To make matters worse, the now-freed beast decided to gallop around, taking a lap of honour for his gymnastic skill, bucking and rushing the other horses. It was also determined to run-over any two-legged helpers who tried to catch him, meaning the lesson had to stop for five minutes as a small army of people descended into the arena. Eventually, with my pride and body rather battered, I remounted another horse and finished the lesson. So much for wowing Him with my riding!
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Later, with the lesson finished and the horses un-tacked, I limped across the yard to find Him so we could go home. He was obliviously chatting to one of the ladies who was ‘quite keen’ on him and asking him what his plans were that evening. It soon transpired that we had in fact come together, and He was describing which one I was to the overly-interested lady.
“Oh”, she exclaimed in shock, “you mean your girlfriend is the falling-off girl!?”
The falling-off girl? I tried to strut my stuff and instead ended up with that title? Great…
On the way home, He happily explained how much he enjoyed the lesson, how friendly everyone had been, and that the instructor had told him he had a “natural flair” for flat work. I smiled sweetly, musing how in the hundreds of lessons I had taken over the years, “natural” and “flair” had never, ever been used. With our riding He always had the bravery, and I comforted myself that I had the technical skill, which sadly now appeared not to be the case. How unfair!