Long-suffering horse husband Garry Ashton-Coulton pens a warning to any gentlemen considering taking to the saddle, as an occasional ride can easily result in an expensive habit that won't go away

Gentlemen, the very fact you are reading this tells me that you have ignored my previous advice. Very soon, if not already, through curiosity or cajolement you will find yourself sitting in the saddle. I am pausing here to let the full horror of your decision manifest itself…

It will start out as a bit of fun, (how many times have we heard that throughout history?), but soon it will be an itch that no amount of scratching will relieve. It doesn’t matter how many school horses you ride. Sooner or later it’s never enough. You’ve tried it and you like it. After all it’s only one lesson a week isn’t it?

But all too soon it’s two lessons, then three, and then you’ve developed an expensive habit. A habit that needs constant feeding. You are calling your instructor, even hanging around the stable yard gates begging for your next saddle-born high. Your palms sweat, your head throbs, even your teeth begin to itch.

It was just an innocent buzz at first, but almost without realising you move onto stronger things: a weekend riding hairy cobs in the Cairngorms, a week in Spain, a fortnight at a ranch in Wyoming. Sure it satisfies you at the time, but it doesn’t last. You sit back down at your desk (assuming your battered coccyx will allow), and the high is gone. It’s just another dent in the wallet, another (not so) cheap fix.

A small slightly manic voice begins to chatter in your head. ‘What if I were to have my own horse?’ I would urge you gentlemen to silence that voice, it is the voice of the devil.

Finding the right equine partner

It is not for nothing that ‘horse trading’ sits in the dictionary as a pejorative. I will try to explain. You know that feeling of impotent panic that rises from your stomach as you sit in Russell and Bromleys watching her try on the 8th pair of high heals as she asks: “do these make my ankles look fat?”

Yes? Well that is what trying to find the right horse feels like, only worse.

Forget breeds like warmbloods, thoroughbreds, trakehners, quarter horses, lusitanos, Andalusians, Tennessee walking horses, Albanian knitting ponies, etc. When you stand by the warm up ring at any show, have you noticed how many horses are named ‘You b*****d’?!

The secret is to find an animal whose natural propensities equate to your personal preference. Few novice riders want a horse whose flight mechanism is triggered by a particularly dangerous looking Waitrose bag, but conversely it isn’t really good for moral to have a horse who needs a plate full of wasabi up his backside to get him to walk.

Very soon after your mental aberration, *cough* sorry, your carefully consider decision to purchase your own money pit, *cough* horse, the area around your telephone will develop the décor of a serial killer’s basement, festooned with cuttings. These will include items from Horse & Hound‘s classified section (or any other publication that lists an animal larger than a Jack Russell), post it notes, hastily scribbled messages, and list upon list of breeders and dealers.

But be warned, you will need to scan those ads carefully; they are a doorway into a world of optimism and creative writing. Never entertain something that ‘shows potential’ as you must ask yourself potential for what… hospitalisation perhaps? And any animal is described as ‘stunning’ could be code for ‘my god is that really a horse?’ Likewise ‘needs an experienced rider to bring on’ and ‘not a novice ride’ could be shorthand for mad, psychotic or otherwise violently disturbed, so best avoid them like the plague.

At the other end of the scale ‘calm confidence giver’ denotes an animal that needs a rocket attached to engender any forward motion, while ‘reluctant sale’ can be roughly translated as ultimatum from spouse. My personal favorites include ‘hacks out alone’ which I understand to mean it escapes, while ‘hacks out in company’ means it escapes and lets out it’s stable mates too.

All I can say to you once you’ve reached this point is good luck and hold on tight for a bumpy ride.

  • Mark Middlemist

    It’s funny because it’s true. I think the photo says it all (her name’s Kasie, bought just over a year ago 🙂 )