After tackling the morning rush hour on the M25, I arrive at Gaddesdon Estate in Hemel Hempstead with mixed emotions — extremely excited but also a tad nervous at stepping into the unknown and having my stunt riding experience recorded on camera.
The H&H photographer Peter Nixon is already organising the equipment and having emailed him the day before to ask if we are all set for the day and his response being “I’m ready, but the question is are you!?” I feel like this is going to be entertaining.
Set within the rolling Hertfordshire countryside, Gaddesden’s courtyard stables are like something taken straight from a period drama. Relatively untouched since their creation in the 1700s and designed by the same architect as the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, they are a marvel and currently home to the Centre of Horseback Combat and Stampede Stunt Company.
The company’s owners, Zana and Karl, welcome Peter and I with a cup of tea, while their professional stuntsman, Ash arrives with a supply of biscuits — time to get fuelled up for my forthcoming three hour session.
The lesson begins on the wooden horse they’ve called Nelly, who is more substantial in size than I expect and with no mounting block in sight (well, I did spy one but it was swiftly removed to my horror) I am wondering if I am about to fail at the first hurdle.
“You want me to vault on?” is my response when Ash effortlessly leaps onto Nelly to demonstrate some of the tricks.
I am always up for a challenge and I heave myself up accompanied by some sound effects. But I am on, doesn’t matter how I got there, thank god I am on.
Zana talks through some trick movements including standing up, a drag and a lay down. The latter I find particularly hard. Similar to holding a plank but facing upward, it is like doing a sit-up but holding it for 10 times longer.
The real test is to keep your body in a straight line — legs and shoulders up — I have a tendency to bend my back so my body goes banana-like.
Once Zana is satisfied I am competent enough on Nelly — I breathe a sigh of relief — I am introduced to Teake, a beautiful seven-year-old Friesian.
I attempt to emulate the tricks I have already practiced on Nelly. Standing feels great — although the initial getting myself from seated to crouch is not so smooth — and I am eventually able to pose for the camera with an air of showman-like pride.
Following a much-needed break and feeling like my core muscles are about to explode, Zana and Karl bring out two lovely Andalucians called Niagara and Todo, whose speciality is roman riding — think Lorenzo.
Now, standing up on one horse was enough of a challenge for me but standing on two, at walk, at the same time — you are joking!
Zana demonstrates first, flying around the school like it is the norm. When it comes to my turn I get from seated to a leg on each horse with relative ease, but it is the standing up straight that leaves me a bit tense.
My second attempt at this is more successful once Karl tells me to relax and keep my body weight back. Karl and Zana then let me go solo.
Having more to concentrate on — the steering and my balance — I forget to talk to the horses, which results in Todo stopping for an impromptu rest. So while Niagara is still walking on, I am left doing the splits before loosing my balance and performing a flying dismount landing on my feet — I told you this would be entertaining…
Don’t miss the full article about trying stunt riding for the first time in the 1 January 2015 issue of Horse & Hound magazine