Looking back, one of the most disastrous dates we’ve ever had was our first-time horse riding together. We hadn’t been going out long, when He invited me to go hacking on a couple of His ponies. As you can imagine, I was thrilled, and secretly quite curious to see if He was the horseman that he claimed to be. I was also determined to strut my stuff and show that I could actually ride…
It was the summer, and He had two ponies of His own that he used for hacking and polo. Setting off, He was keen to show me his favourite routes that He had done as a child.
Trotting up the lane, we turned off and headed uphill on a track. The ponies were very keen and happy to be out, but behaving beautifully, and I was relaxed and enjoying myself. That soon changed.
Before I knew it, the going became softer and we were in a dark and twisty wood, with lots of low-lying branches. He turned to me, and simply said “Shall we get going, then?”
With that, He kicked off into the wood at a tearing pace. My bay mount was keen to follow, and we were soon thundering after Him. However, the track was completely overgrown, and had practically hairpin bends. I tried to take a check going into the first tight corner, and swiftly learnt two important things…
The first is that when a pony is usually ridden in a gag bit, they can easily ignore someone half-halting them in a mere snaffle, and, that polo ponies are extremely agile so have no qualms about galloping into a corner, screeching to a standstill and then charging off in the opposite direction.
I, however, did mind this, even if my mount didn’t! The white-knuckle ride seemed to last for hours, as I sat quietly and prayed I didn’t do anything embarrassing, like fall off (or worse!). I was also worried that He had gone off me, and was using this as an alternative to dumping me…
Somehow, we caught up with Him, the ponies blowing. Breathing a sigh of relief, I relaxed slightly. I had (barely) survived the woods, and was relieved to be out in a huge clearing that stretched out for miles in front of us. However, my comfort was not to last long.
“We’ll have a canter along here, just be careful tha-”
I didn’t catch the end of His sentence, because the bay suddenly shot off like a rocket. It only took a couple of hard pulls to realise I had no brakes at all, as the pony continued to fly down the grass.
I decided to accept I was just a passenger, and felt exhilarated as it ate up the turf as he continued to fly. My joy swiftly tuned to panic though as the end of the turf loomed.
I realised that He was warning me to be careful of the substantial drop at the end of the opening. As we careered towards it, I, for the second time in an hour, was wondering if I was going to survive this hack in one piece. With all the finesse of a well-trained polo pony, the bay promptly skidded to a halt just before the drop, where he and I were both trying to catch our breath as we looked out onto the most spectacular view.
He eventually caught up, lolloping towards us at an easy canter before pulling up next to me, and sheepishly admitting that He should have “warned me that this was the ponies’ favourite canter spot”, and “they get quite into it”. Hmmm…
After that, I had to be cajoled to go out hacking with Him again, but when I did the next day it was fun but more civilised. In fact, despite going on many fast rides over the years, He’s never ridden like a man possessed, as He did on this first ride. I recently asked Him why he tried to kill me on that ride:
“Oh, I know you liked riding… I guess I was showing off because I didn’t want you to be bored!”