I am sitting in bed writing this blog, still in my pyjamas with a hot water bottle tucked behind my back. A little incident with Patch yesterday has left my lower back feeling stiffer and more twisted than ever this morning. There’s nothing specifically wrong, nothing that will stop me getting back on again next week, it’s just the price to pay for years of riding and a few nasty falls when I was younger. My unsympathetic physio, who happens to be my son, will pummel it back into the correct position tomorrow then all will be right with the world again. But in the meantime, let me tell you about Patch, normally Saint Patch to me, and his momentary lapse of reason.
We set off from the stables, with snow banked up on the verges, a biting wind that could cut you in half and a balmy Northern temperature of minus two. Anna and A were dressed like Michelin men, with so many clothes on that they could hardly move. A was cutting a dash in her new wet-look plastic coated jodhpurs with fleece lining which she swears by as they are supposed to keep you not only warm but dry as well. They certainly are not a look that many people could pull off but she seems to manage it pretty well with her annoyingly long, thin legs. I was in my usual lightweight jacket, normal jodhpurs designed for those that are broader in the beam, and no gloves, which I later found was a mistake when my hands actually turned blue.
We set off, chattering away as we headed towards Mellor Church and our favourite ride, known locally as The Furze. Named after the long-since disappeared clumps of bright yellow gorse bushes that used to line the way, it is now a series of fields where we can have a few canters with only sheep for company. Set high above the village, it gives spectacular views of the surrounding hills and is one of those rides that makes you feel glad to be alive. I wasn’t sure how the snow situation would be but the first field looked surprisingly clear as we rode through the bridle gate.
“Shall we have a short canter?” asked Anna. Without waiting for an answer, she set off at a steady collected pace on Ginger. A followed calmly on Duffy while Patch and I were to bring up the rear. Normally such a lovely boy, he must have had the very devil in him for no sooner had we set off than he started bunny hopping and bucking like a real bronco. I pushed him on, thinking if we could get going a bit faster, he would run through his excitement but he was having none of it. After the ninth or tenth leap in the air, pretty much on the spot, with his back arched and me holding on to the neck strap like a cowboy at the Calgary Stampede, I decided enough was enough. Rodeo riding was definitely not my thing. We were not going forward, only upwards, and I didn’t fancy being propelled through the air like a rocket. I shouted to the others through the arctic wind and finally managed to get them to hear me. They turned back, questioning looks on their faces, as Patch stood normally, as if the last few moments of madness had never happened.
“I tried to look back to see what you were shouting about but my neck is so stiff it won’t turn. I thought you were just enjoying yourself,” laughed A, who was supposed to be my friend.
“I was hardly enjoying myself,” I bristled. “Patch went mad and I was in fear of my life,” I exaggerated.
Walking home, Patch was back to his usual reliable self and strode along quite happily. He didn’t even shy at the various pieces of plastic flapping on the fences as we passed, nor did he flinch when we had to pull into a driveway to make way for a huge noisy oil tanker delivering fuel to a local farm. It was as if he was trying to show that he had done nothing wrong and that I had imagined the whole incident. I might be mad, we all know that, but I’m not stupid and he did definitely turn into a wild fiend, albeit only for a few moments.
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Back at the yard, J was waiting in the tack room, with her boots off, complaining about the state of her aching feet. Stood on by different horses over the years, her toes have twisted and crossed over into a mangled heap which she struggles to get into her boots at times.
“I would show you but it would put you off your biscuit,” she offered as I dunked a custard cream into my cup of tea.
“I’d rather you didn’t,” I replied chomping away, “maybe you will have to cut a hole in the top of your boots or start wearing those two strap sandals you see in the Sunday papers for people with bunions and other lumps and bumps on their feet.”
She didn’t laugh, rubbed the top of her misshapen foot with a pained look on her face but I will definitely be checking her footwear next week. What with A’s wet-look jodhpurs, J in a fetching pair of open-topped sandals and me like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, we should certainly cause quite a stir.