My friend ‘M’ has invited me to ride with her today and she’s waiting as I pull in to her yard just before 7am. She doesn’t come out with us on our weekly ride at the stables as she has her own horses, but she’s knackered like the rest of us. Dodgy thyroid, terrible memory among other stuff.
“I thought you weren’t coming,” she smiles.
“It’s not 7am yet,” I reply.
“Yes but you’re usually earlier?”
“I know, sorry, bit of a bad night.”
It’s definitely an age thing, but I had seen literally every hour go by last night. I had spent the wee small hours looking at the clock, reading, making cups of tea and even counting backwards. Nothing had seemed to work until finally around 5am I must have finally fallen asleep and then annoyingly it seemed like only a few minutes before I was rudely woken by the shrill beeping of my alarm clock.
I feel like death. I have not managed any breakfast, just another cup of tea, and have completely forgotten to have a wash or clean my teeth. My good coat is still in the wash so I have my dog-walking fleece on which has definitely seen better days and a pair of checked jodhpurs which make me look like an over-aged, overweight Rupert the Bear. Oh well, at least no one will see me at this ungodly hour.
Let me tell you a bit about M. She’s a lovely woman — no surprise there as I took a decision a few years ago to only mix with nice people. I would like to say she is galloping towards 60, but she takes life a bit more slowly than that, so she’s probably heading there at a fast trot. She’s funny, educated and obsessed by politics so our rides are dominated by debates and discussions on what’s going on in the world. She has three horses of her own, one retired and the other two still rideable but she will only go out at the crack of dawn. Anything later than 7am on a Sunday morning brings her out in a cold sweat as the thought of traffic is just too much to bear.
She slides off the mounting block on to her gorgeous black Welsh section D Wizard, a proper slim jim with an edgy attitude to boot. They look smart together, as if they are going to do some serious competition or endurance feat.
In complete contrast, my mount Dougal is a Highland pony, as wide as he is tall, with a long mane flopping over his face. He shambles over to the block, tripping over his own feet, and stands perfectly still. I stretch my leg across and adjust my stirrups. He is without doubt the widest pony I’ve ever ridden so I hope it doesn’t make my back any worse. At just over 14 hands he’s definitely too short for me but when I see myself in shop windows, a habit started in childhood, I don’t look too bad as his enormous width takes up my long legs. Today, M has made an attempt at grooming him but he lives out so is coated in a deep layer of grime. It’s been a long winter and without a rug, his grey coat looks dirty.
We set off along the road. There’s no traffic and we trot to speed things up but instead of turning into the park as usual, we carry on up the hill.
“Where are we going?” I call.
“We’re meeting ‘F’ at the old railway. Didn’t I tell you?”
We don’t normally ride with F as we are nearly 60 and she’s in her 20s but at least it will cheer the horses up to have some new company.
She’s waiting on the car park, looking amazing with a thick swingy blonde ponytail, full make up, gleaming white teeth, dressed from head to toe in bright pink high vis. Her pony Guinness is dancing with excitement, in his matching pink exercise sheet, and they are attracting admiring glances from everyone passing by. I look down at my own clothes and wish I had got up earlier.
F takes the lead along the track with a fast active walk and we follow like the Ugly Sisters behind Cinderella. On a deserted stretch of path, she moves effortlessly into trot and then collected canter. Wizard follows with ease. Dougal is loving it too. He’s never been this enthusiastic before and flops into an ungainly run. The fields whizz past but he refuses to slow down. Puffing and blowing, I start to worry for him, but there’s no way he’s stopping. He’s got the bit between his teeth and we move into a gallop. There’s no way he’s giving up so I just sit tight and hope for the best. He’s a clumsy boy and thoughts of him tripping flow through my mind but I banish them and watch the landscape flashing by.
Suddenly he throws a little buck in excitement and I sit deep and laugh. This is the best ride we’ve had in years and all without any effort on my part. Normally to get even a few strides of canter requires more effort than it’s worth but this is pure magic.
Eventually we leave the track and slow to a walk. His flanks are heaving beneath me, the adrenaline has gone and he feels tired. We take the short way home, saying goodbye to F at the entrance to her yard. She doesn’t realise what she has done for us and how much she has saved my poor old legs.
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“Same time next week?” I call hopefully. F smiles her gleaming smile but her answer is drowned out by the beating of Guinness’ hooves as she trots smartly away.
“That was fantastic wasn’t it?” M says.
“Do you think she will meet us again?” I ask.
“No chance. Have you seen the state of us? We are probably an embarrassment,” she laughs.
That’s true. She’s far too smart for us but next week I’m going to set the alarm an hour earlier. I really need to make more effort with my appearance.