It was years ago, soon after we moved to the West Country and just after I had had my first child, that I decided to take up riding again after a long gap. I had never been fortunate enough to own my own pony, but I had begged, borrowed and stolen rides throughout my childhood and had lessons whenever I could afford them. I suppose because my opportunities to ride were always limited, I was brave to the point of foolhardy. I would get on board absolutely anything. I had eventually given up when boys and schoolwork started to take over but had missed it terribly, so it was great to pick it up again.
At the time, there were stables in the village that hired out hunters. They could be hacked out on certain non-hunting days, so along with a group of like-minded new mums, I started to ride out once a week. The stables, thinking we seemed vaguely competent, let us go out on our own on their lovely, sane cob collection, and we had a wonderful time pottering around the local hills.
Becoming mums had had quite an effect on all of us; even those of us who had been daredevils in our youth were now very risk averse, so our slow and steady outings suited us perfectly.
There was one horse on the yard called Nobby. Now Nobby had quite a reputation for being a handful — strong and sharp — and was generally regarded with a mixture of awe and suspicion. But he didn’t interest us much. After all, we had our nice, quiet, regular horses. Until one week, when a friend rang the stables to book us all in.
“Tuesday?” said the owner in a casual tone. “Yes that’s fine. The only thing is, I have already taken a booking from somebody new. I don’t think they are very experienced, so I’ve put them on one of your usual rides. It just means that one of you will have to ride Nobby.”
When we next got together, the friend broke this terrible news. One of us needed to step up to ride Nobby. We all looked down at our feet and fidgeted a bit. Our maternal instincts kicked in. Our babies needed us — preferably in one piece. Then the excuses started.
“Well of course, any other time it would be no problem, but this week my back’s been really painful.”
“I would love to normally, but I’ve hurt my hand”.
And so on, around the group, each excuse more colourful than the last. So our friend went back to the stables and was polite but firm. She stood her ground. It was out of the question that any of us would Ride Nobby. The owner, perhaps recognising he was dealing with a phalanx of Pony Club mothers in the making, accepted defeat. And the poor inexperienced punter must have been put on Nobby. We didn’t ask how he or she had got on — in this case, ignorance was bliss. But there was nothing about an accident in the local paper, so I’m guessing they survived.
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I did reflect that back on the day — I would have elbowed my way to the front of the queue to get on a horse like Nobby, but there’s nothing like motherhood to shake up your priorities. These days, watching my daughters do all the mad stuff is as much excitement as I can take.
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