Jodhpurs are not my first choice of get-up for a Sunday morning on the underground. But the drunk/asleep revellers making their way home from the night before were in no place to judge.
It was a different story four hours later, post-horseball initiation, nestling my way among the Christmas shoppers, with hat hair plus a flushed face and hands that looked like they’d been digging without gloves.
Founder of the North London Horseball Club, Jim Copeland‘s base at Arkley Lane Stables, is a short drive from High Barnet tube station — and within minutes you’ve forgotton you’re anywhere near London and the tube is a distant memory.
The yard is under renovation, but already in place is a full-size horseball pitch. As I arrive, members of the club who’ve kindly turned out on a Sunday morning to give me a taste for the game are warming up. And suddenly it dawns on me that it is not just Jim that will be witnessing what is sure to be some mild humiliation — but also two teams of players.
Jim hooks me up with 18-year-old Mister Motivator — bred by Jim and an old-hand at the game, I’m assured I’m in safe hands.
We start off with some casual throwing to warm-up, at walk, trot and then canter. This is OK, I think to myself. Throwing and catching — especially when there’s a leather harness on the ball — is doable.
But then comes the bombshell. Picking-up. There’s getting down there — again, feasible. Then there’s trying to get a grip on the ball at a canter — imagine reaching full stretch for the final jar of chutney at the back of the supermarket shelf, at speed.
And just when you’re at breaking point, there’s the soul-destroying moment when you have to heave your body back into the saddle as your mount heads off at speed in quest of the goal.
But it is not long before the mild humiliation passes, and I am concentrating so hard on defending, chasing the ball, mastering penalty protocol, knowing when you’re allowed to attempt a shot (after the ball has passed through the hands of at least three team members consecutively), and how long you can hold the ball for (10sec) that when the final whistle blows, that whale-like sensation of getting back in the saddle is a distant memory. Instead, I’m basking in the glory of scoring a goal.
Unattractive thigh bruises aside, this game is addictive. If you have called time on your days of team sports — think again.
You need one horse, one ball and the only piece of specialist kit is a “pick-up strap”, which connects the stirrups together and allows you to stretch down to the floor without hitting the deck.
My lesson was proof that the horses used are a diverse bunch — Jim points out that many of them are ex-racehorses, with the Retraining of Racehorses (RoR) working closely with the sport.
The team spirit quickly reminds you why you signed up to all those wet afternoons of games at school. And if nothing else, scoring from horseback is the ultimate ego boost.
Don’t miss the full article about trying horseball for the first time in the 1 January issue of Horse & Hound magazine