Yesterday, I was thinking about position. Position is very important. It’s easy for me to get complacent because I sat on a pony practically before I could stand; of course I know about damn position. But the riding really was thirty years ago, and my poor old body almost certainly has no muscle memory left in it. Let alone much muscle. So, just now, I’m all about re-learning position.
I made the fatal mistake of getting on the interweb and typing in ‘perfect position’. Ha, ha, ha, HA, went the internet gods. We laugh at your puny plan. There were all the Brilliant People, with their perfectly schooled horses, and a position that would make angels weep. It certainly made me weep. I contemplated taking up something to do with sheep.
Then, today, the Remarkable Trainer arrived. She is very young and entirely fearless and throws out challenges like confetti. (She was the one who decided rigging up a makeshift arch with a shower curtain hanging from it was a good desensitising tool, and laughed her head off when I rode my thoroughbred mare straight under it. The curtain, I should tell you, was flapping at the time.)
‘Hmm,’ she said. ‘Position.’
I thought she was going to get me in the saddle and talk about my seat bones and squint at my back and reposition my knees.
‘I think bareback,’ she said.
So we put a pad on Red the Mare, in order that I did not slip about on her shiny back, and tied the ends of the long line to her rope halter and I scrambled on, with a lot of oofing noises (Red did not move a hair) and suddenly I was riding bareback. A little turn, some figures of eight, a lovely low trot. Bareback, which I have not done since I was about ten years old, is buckets of fun. You can feel the horse under you and you don’t have to furrow your brow and think about that damn position, because your body falls naturally into place.
‘Do a canter,’ the Remarkable Trainer suddenly shouted, filled with merriment.
‘What the fuck?’ I yelled in my head.
Out loud, I said, in a slightly wavery voice, ‘Oh, you think?’
Problem is, my dander is very light-sensitive. All it takes is one joking suggestion, and the dander is up, and who cares if I am forty-six and have no muscle memory?
I took the mare down to the bottom of the field. I breathed deeply, into my diaphragm. ‘We’re going faster, we’re going faster,’ I told her, almost singing. ‘If I bloody fall off,’ I said, ‘everyone will howl with laughter.’ Red twitched her ears at me, as if to say: the old girl is rabbiting on again.
Long walk, nice trot. The wide, Scottish field spread open before us. Lots of tempting grass under those thoroughbred feet, to remind her of her racing days, of her polo days, when she was ridden at speed in a double bridle with a martingale complicated enough to please the most dedicated Miss Whiplash. I looked down at the rope halter. I felt her good, wide back under my legs. Bugger it, I thought.
‘Canter on,’ I said.
And there, in the old set-aside, under the dancing northern sun, my ex-flat thoroughbred mare, with her chestnut coat and her three white socks, with every stereotype in the world flung at her beautiful head, rocked into the most enchanting, rolling, collected canter.
I whooped as if I were a fourteen-year-old at a One Direction concert.
Then we did it again, because we could.
I sat down into her and forgot that there was no saddle and there was no bridle and that I am creaky as hell and that the Brilliant People with their Perfect Position would be roaring with derisive merriment if they could see us now. I didn’t care about anything. It felt like we were flying. Bareback, yelled the voices in my head, suddenly delirious with joy; bugger everyone.
(Sorry. I get very sweary in moments of high emotion.)
I slid off and did a little hopping sort of jig, I was so happy. The Remarkable Trainer laughed a lot. ‘I’m so proud of her,’ I said, kissing the mare all over her dear face. She nodded her head, and wibbled her lower lip, and did her donkey ears, and came as close as an equine ever can to a smile.
I do think she was pretty proud of herself. She doesn’t give a hoot about being on the YouTube, or winning gold cups, or learning to do a flying change. But she does know when she’s done something very clever, and she does know when she has made me dance with joy, and she gets this happy, secret look on her face, as if to say: yes, yes, see what I did. If I were only slightly more flaky than I actually am, I would suspect that she likes exploding stereotypes just as much as I do.
The brilliant girl, at rest:
Goofy this is bloody good grass face:
(There may be pictures of the Great Bareback Moment later. The Remarkable Trainer took some.)
Meanwhile, Stanley the Dog is also in full fig:
And more Sheer Beauty: