Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Challenge #6: Sarah vs. Horse Riding

"Ha, you're going to be walking like John Wayne..." That was my mate Sam's opening comment as I arrived at her house ready to take on my next challenge. A far cry from the comforting words I was in need of at the time.

I hadn't really thought about that, I explained, to be honest, I was more concerned about ending up like Christopher Reeve. "Isn't he dead?" Asked Sam. Yes, but I don't want to end up paralysed or dead if I can help it.

After getting my stylish horse riding gear on - joggers and leopard print wellies, oh yes - we set off to meet my horse. As we arrived at Long Lane Riding School, near Kegworth, there was a woman just finishing her lesson - it's important to add here that she was riding what we'll call a normal-sized horse, you'll see why shortly - and making it look easy.

I spoke to her briefly while waiting for my instructor, Ruth, to fetch my horse from the stables, she explained that she'd only just got back in the saddle after falling off about 10 years ago and being too afraid to get back on. It wasn't exactly the kind of conversation I wanted to have just minutes before getting on a horse for the first time.

Having located the smallest helmet in the place (is it called a helmet in the horse world?? I have a feeling it is not) to protect my tiny, child-sized head, we were ready to start.

Ruth came walking up from the stables leading the beautiful Millie, who looked cute as a button, but also tiny in comparison to horse-riding-lady-who-made-it-look-so-easy. She's not a Shetland pony, but size-wise, she wasn't that far off.

Sam said it was ok because my small stature (I believe the term 'child-lady' may have come up here), I would look in proportion with the horse and no-one would be able to tell. Genius.

 My lovely horse: Millie and me

When preparing myself mentally for this challenge, I had imagined sitting on the horse and being led around a little bit. In my naivety, I didn't think one horse riding lesson would involve me doing much work. I hadn't accounted for Ruth though, who i the best type of instructor there is and doesn't accept an 'I can't' or 'I won't', only an 'I'll try'.

I'd clocked there was no mounting block to help me get on the horse, so when I realised I was going to have to launch myself with one leg onto Millie's back I thought there was no way my short, child-lady pins would be of any use. In one smooth move, however, I threw myself in the air, swung my leg over and was on the horse on my first attempt. I felt so triumphant I was tempted to call the whole lesson off so I could go and celebrate my success with a gin. A bit premature perhaps.

Millie may not be the world's tallest horse, but she was certainly tall enough for me. Knowing it was just my legs keeping me on made me feel quite vulnerable, but once I'd settled in and got used to it, it wasn't so bad - until she started moving. 

 Leopard print wellies are a must when horse riding

For the first five minutes I was convinced I was going to plunge to my death at any second and every time Ruth told me to give Millie a little kick to get her moving, I thought she was going to raise her front legs, whinny and gallop off with me on her back. She didn't, just in case you were getting worried there.

But once I got into it, horse riding was good fun. Millie walked, I pulled the reins to tell her where to go and we did a few laps. Then Ruth taught me how to halt, so we had a go at that. She also told me off for my bad posture, because horses can tell these things. 

We walked in straight lines and circles, and we got on quite well, Millie and I. There were, however, a couple of incidents that almost made us fall out. See, horses are smart and Millie could tell I was a newbie, so now and again, just to let me know who was boss, she would pull her head really far forward, pulling me forward with her and making me shit my pants slightly. "She's having you on," Ruth said, "Give her a kick and show her who's boss." So I did, but we all knew who was really in charge.

Once I got the feel for walking and had realised that I wasn't about to dive head first off the horse, Ruth decided it was time for me to up my game with a trot. Oh God, I thought, this doesn't sound good at all.

As instructed by Ruth, I stood up with my feet in the stirrups, and she told me that this is what I would need to do as Millie upped her pace. I wasn't sure I wanted to try trotting at all, but at Ruth's insistence I gave it a try and hung on to Millie's mane to steady myself. What I really wanted to do was cling on to her neck and weep, but according to Ruth, this isn't the best tactic.

On the first go I struggled with trying to stand, while Millie was trotting, resulting in a major pain in the arse, but on the second go I got the rhythm much better and was delighted that I actually did it! "Do you want to try it again?" Asked Ruth. No, I think that would be pushing my luck, just the one trot will do thank you.

As we reached the end of our half hour session, it was time to dismount. Millie may not be the tallest horse in the world, but having to take a leap of faith and jump down from the saddle was a bold move and it took me a few seconds to work up the courage to do it. But I did. And I survived. Another challenge done and another challenge won. Go me!

Verdict: WIN!!!

I feel it is important to share with you how much I suffered in the hours following this challenge. My thighs and arse killed for two days and I am now on the verge of renaming the blog '30 dormant muscles to rediscover before turning 30'.

I also owe a huge thank you to Sam for taking me and Ruth for making sure I didn't die.


  1. Waheyyy! you did it!! Sounds like a good but terrifying experience lol, well done! :) xx