Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Fall

Once a week, for no particular reason, my friends and I like to take riding lessons in an indoor arena perched on a quiet hillside which lies some miles into the green, green country beyond The City. We are usually half a dozen or so, there for social element as much as the horses.

In the summer, we were all beginners. Now, we are learning to canter: this is a much faster pace, where all four hooves may leave the ground at once. There is a lot of motion: you must keep the rhythm of the horse – or risk being bounced halfway to the rafters. For male riders, getting the rhythm wrong can be quite uncomfortable. I’ve learnt to clasp the horse very firmly with my knees.

On the evening of this story, our instructor was pleased with our progress: so pleased that he wanted to give us all as much practice as possible. Now, usually we canter singly, with the rest of the group observing, their mounts stationery in the centre of the arena, but on this occasion I was sent out to lead Miss C in a canter (or, my horse led because hers is a bone-idle, laziness incarnate).

No sense of foreboding, just excitement to be riding fast, together. We’ve been around too many times to worry much. And it goes well, until the call comes to turn in again. Something startles my “Gipsy”: instead of slowing to my “whoa” and tug, she seems to buck and jump. Adrenaline stretches seconds: time becomes glacier-slow as the next turn approaches. Awareness is a tunnel, pin-sharp, the problems of the world reduced to a single goal: stay in the saddle. I fight Gipsy for control: pull her back, firmly, not cruelly. Just as suddenly as the mischief began, it leaves her, and we fall back to a walk.

Only then do I glance in to the others: and see - no! - a white horse with an empty saddle trotting through the arena by itself. It is Miss C’s horse.

Once more, moments seem to stretch into aeons as I seek frantically back along the path of the white horse. Disbelieving, I find her up walking, with a smile on her face.

The accident reconstructed: Down went her horse, cleanly she fell, head-first, then somersaulting, tucked in, bounced, rolled, stood again, unbroken. At the time, I think I got a bigger fright than she did.

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