Runaway, Runaway, WHOA!!
Mini – Series – Episode 3: Close Encounters of the Herd Kind!
Well with my third riding lesson the following weekend, l was admittedly feeling quite confident, a lot more than l had been at the start of the previous weekend before meeting Nigel and a darn sight more than my episode with Truffles the weekend prior to him. I was ‘looking forwards to it’, not the loving couples part, but to actually riding. As they say in equine circles, nothing beats a good mount and a good ride is still a good ride – boom boom, ooher missus. Yes, my infantile humour knows all the dirty puns connected with this sport!
I hadn’t gone overboard and spent out even more money like some parties had done the previous time, but l was thinking that maybe l should invest in a pair of jodphurs and maybe a riding hat, but always one to err on the side of caution l would let the day’s events mete out first before making costly investments. Which as it happens was a wise choice, a wise choice indeed!
The day itself was quite murky, it was wet and damp, heavy rains had fallen the previous night, not soaked the ground through but wet enough for puddles and slippery surfaces and there was a creepy type of The Fog type mist curling and crawling over the grounds to a level of about 4 feet, overall it cast quite the spooky effect on the day.
I was in quite high spirits and looking forwards to some sturdy work on top of Nigel in the arena for the morning, so perhaps you can imagine my surprise when the inrstructors informed us both that we would be going out on a ‘jolly’ with 13 other riders into the woods! I voiced my concerns over this and said that l didn’t feel comfortable with that, however my ex informed me that it would be a great experience and that l should believe in myself more, and my defence of that it wasn’t ‘me’ per se that l didn’t believe in, but surely new riders especially those not fully comfortable on horseback should not be going on main roads just yet, was shoved to one side by both her and the instructors under the guise of ‘You’ll be fine.”
To add to my discomfort, they then said “Oh Mr Matier, your horse today will be Barnaby, Nigel is busy elsewhere. However Barnaby is a wonderful horse and is an extremely versatile bombproof mount, you will be in extremely safe hoofs with him.”
Grief, now my nerves were rising more to the anxious side, l was going out with other riders who l didn’t know, in misty weather on a jolly on the main roads leading down to the woods on a horse l had never ridden before! Was l the only sane one amongst this bunch of horsey lunatics, or was l simply making a mountain out of a molehill as everyone kept jibing me about?
Barnaby was a truly beautiful light grey dappled horse, he was stunning to look at, was extremely gentle and l took to him straight away, however as l was grooming him ready for the ride he kept shaking his head and when l mentioned this to the instructors they would come over and look into his ears, rub them a bit and said he may have an itch. After the third time l called them to his head shaking they simply said he was excited about going out and to stop worrying about it all, we would both be fine!
The ex couldn’t resist the usual slurs of insult, about being a baby, a drama llama and the list went on. So l simply shut up and continued grooming and then saddled him up.
Once done, l walked him out of the stables, and saw that there were riders everywhere all in high spirits, laughing and joking. My ex was sitting on her selected horse and was suddenly the oity hoity honk l knew she could be laughing and joking with her affected and clipped accent and joining in with this bunch of atypical horsey snobs. You see, not all, but many in the equine world once upon a horse sometimes suffer from what l have come to known as poshobbery. It’s all ‘what what’s and biff boffs and oh l say, do pass me another sublime cucumber sammich darling,’ It was really quite false, and even now as l write with all the years on from 2003 l can say with hand upon heart that many equinites believe themselves to be supreme elitists!
“Oh do hurry along Rory! You are holding us all up … darlink!” The ex said laughing at her new bestest buddy!
Once mounted we all moved as one solid block towards the gates leading out of the stable yard and down the long track towards the main road. Barny as he was called continued to shake his head and l had to hold my reins firmly as instructed and keep a firm grip on him to make sure he knew l was in control. But l can’t say that l wasn’t nervous and apprehensive because l was. Horses can sense that fear and could become pannicked, so l had to fight my nerves back and concentrate on the job in hand.
1] Get through gate … done
2] Start down track to main road.
3] Enjoy yourself, this ‘jolly’ is supposecd to be fun, Barny is a perfectly capable horse, and oh l really do wish he would stop shaking his head!
The mist was now higher to about five foot or in Barny’s case just below his belly, the other riders were having to calm their mounts down, and the instructors were calling out reassuringly to us all. “It’s just the mist everyone, once it’s clear the horses will calm down.”
Except the horses, now effectively a herd were not getting calm, and if anything were becoming quite skittish, apprehensive. A lot of grumbling and what what’s, and neighing and jitteryness was rumbling through the ranks. We had one lead instructor at the front and the rest of us were all in twos riding side by side. The other instructor was flanking another rider and laughing away in conversation with him.
Not the actual dyke but to give you an idea of the depth of these dykes.
I was on the inside edge partnered up with a person l had never seen before, who was non-stop chattering on about lord knows what because l didn’t. I was very conscious of the fact that Barny was shaking his head a lot, and that we were walking on the edge of the hard core gravel road and that to my immediate right was a large six foot deep dyke with a solid wooden fence up the slope on the other side on the edge of one of the grazing fields. Water was in the bottom to a depth of around 2 foot, a place most assuredly l thought l would not wish to be in.
Down the track about 100 yards in front of us something appeared, the kid in me would say it looked like a low flying UFO with a bright light like a headlamp at the front, whilst the adult in me was somewhat concerned as l couldn’t make it out. The lead horse saw this and was oblivious and if not showed no sign of concern, but the horse behind was not so happy and broke formation and in so doing caused a break on the left side of the column. By the time the beam of light in the mist was around fifty yards in front of me, there was a low purring noise accompanying it and l thought maybe it was a car driving slowly up the track with a broken headlamp.
However at this time we had a slight disarray with the horses and we were no longer in a column formation but more like a random group. It was then when the light was thirty yards away that Barny saw it at the end of a head shake and let out what l can only describe as an enormous squeal and reared up on his hind legs!
“Oh my fricking god!!” Was all l could think and held on for dear life, as Barny started to do this kind of dance on two legs, stepping this way, stepping that way. The light was still coming. All the other horses were freaking out now and riders and horses were bumping into each other and shooting off in all directions. But Barny was at this point screeching and dancing and pawing the air with his front hooves with me on the back hanging off! I was not letting go of that l was absolutely positive!
Suddenly Barny from his standing position jumped over the dyke to my left and crashed into the fence and started to slide down the embankment towards the water at the bottom. I was losing my grip and knew that l had two choices to hang on or to let go. But if l let go would l be trampled or crushed by the horse? I needed not to have worried because in the sliding position, Barny once more reared and threw me off at a great height and speed.
It’s funny but flying through the air at a great height always seems like it is slow motion. But it’s NOT! I hit the concrete arse first and then rolled over a few times before rolling down the embankment and into the water and a by now galloping Barny went flying past me with his back hoof glancing off the small of my back before disappearing back towards the stables but using the dyke as his pathway!
I remember lying there face down in the water and thinking that l was going to drown because for some reason, l couldn’t move properly. My lower back was in excruciating pain! However what seemed like an eternity yet was only apparently for a few moments, because l was suddenly picked up by my arms and dragged rather unceremoniously back up the embankment and dumped less than graciously on the road.
My ex was sitting on her horse with the others and laughing at me! Bitch! I was asked if l could stand and when l said l was actually in a lot of pain, one of the instructors dismounted grumbling and with her horse walked me back to the stable yard and left me with another instructor, mounted back up and trotted to rejoin the group who were now continuing back down the road laughing all the way to continue with their bloody jolly. It turned out that the UFO had in fact been a motorcycle coming slowly up the path
Sitting there in the office with a cup of tea made by the instructor who had gone to check on Barny l knew something was wrong with my back. I could feel an enormous lump starting to rise.
Two hours later, the group returned and three hours later l was on my way home with the ex saying that l was always the grumbly one and l should have literally just got back in the saddle and continued on instead of ruining or attempting to ruin everyone’s morning!!? How could l be that selfish and to embarass her in front of so many people?
When l got back home, undressed and had a shower my entire lower back was almost bright yellow with twinges of purple and l found that sitting was almost unbearable. I also found l couldn’t manage any stairs and actually spent in total the next three months sleeping on the couch downstairs. The following Monday because l worked my business by myself l had to go back and work with the animals and it wouldn’t be for another two weeks before l found out that l had actually fractured my coccyx!
I couldn’t ride anymore for the time being, l was instructed to not do anything , however animals don’t feed themselves and l had no one to ask for help, so l had to work through those exceedingly painful times
The week following the accident the ex came back with the very sad news that Barny had had to be put to sleep, as apparently he had a brain tumour which was the reason he had been shaking his head and had reacted so very badly to the UFO on the horison. It was extremely sad as l had thought he must have been a delightful horse in his prime.
However, for me that would be the last time l would ride for quite a while. It was also the significant start to my marriage ending, but not the end of adventures with horses.
Thanks for reading, another episode soon.
RIP Barnaby 2003