Being around horses provides a person with what in job speak are known as transferable skills – and not just with a ready-made costume come the day someone finally gives their fancy-dress party a Jilly Cooper theme.
They teach you possibly one of the most useful skills you can learn in life: preparation and planning are key, but even when you’ve organised things to the Nth degree, something will go wrong – and when it does, the very best thing you can do is to stay calm, breathe and get on with it.
I was out a week or so ago with a few others, looking forward to blowing out the week’s stresses and, having ridden a few other horses recently, getting back on Delila before I take her hunting in a few weeks.
All was going well. A few of us left the yard, and nudged the horses through rather a lot of standing water out towards one of the villages.
And then the rain started. Lightly at first, and then harder. And harder and more driving until my jodhs were wet through, the water was pooling in the creases of my waxed jacket, and I was peculiarly aware of the completely drenched nature of everything I was wearing, including my pants.
We took advantage of a break in the rain and a not-quite-totally-sodden bridlepath for a leg-stretching canter. All well and good until I found myself with my left rein flapping around loosely in my hand having come unattached from the bridle. (For those not of a horsey disposition: a canter is a bit like 65mph in a car – not top speed, but fast enough not to want an accident; the reins are instrumental in being able to brake.)
Hmm. Sub-par, I thought, as we careered round a corner to an expanse of open field. Thankfully, sitting deep into the saddle and turning her in circles on the right rein brought her to a standstill where we reattached the rein to her bit.
After that, it was all going swimmingly until the gale force winds came, driving the rain sideways. Delila, neatly clipped for hunting, clearly felt the winds keenly, throwing her head around and dancing all over the track. I pushed her on until she clearly felt I was taking advantage of her otherwise reasonable nature and the side-stepping took up again until she decided a few small, prancing rears might convince me.
Not wanting her to shoot off into the apocalyptic weather, skid over and break a leg in a rabbit hole, I sat tight. A sharp growl at her head, and then putting her firmly behind the large, black and white bottom of Phoebe, part cob, I sat firmly down into the saddle until she came back to a sensible walk.
I’m not enormously calm and measured all of the time in the face of stress, but there’s something about being on a horse that brings it out in me – possibly the knowledge that the half-ton beast I’m responsible for has its own brain and that flapping around in a panic will inevitably make things worse.
On this occasion, I’m particularly glad that’s what I did: on getting back, the yard owner took Delila from me and peered at her face. The flash on her noseband hadn’t been done up correctly – something I’d entirely failed to notice when I got on.
“What on earth is that?” she said, picking at it. “Bloody hell, I’m amazed you could even hold her.”
When in doubt: breathe. Sit deep. And life won’t run away with you.