I went to the parents' recently for a long weekend, taking advantage of a rare and much-deserved quiet spell at work, and predictably headed straight up to the yard on the Friday morning.
"Wear your body protector," The Writer had said sternly as I left the flat, he departing to Wales for his best man's birthday and a weekend camping in the hills. "And if you don't, at least pretend to me that you did."
Of course I didn't. I find them uncomfortable to ride in so only wear them when there's a higher-than-good chance I'll be hitting the deck (i.e., only when I'm hunting), and having not come off in more than 20 years, I wasn't going to add another layer to a hot and sticky summer morning hack.
One of the girls led Lilo, a young-looking skewbald mare, brand new to the yard, to the mounting block.
"Any quirks I should know about?" I said as I settled into the saddle and tightened the girth.
"No, she's fine," the girl said, patting the horse on the bum.
About ten minutes into the ride, I realised that 'fine' depended on your definition.
I didn't mind her looking around and being a little nervous given that she was new to the area. But I did mind the attempts to break the land speed record in a trot down a farm track. And by the time we'd stopped to let one horse have a wee and Lilo had kicked out at the horse behind her and I'd had to sit firm to stop her shooting off across the field, I was aware that she was going to take a little more handling than I'd planned.
Most things followed well, the poor creature behind keeping his distance, as we attempted a controlled canter along a field of stubble. Thankfully I managed to keep a hand on the brakes, but wasn't expecting the enormous buck that came halfway up the field, throwing me with some force up Lilo's brown and white neck. I eased myself back down into the saddle and gave her a tap on the bum, feeling several kinds of smug with myself that I'd taken a good look through her ears and still managed not to sail through them.
A less eventful while passed, and we came up to the entrance of a village. Two dogs were barking hell for leather at a gate across the drive to a large house. I could feel the horse tighten beneath me as we came up. I kept my leg on and we walked forward.
Until we didn't. The dogs kept barking and jumping at the gate, and Lilo panicked. Spinning around, she made for the field of stubble on the other side of the road. Had she just bolted, we would have been fine - I can cope with speed. Had she seen the ditch between the road and the field, we would have been fine - I can cope with a jump and some speed. But she didn't - and proud as I'd been half an hour earlier that I'd kept my seat, there was little I could do when she fled towards the field and, at a panic, fell down into the ditch forelegs first.
Probably thankfully, I was flung with some force straight over her neck and clear of the ditch into the field. She scrambled up the bank and along the field, leaping over the ditch back again where one of the other riders caught her before she could do any damage to any of the cars on either side of our group, waiting for the scene to clear in full view of my spectacular landing.
I did the only thing you can do in that situation: got up, wiggled everything to check there were no breakages, and used a nearby fence post from which to scramble back up into the saddle. Thankfully there was no lasting damage, other than some bruising, a week's worth of soreness and a decades-long record of not falling off that I imagine won't be repeated.