I rode regularly as a child and teenager then became a more sporadic rider when I got the first of many jobs, went to University and got more jobs. Writing remained a constant (mostly).
Then, after a long gap, in my 30s I started riding lessons again. Buying the hat, boots and jodhpurs (and gloves!) was very exciting because, as a child, I’d never had the right gear and usually rode in jeans. I felt like a “proper rider”.
Although I never completely lost my nervousness, this was my golden riding age in terms of achievement, thanks to Soames and Benson. Soames was a big bright chestnut “schoolmaster”, very forward going, responsive and knowledgeable. I was a bit scared of him in our first lessons together but he enabled me to experience my first perfect walk to canter transition, which was a revelation! Soames, although you left this world many, many moons ago, I will always be grateful for what you taught me and the confidence you gave me.
Benson was a bad-tempered bay, not overly fond of humans on the ground but when you were on his back, he was totally different. Willing, bold and very experienced. I remember the first time I rode him on a cross country course and was confronted by a row of tyres capped with a pole that looked pretty scary to me. I hadn’t done a lot of jumping. But the instructor said, "He knows what to do. Just let him do it.” So I did. And he did. I felt on cloud nine that night, amazed at what I had been able to achieve on this horse. I hope Benson is keeping Soames company in horse heaven. Both horses have made appearances in several guises in my pony books and my book Transitions was partly a tribute to Soames.
Shortly after my riding triumph, funds ran out again and another long gap from riding followed. More than 10 years ago, maybe longer, I rode again. The horse was a young, dark bay called Stormy and half way through the lesson, he bucked me off. This was a first for me and came so out of the blue - one minute we were cantering happily, the next I was flying through the air and narrowly avoided being impaled on the fence. It shook me up a tad. I lay in the sand for a while, contemplating what had just happened. Legs shaking, I caught up with Stormy and remounted. But my nerve had gone.
Recently, I have been trying to tackle my phobias and fears and understand now why it it so important to get back on after a fall. To face the fear as soon as possible, because the longer you let it fester, the bigger it becomes.
Gazing out of the window on a train journey just before Christmas, looking across the frost covered fields, I had a sudden urge - longing almost - to be on horseback again. The place where I used to ride has gone, but I’ve made enquiries and found a local stables where I can try again. I’ve resolved 2012 will be the year I get back on again - in every sense.