‘Life every now and then becomes literature’ – Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
I’ve moved. The fairytale cottage fades into the past like a dream, the escapade of moving (again) now another funny anecdote in the story of my life. I’m still not quite entirely unpacked (and I’m sure, depending on the degree to which you know me, pictures in your heads will vary widely at this point), but I feel settled and happy in my new home.
The new pad is a home-made house sitting on seventy acres. You have to get out your car to open a wooden gate off a dirt track in order to reach it. From a spacious room full of windows letting in reams of light, I look out onto a paddock, flanked by rolling hills and woodland. If you venture through the woods at the far end, you descend to the pebbly banks of the Lower Shotover – the river the jet boats ride. At the moment, frost tends to dance on just about everything in sight, making leaving the house at 7am an arctic, if pretty, expedition.
But the best element of all? Aside from our lovely host & housemate Briar, it has to be the horses. There are three: Holly, a graceful ex-racer; Poppy, a miniature bundle of cute, solid Shetland; and then there’s River, pictured above, a towering, magnificent youngster, broken in recently by Briar’s sister, Shae, who lives in a cottage next door.
I have always loved horses. When I was wee, I remember having riding lessons on a horse called Pepsi. Always the naughty one of the group. Our relationship didn’t last too long, from my recollection. I went on in my formative days to flirt with ballet, swimming, the bass recorder, the piano, cello, drama, badminton, netball, hockey, an orchestra, a string ensemble, ice skating, musicals, skiing… All of which I committed varying degrees of commitment, enthusiasm and talent to. But I never became a horsey-girl.
When I moved to Edinburgh, I should have learnt to drive. I’d found it challenging, to say the least, to obtain a license in crazy, ring-roaded Coventry and pointless in Cambridge & London. But I took the pennies instead and took a bus out of the beautiful city into the even more beautiful countryside. I found a riding school and I took some lessons so that I could start trekking.
My horse bit me on my first day. Right on the stomach. And my riding didn’t improve much. The school horses followed each other around and tended to ignore me. I couldn’t afford private lessons and soon I was back in the big smoke, far from the country-life that had called to me. I didn’t ride again until I reached New Zealand.
Here, once settled, I went on two treks. One through Paradise (famous as the setting for many scenes in Lord Of The Rings, if you’ve heard of it?) and another through Cardrona. Both stunning and thoroughly enjoyable but also thoroughly expensive, despite being booked as half-price deals. And my horses tended to do their own thing, as usual, sensing the same lack of authority that calls seagulls out of the air to pluck fish and chips from my actual hand when I eat them on the beach (sigh).
A little wistfully, I’d made my peace with not being able to ride regularly, or well, when we became friends with Briar & Shae. I’ve now ridden both Holly & River several times, not just round the paddock but down to the Shotover River, idling along its sandy beaches through frost-dipped foliage. I’ve learnt a little how to trot properly and I’ve definitely overcome some of the apprehension that’s held me back from being a firm, confident rider in the past.
I never thought I’d ride River – he’s so big, so beautiful. I met him first when he was unbroken and found him quite intimidating. So not for me, I thought. When Shae invited me to go for a ride, I was surprised. She’d trust this wonderful, playful, but most of all giant horse to my hands? As with many relationships/challenges/fears, what it takes is some confidence, some surety, some commitment – an invitation, a leg-up and some support and you can do anything.
I never thought I’d ride River, but it was in the realms of the possible. However, I’d never imagined that I’d ever have the opportunity to go bare-back riding – something so free, so natural and so uplifting that the feeling stays with you in a glow. I’ve felt this now, too.
Sometimes life conspires for your happiness. It presents a home when you lose one, a horse when you’d like one, a friend & teacher when you need one. There are so many sad stories in the world, so much grief, so much pain. When good things happen, we can only be thankful and enjoy the ride.
Have you ever conquered something you thought you never would? What’s *your* bare–back riding? Do you ever have moments where the sense overtakes you that your life is becoming a story?