I’m sorry, I know I keep disappearing before I actually cut to the chase and finish the story of my silly, silly Olympic challenge. The thing is, it’s actually quite hard to motivate myself now that I’ve finished it and I kind of don’t want to finish the story because that means I have to stop being feral (which has been quite nice) and crack on and pick something new to amuse myself with. Plus I was in a serious newspaper and on Colin Murray’s Talksport radio show and we all know how this ends anyway, because I wanged on about it at length on Twitter. And, I suspect you’re quite bored of this now. I keep telling you I’m a bad planner. But I’ve started, so I’ll finish, as that bloke used to say.
The week of excessive sport rumbled on, and I had to shoehorn in a bit of cross country horse riding. I’d chosen the cross country component of the Eventing discipline, because the other two components are showjumping and dressage, which I’d already had a go at. I had hoped to try this with my cousin, Mim, who is mad keen on horses and the reason I took up horse riding as a kid. It’s a tough gig, growing up with older brothers, so Mim had to bear the brunt of being my female role model at a young age – she liked horses, so I took it upon myself to like horses, too. Also, there wasn’t much to do in Harwich when I was little, and I had to do something.
I also thought with Mim being a pretty competent horse rider, there might have been a decent chance of getting out somewhere that vaguely resembled a cross country course, because someone would probably entrust her with this. But Mim lives in Bristol and I was running out of time.
Cross country horse riding in the Equestrian discipline of Eventing, involves galloping around some kind of open space and jumping over man made streams/displaced logs etc. If you’re not familiar with it, I thoroughly recommend the film International Velvet, possibly the greatest sporting film ever made, bar Escape to Victory. At least I definitely thought so when I was about nine years old. In my hazy memory, it’s one of two film franchises where the sequel is better than the original (National Velvet is boring and we all know it). The other one is Short Circuit 2, obviously, which is MUCH better than its original, Short Circuit. You could also, of course do some cursory Googling, which would remind you that Team GB is pretty good at this discipline, too, like with the other horsey ones. In fact, even our Royal Family are in on the action and Zara Phillips was one of the team that walked away with silver medals.
On the strength of my hazy memories of International Velvet, I decided it was highly unlikely that anyone would actually let me out on a cross country course and this was going to have to be an entry-level situation, so I settled for a hack at Lee Valley Riding School. I think it was actually billed as a “Pony Trekking Experience”. I was also quite reluctant to face the prospect of breaking any limbs with just two sports left to complete, so I was quite pleased when the nice lady on the phone told me it was all “very gentle” and that I could even have someone lead my pony, if I wanted.
So, the very next day after my canoe slaloming, I was back out on Beyonce, with plenty of time to spare, cycling over to Leyton. Apparently, the “trek” was in some kind of nature reserve, which sounded like quite a pleasant way to spend a Sunday morning.
When I arrive, I find myself one of only two adults in the group, among quite a few children. The other adult is, of course, accompanying his child so I feel, and not for the first time over this last year, QUITE out of place and subject to more than a couple of strange glances from the teenagers who are working there.
It’s quite odd, realising that someone is actually going to lead the horse you are riding, when the week before you were jumping over fences in the presence of an Olympic medallist. It’s even odder when the person leading that horse is approximately 14 years younger than you and has pink hair. And a pink phone, come to think of it, which was rarely out of the young lady’s empty hand, as she dragged my (quite lazy) pony around. Keen not to seem like a complete weirdo, I chatted to the girl a bit about her job – leading (usually young) people around a large-ish patch of grass in Leyton. She’s been helping out there since she was (even more of) a kid, and she has her own horse which she used to compete on, but it’s a bit old now so not really up to the challenge. She’s learning to be an instructor, she tells me, between moaning at the horse for having quite slimy chops. It is a bit gross, to be fair.
We plod around the nature reserve, which is quite pretty, and a bit more around the large-ish patch of grass that lies between the nature reserve and a bit of a skanky looking train line. It’s funny how you can be in places in London that look like the countryside and are only given away by the odd strange man, brandishing a can of Special Brew at 10am, shouting at your friend to give him a piggyback (this actually happened once in South London).
I definitely feel like a bit of an oddity, in this situation, but one who is finally competing at a level beneath them. That is if by “competing”, I meant being marginally better at sitting on a horse than the seven year olds and the very awkward-looking Dad, in my group. And of course that is what I mean, so I’ll take that gold medal, thank you very much.
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