Five people on five horses won a silver medal for Great Britain at the Olympics this week. Twenty years ago five people on four horses and a dragon went hacking in Windsor Great Park. Names have been changed to preserve the dignity of the innocent (horses).
“Let’s go riding,” suggested Barbie.
“Great idea,” replied Dave, my (soon to be ex) partner. He’d ridden before and thought he looked good on a horse.
Enjoying an expensive weekend at a smart hotel in Windsor Great Park, we were searching for something to do. Crispin, Barbie’s obedient husband, nodded. But I don’t trust horses. Give me a thousand CCs of two-wheeled engineering any day; motorbikes don’t have a mind of their own.
“How about a long walk?” I suggested.
Three blank faces looked at me. Dave started to smirk.
“OK,” I said.
Two hours later my partner and Barbie looked all superior on Shergar and Black Beauty, while Crispin trailed behind on Dobbin. After hearing I was a novice, Annabel – the sneering stable-girl-cum-guide – had paired me with the equine equivalent of Vlad the Impaler. As I climbed into the saddle the ear-twitching Vlad appeared calm, and I was just starting to relax when he reared up. Terrified of falling, I clung to the reins and gripped with my legs.
“DON’T SQUEEZE, YOU IDIOT!” shrieked Annabel. Apparently squeezing a horse makes them go.
“STAND UP!” commanded Barbie.
Standing makes them stop.
We left through a gate and Vlad carefully scraped himself against the post, leaving a bruise the size of Barbie’s tight little bottom on my thigh. He got me into more trouble by ignoring my braking position and pushing his way in front of Annabel. Each time we stopped he yanked his head up and down.
“He broke someone’s finger doing that last week,” said Annabel helpfully. Eventually we reached the end of the tortuous trail.
“We’re going to gallop back. You wait till we’ve gone, then follow at your own pace,” said my new friend Annabel.Vlad didn’t understand this logic. Despite me standing up and cursing, he went hell for leather as soon as the others took off. I stuck to him like a decal. The others stopped to wait for us at the edge of the wood, but we shot past them. We were the first back to the stables.
Annabel’s thunderous expression made me smile for the first time that day. Good old Vlad.