Monday, June 28, 2010

Horses… they should have horns

Holly loves horses. She’s 7, what does she know. I, however, am 43. I should know better. In a fuzzy moment of fatherly bonding though, I decided that I too would go for horse riding lessons along with my daughter every Saturday morning.

It was all peachy for the first month or so. After Holly’s lesson on a placid little pony ironically called Blitz, I would don my mountainbiking helmet and climb aboard Beelzebub* for a half an hour of genteel trotting around the dressage arena learning the finer arts of horsemanship.

To be honest, it was all a little boring. I had after all piloted a lot more horsepower than this nag. I’m the guy who’s red-lined a single-seater race car at 260km/h, done a World Cup downhill mountainbike race (and come third last), and flown an aerobatics plane. Frankly, horse riding was a bit of a doddle. I didn’t mind though. I was doing it for my beautiful daughter. And who wouldn’t sacrifice a Saturday morning’s adrenaline pursuits for the smile on her face as the two of us headed off to the riding school for some father-daughter bonding. During my lesson, Holly would sit on the fence with a notepad in her hand and mark my performance. I’d get issued with a “report card” afterwards highlighting the many failures in my techniques and the areas I should focus on.

As I said… all peachy.

Until the day Beelzebub snapped. It started off ok, but then he started to get unusually twitchy. He kept speeding up in the dressage arena and whenever I applied a little extra pressure to the bit in his mouth to slow him down, he’d flare his nostrils and swivel one eye back at me in a manner that can only be described as threatening. I didn’t know horses could swivel one eye backwards.

My instructor, sensing that old Beelzebub, was behaving a tad oddly, sensibly switched our lesson from the expanses of the open arena to the confines of the small, fenced coral. And that was Beelzebub’s cue to flip into beserker mode. He took off. And “taking off” within the tight circumference of the coral meant hurtling around the little arena at an alarming speed that no pulling or tugging on the reigns could stop.

We were going so fast and leaning at such an angle in the never-ending left turn that it felt like I was on those “wall of death” motorcycles centrifugally glued to a vertical wall. No longer bothering with the reigns, I was now holding onto the saddle.

While I’d obviously travelled way faster on the many man-made machines I’d driven, at least all of them have had some form of a brake which, when activated, worked. Not being able to stop this bladdy thing was genuinely scary. The reason I really shat myself though, was the look on my instructors face. Hoping for a “Phht, he does this all the time. Don’t worry, he’ll slow down in a second” expression, instead what I saw in her face was wide-eyed concern beginning to morph into actual terror.

After what seemed like a very long time, Beelzebub did – thank the Lord – slow down enough for me to do my best impression of a rodeo cowboy dismount and hurriedly vault the coral perimeter. With a new perspective on how precious life really is I ran over to hug my daughter.

“It wasn’t that fast,” said Holly tearing of my lastest poor report card from her notepad, “Blitz and I have cantered way faster than that.”

I haven’t had a lesson since then. And, as we speak, Holly is having a blast at at the horse camp held over the school holidays.

*name changed to protect mostly me.