One bitter December I was seeing practice with the Vets in Kildare, Eire, near the Curragh Racecourse. At that time, I still fancied myself as a bit of a horsewoman, so when I was offered the chance to ride out, I leapt at the opportunity.
I should have known better. My previous experience had been necessarily limited by my parents’ budget. I rode regularly in lessons at the local riding school,but only between school terms, and had ridden out hacking for an occasional fat under-exercised pet. As a teenager I thought I knew it all, and failed to take into account the difference between a hack and a racehorse.
Fora start, jockeys ride with short stirrups, so that they can stand up and ease their body weight forward for the gallop. I was more used to a dressage style,long-legged position which, in an emergency, allows you to use your legs to help with the braking.
And secondly, racehorses are very young, barely trained and – like all babies -love to have fun.
So off we went in the very early morning to the gallops. There were only three of us, and the day was just dawning. The ground was lovely and peaty, but there were no signs, markers or fencing to show the way. I was instructed to tuck myself in behind the other two, and off we went at a steady canter.
Well,that was the plan. What happened very soon was that my mount decided a canter was no fun, and accelerated up to a full-out gallop, flashing past the other horses as if the finishing line were just ahead. I was pulling on the reins to suggest a slower speed, but I had absolutely no control. I felt ridiculous to have ever thought I could manage. But worse still, I had no idea which direction I was supposed to go in, nor how I was ever going to stop.
There were unintelligible yells from behind, and I realised at any moment I could gallop a valuable horse into a bog. Panicking, I elected to take a wide circle, aiming to bring myself back up behind the other two horses, which succeeded in settling my horse down. But the remarks I was subjected to on our return were pithy, to put it mildly and, unsurprisingly, I was never asked back!
Published in the Mid-Sussex Times on 1st December 2016.