One summer, on holiday from school, I thought I was a sufficiently competent rider to offer my services to exercise other people’s horses.
I had arranged a daily program in which I cycled six miles to a stables over a massive hill, rode out a horse that was being under-used by its owner, and cycled back home again. She
was a powerful, large Hanoverian called Susie, and had perhaps had a little too much time in the field to think about things.
Quite early in our relationship, I was still exploring the lovely woods around her stables, getting to know the various rides and how they connected up. We were loping along when we reached a choice of directions, and I hesitated. After a moment’s thought, I directed her onto a new path to find out where it might go. She set off reluctantly, but after twenty yards or so she suddenly veered off the path onto a barely visible track that my sense of direction suggested led home.
The problem was that this track was very unused and overgrown, and almost at once she passed under a low branch. I bent backwards at the waist, laying my back down on her haunches, but there just was not enough space for both of us, and I was ignominiously dragged off her back past her heels. The last I saw of her was literally her heels disappearing at a tremendous rate off into the woods.
I was unhurt but devastatingly embarrassed. She was not my horse. What if she came to some harm? What if she was missing for a long time? Where was she planning to go? What would everyone at the stables think of me, if she went home, reins and stirrups flying, without me?
This was long before the days of mobile phones. I really had no choice but to pick up my whip and riding hat and set off on foot back to base. It was a very long walk of shame!
Fortunately, she had indeed trotted straight home and was unharmed. An early lesson in how easy it is for an animal to make a complete fool of me!