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The Rigours of Riding after Twenty Years’ Absence from the Saddle
Not Me Riding Off Into the Sunset
'Gee up, Neddy! Whoa! Slow down!'
Feeling pleased with myself that I’d managed to rise early on the first morning of my holiday to Tunisia, I discovered I was still far too late for the sunrise. Worse still, the pool area was already teeming with Germans laying claim to the most highly coveted spots. How do they do it? I wondered, in awe of their timekeeping - it must be down to cuckoo clocks and all that invigorating alpine air they're used to. And why do the Germans all think I’m called Morgan?
One of My First Riding Lessons
St. Lucia, Caribbean 1983
Horses or camels?
I was just about to meander down to the beach where there was still a faint hope of securing a sunshade before the sand became unbearably hot when a local clad in a white ‘T’ shirt and shorts suddenly popped out from behind one of the sun terraces, taking me quite by surprise.
‘Do you do horses Madame?’
Well now, do I look as if I do horses? I thought. I knew that several unmentionable practices have been known to occur in certain oriental countries but I didn't realize the natives could be quite so up front about it.
‘How about a camel?’ He began to flap a book of tickets in front of me with great gusto. Eventually the penny dropped and I remembered that according to the brochure there was a riding stable in the hotel grounds. So perhaps those curious stories my dad told me about when he was in the Merchant Navy weren't true after all.
I couldn't come up with a lame excuse off the hoof so I said ‘Hey (or should that be hay?) why not? I'll have an hour’s ride on a horse - not a camel - to start with but I haven't ridden in twenty years.’ I reluctantly handed over a ten Dinar note, hoping I wasn't going to live to regret it.
I used to ride years ago - well sort of - but no one had ever taught me to do it properly. All through my childhood it was the odd lesson here and there on weekend trips into Dartmoor from Plymouth where I lived and I soon discovered that it was impossible to learn to ride on the ordinary riding school horses that only ever sped up when the stables were in sight or when they noticed a munchable bush.
My dad often fancied himself as John Wayne on the odd occasion when he accompanied me on my moorland rides and I remember him singing his own particular rendition of ‘Home on the Range’ as we imagined desolate Dartmoor was real cowboy country and we were genuine cowboys.
At one time I very nearly joined The Pony Club and I used to be Harvey Smith's number one fan. He was thirty five when I was fourteen and I thought he was fabulous when he'd just done that controversial ‘V’ for Victory sign at the Hickstead Derby back in 1971.
That first evening in Tunisia, I strolled down to the stables an hour before sunset and enjoyed a full hour's leisurely ride along the sands. I was able to take in the scenery and demolish all the sandcastles between our hotel and the medina at Hammamet as we cantered along. Although this was pleasant enough after the heat of the day subsided, I now found I had an incredible urge to relive my childhood and gallop again - even at the grand old age of forty-five.
For the next few days or so my wish was granted and I enjoyed a gallop along the sands at sunset with a cool evening breeze at my back. As the horses cavorted through the waves it reminded me of a month’s holiday I’d spent in St Lucia some twenty years previously when I had rode along the sandy shore at our hotel nearly every day. It was great to be reminded of the carefree days of my youth and so far the riding had been one of the highlights of my trip to Tunisia. I picked the same horse nearly every day and by the second week we had quite a stable relationship.
But good experiences often have the habit of turning sour as I was shortly to find out. I was not so young anymore and halfway through the holiday the leader on our daily ride decided we should all gallop along a dried up river bed in the heat of the day. This was just fine for him – Arabs can do just about anything on horseback including balancing a table and half a dozen chairs as I’d discovered at the ‘Bedouin feast’ I’d attended a few nights before, but for me just dodging overhanging branches and remaining in the saddle proved to be nerve racking business enough without having ground as hard as iron to gallop upon.
It didn't help that the leader had informed me of the Arabic equivalent of 'Gee up, Neddy!' but not the word for 'Whoa!'
When the ride was over the term ‘saddle sore’ became a complete understatement - rawhide was more the word that sprang to mind and I spent the rest of the holiday in the hotel swimming pool trying to soothe my aching back. Not to mention the nightmares I had about being carried home to England as a stretcher case.
Never again; I'll just have to say 'nay' next time - so I'm not going to 'ride off into the sunset' like a cowboy at the end of a 'western' movie as I've well and truly hung up my stirrups this time.
© 2015 Stella Kaye