Over the years I have been extremely privileged to have worked with and met, some of – who I would consider – the world’s equestrian champions. When my son recently had a shot on his big sister’s pony and announced, out of the blue, that he could be the next Mark Todd, I realised that the impressiveness of these horsey ‘heavyweights’ had reached even my eight year old son. But the childlike awe of sporting greats is not reserved just for children and I have found myself star-struck on many occasions over the years. During my time at the Olympics we were surrounded, on a daily basis, by people that had been posters on my wall, or authors of books on my shelf, and it only became a ‘normal’ environment because it had to. Tripping over your feet because you’re too busy gaping, slack-jawed at Rodrigo Pessoa, is not a good idea in an Olympic warm up, so very quickly you become accustomed to it and get on with your job.
When I contemplated my son’s announcement, I had mixed feelings. Of course initially I was delighted that he had been paying attention to my ramblings, then I was so chuffed that he thought that might be an impressive career choice (it made a change from a footballer) – and then I went a bit cold. This is my ‘baby’ boy, and thankfully, the worst injuries I have to deal with are skint knees from over-enthusiastic tackles on the astro-turf pitch. But in my lifetime I have encountered far too many horse-related injuries, how would I cope watching my son or daughter deal with the same? Horses are a lifestyle choice, an all consuming, difficult, dirty, exhausting choice – and at times it can be a bit of a solitary mission. Regardless of the team you have around you, when it comes down to it, it’s just you and your horse. No cheerleaders, no fan squad, no half time pat on the back, just you and another mind and body that you are trying to control/persuade/coerce into doing a job, that you have decided they will be good at. What on earth could go wrong?!
And the stars of the equestrian industry, that are out there winning medals and accolades for their country may appear to be on a pedestal for me or you, but their reality is not much different. They might dodge out of late yard checks and putting studs in, but they are certainly not flying to shows by private jet or sitting getting a massage just before they jump on their ‘x-country ready’ mount. There is no way you can be a three-day eventer and ‘wing it’, so you can be sure that anyone that is classed as an all-time great has more than earned their stripes.
I recently watched a farmer move heifers from field to field, across the road I was driving along, and as his two children served as traffic control, gate shutters and runners, I thought how nice it was for them all to be doing that together. Horses don’t always have the same inclusiveness, partly due to their unpredictable nature, but also because if you are going to ride the horse, then it’s you that has to ride it, you can’t get your friend or daughter to step in and help at the last minute. Which means that when you see your children taking the reins for themselves, enjoying it and even doing well, you understand how they feel and what an accomplishment they’ve made – for themselves and by themselves. Horses are a bit like genetics and they usually get passed down through the generations, warts ‘n’ all, so it’s not surprising to see my children taking an interest, but would I wish a ‘horsey’ life on them? Of course I would!!
Horses have given me more amazing friends and life experiences than I could ever have imagined – not to mention the ability to sleep in a wheelbarrow and beat most men at an arm wrestle 🙋😇😂. And although at times it is just you and the horse, that bond is uniquely special and truly you’re never really lonely, it’s just a lot of your friends are four-legged and furry. James Herriot thought if animals could talk, life would be easier, and yes at times it would help, but to be honest I’m quite happy they can’t talk, otherwise they’d just be the same as humans and where’s the fun in that?!
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