Thursday, 9 October 2014

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 10: How Did I Get My Passion For Horses?

I have always loved horses. I learnt to ride horses at the age of five, as my doctor at the time my parents that it would be a good activity for me. Taking her advice, my parents enrolled me in Blewbury RDA, in the town of Blewbury Oxfordshire. They accepted me in a class and I began riding . With it being a Riding for the Disabled Association riding school,  it was tailored to people with disabilities,  and there were many people to help out. I was a bit anxious when I first started, but I soon really enjoyed it. During the time I was there however, I began to feel like I wasn't learning very much. I have always liked challenges, and have always wanted to be challenged despite my severe and complex disabilities. 

Riders at Blewbury riding school, Oxfordshire 

Perhaps the highlight of being at Blewbury RDA for me was the gymkhana I took part in when I was about seven years old. I came second overall (I would have come first if a girl had not overtaken me on her horse). Apart from that I can remember feeling really disappointed that I wasn't entered into any other  competitions. 
Sometime later, I met a turning point in my horse riding . That turning point came from me when, during one riding lesson, the instructor suggested I try going over some jumps. I was on a piebald (black and white) horse called Monty, who was known to be frisky.  I had a helper one side holding on to the horse's leading reign, and my dad was the other side. The riding instructor asked me whether I was ready. I told her that I wasn't, but she either wasn't listening very well, or didn't hear me and the next thing I knew, she started running and Monty started moving forward in a fast trot. I felt the air on my face as Monty neared the jump, and felt my stomach leap in the same way that it did  when my Mum drove over the humpbacked bridge at Appleford near Abingdon and I was in her car or, in the same way that it had when I had been sitting on a plane and it took off and landed. 
 I  got  over the jump but not in the  way that I wanted, as Monty  bucked and I sailed right over his head as my feet came out of  the stirrups. I landed on my back on the sand -covered floor of the riding school, feeling the air  had been knocked out of my lungs. My dad rushed over to me and  asked 'darling, are you OK?' 'No,' I answered, as I also also felt really dizzy despite my hard riding hat on my head. Then, I saw my dad walk over to the riding instructor, but he  also made the mistake of walking top close to Monty's back legs , and the horse  kicked him in the knee. Shortly after that I left  that riding school, as I did not trust the instructors, wanted to be challenged more when I rode (until then, we'd just been practising walking the horses round in circles within the riding school), and that incident had really put me off going back. 
I was on the waiting list for  10 years , during which time,  a neighbour's daughter suggested I try riding at Silverdown Stables and Livery Yard in Harwell, near Didcot , which was where she rode and cleaned the stables I missed riding, and since I'd left Blewbury stables, my only contact with horses was through my Saddle Club books or The books in the Flicka trilogy , by   Mary O'Hara, or passing horses in fields on car journeys, and so I went. From the start at Silverdown, I felt left out. My parents and I had explained  to them about my disabilities, but the school was not an RDA school. And the lessons were too physically difficult for me. Some of the other riders noticed this, and neither they nor the instructors made much of an effort to include me. That was short-lived, and I soon left. 
My luck changed when, one day, my parents got a phone call and there was a place for me. I finally got into another RDA riding school. This time, it was Abingdon RDA in Kingston Bagpuize near Abingdon. I can remember that my class was on a Thursday night, and that I was in the same class as two of my classmates, and also made other friends through riding there. I enjoyed riding here more, but the only thing I didn't like was how cold and sore I was at the end of the classes, especially in the winter. I really felt that people valued me at this riding school, and was pleased to be in a class with people I knew,  and also people who quickly became good friends of mine. 

The other advantage of this riding school was that the owner's daughter, Sarah Barlow, had a chalet house in France , in the small alpine town of La Clusaz. On a few occasions, I was lucky enough to go there. The town was about an hour from Geneva airport, and the house was made from wood. It was very cosy inside, and had large balconies overlooking the mountains. I always remember drinking hot chocolate made from melted bars of Milka chocolate in the evenings, or eating a fondue at Mt Blanc! 
On that holiday we did things other than  riding. We did some, but then went parapenting. swimming and white water rafting. Those certainly were holidays I'll never forget! 
Back during my time at Abingdon RDA, some of us also went on. 2- day trip to the Ridgeway, a famous country trail in Oxfordshire. I enjoyed that, but I can remember having to get up early to care for the horses, and that the days were quite long.  I can also remember almost falling off my horse then (it would have been sideways this time, as the girth slipped!) I noticed I was slipping, and one of the helpers put me back in the saddle in the right position. 
I can't remember how old I was, but I can also remember going pony trekking with my parents and sister during a family holiday in Wales.  I was really looking forward to this, as I was the one of the four of us with the most riding experience. I was put onto my horse and everything went OK until the riding school   owner's daughter, who was rather a show - off, decided to show all of us her skills. She was right beside me, and kicked her horse making it trot, and then gallop. Anyone who's seen Black Beauty, War Horse, Flicka or any film with more than one horse  in it will know that once one horse starts moving fast , others nearby will follow: it is as if they think  they are playing a game of tag. Before this,  all the other horses in the group , including mine were just walking along. It was a mixed-ability group, and so there were quite a few beginners there. People started shouting in surprise as their horses took off galloping. I was surprised too, but what I had learnt kicked in, and I remembered being told during my years of riding, that if a horse near you starts going faster than yours and you want to keep it under control, you just sit  as still as you can in the saddle and keep the reins still, not giving any orders by  moving the reins with your hands, and, after a while, the horse's pace should slow, which, after a few terrifying minutes (or maybe it was seconds, it seemed to go on forever!) it did. I was shaken and a bit tearful, as I really thought I'd fall off again during all this. Through my tears,  I told the riding school owner, who rode up to me on his horse, that I'd never ride again. He saw what his daughter was doing and told her off in front of the whole group.  She was very apologetic I remember towards all of us in the group. 
I was shaken after that, but, sure enough, I DID get back on a horse again, and I was lucky enough to have a few extended lessons with an instructor called Gwen, who everyone liked. Gwen was a cheerful, lively lady from Wales, who always made us all smile, ane we all went to her if we felt we weren't happy about something. She was my favourite instructor. I can't  remember too many of the others,  but she will always be someone who really helped me in life. She even convinced me to go parapenting for the first time in my life during one of the holidays in La Clusaz, after I refused flat out-it was one of the best decisions I made. After that, I went once again on a separate trip to the area with the same group. The second time, I  was the one convincing others  in the group they shoud try it! Whenever I am wary  or scared in  a situation now, Alfredo says 'I can't believe someone who went parapenting off the side of a mountain is scared to do X'. 
After that, I felt more confident about taking risks in life. 
It was one thing for me to have riding lessons, but another to get riding certificates. From a young age,  I imagined myself with all these riding trophies and rosettes in my room, and I was determined to do well in riding, despite my disabilities. My really good friend Thato Van Der Zwaal, was always picked by the riding  instructors to do dressage tests,and I never was- after that gymkhana when I was seven years old,  I really wished that someday I'd experience a riding event. I even dreamt that someday I would ride in the Paralympics (wishful thinking, hey? We are all allowed to dream) 
That was not to be though, although I did well in my riding certificates and got some rosettes for those. These tests tested our knowledge about the parts of the horse, grooming, and horse care, and I remember how I never got really nervous for these tests, and would rattle off the answers almost without   thinking. Fortunately, they were correct. My time at Abindgon RDA was not all happy, i once got a phone call from them to say that my favourite horse, a brown horse called JayJay, had passed away.
A horse the same colour as JayJay 

 Some of the other horses I liked went lame, and I remember I became particularly fond of a grey horse called Rocky, and the instructors said we were a team. I particularly enjoyed riding him in the fields and outdoor arena. My favourite colour of horse was a Palomino 

A horse like Rocky 


A palomino horse 

My riding career came to an end when I was almost eighteen, as it was time for university. I was sad to say goodbye to the people who'd taught me, but I was also enthusiastic to begin another chapter of my life. 
If you ask me whether I want to ride again, the answer is YES! i just need to find an RDA school that takes adults, as both Blewbury and Kingston Bagpuize were looking to tailor their classes to younger children. I feel lucky I had to opportunity to learn to ride though.  


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