When I was a kid - probably about 12 or 13 years old - I used to love going horse riding. There was a little riding school near our place which took weekend trail rides up a bridle trail into the national park. 3 hours would cost you (From memory) something in the order of $30, which was a lot of money for a 12 year old, but through both saving my $5.00 per week pocket money, and a fairly lethal combination of nagging and pleading mum and dad, for a while there I got to go reasonably regularly - perhaps once a month.
Then, when we went camping on our holidays, there was usually a trail ride involved somewhere. One of my favourite camping places was Denmark, on the south coast of WA, where there was a little riding business set up right beside the campground, and $5.00 got you a 20 minute stroll around the sand dunes and along the beach (where, if you were lucky, they'd amp the pace up to a slow trot and, one time, a canter!)
What I really wanted to do, though, was take riding lessons. But these were, sadly, very expensive, and I had to just make do with what I could get.
And then, of course, life moved on and things like music lessons, swimming training, high school, uni etc... all filled my hours, and my odd obsession with horse riding faded away. (I call it odd simply because, for me at least, it seemed like a strange thing to have connected with - my family were never into horses. Never owned one, never really had anything to do with them at all, so yeah - odd.)
Until lately. For the last couple of years I've been looking about for a hobby. Something to do that isn't work, writing or parenthood. Don't get me wrong - I actually love all of those aspects of my life, which makes me a pretty lucky guy - but I'd gotten to feeling that between them they'd become my entire life - taking up every waking minute, and every last joule of energy. I toyed, about a year ago, with taking up gliding - another thing I experienced as a kid and have since wanted to do for years and years, and got as far as doing a couple of trial flights with the local gliding club, which I loved. Gliding, though, is particularly time intensive, even as a learner. At least one day out of every second weekend, (or even every weekend) would be required, and leaving Min with the increasingly demanding and energetic 2 year old just wasn't fair.
Then, about 6 months ago, one of my students turned up for a supervision meeting at uni straight from her weekly riding lesson.
And that reminded me...
So for the second half of last year, I procrastinated. I looked at riding schools, and talked to a few people, but really - riding lessons? Surely that was for 13 year olds and so on. Then my wife's uncle and his family moved down from Hong Kong, and he and I got talking. His little girl is a mad keen (and fantastic) rider, and M. had decided to take a few lessons himself.
And a plan was hatched. We'd take lessons together. And so M. booked us in at the school my student (and several others) had recommended. Then he promptly had to pull out of the first lesson, but I was excited, so decided to go anyway.
Which is how, last friday afternoon, I ended up at the Forest Park Riding School, putting on some borrowed boots and an uncomfortable helmet, and leading a large brown horse (who I seem to remember was named 'Pokey'*, but I suspect I'm wrong about that) out into the middle of their indoor arena for a half hour introductory lesson.
This, you understand, was just to see if I still enjoyed it, and thought it might be something I could do occasionally.
That decision took about 30 seconds. I loved it.
Turns out that:
a) Despite it being probably 30 years since I was last on horseback, I can still remember a lot about it and,
b) Even years later, when you're out of shape and unfit, 8 years of cycling and triathlon does great things for your balance and also, surprisingly, horseriding technique.
I had a great half an hour and, by the end of it, was even able to get up to a canter (for about half a lap, before Pokey decided that he'd had enough, and it was time to stop...**)
And I got off all buzzy and happy and excited.
And, even better, because one of the key elements of getting on well with a horse seems to be staying calm, it was a lovely half an hour of thinking about nothing except for me and the horse - work, writing - everything else just vanished for a while. And I came out of the stable at the end of the lesson feeling incredibly refreshed as a result.
So, yesterday I went out and got myself some proper boots and jodphurs***, and I'm now hanging out for my next lesson, in just a little over a week. Once I'm feeling vaguely confident, I might even get a picture taken to post here.
The really good thing, though, is that the little recharge has given me an unexpected drive to want to get back to all the other stuff now, especially my writing - Orion is still not finished (though it's ticked past 50,000 words now, and I can smell the ending looming up - and now I'm all fired up to drive it home, hopefully this week.)
So all in all, horseriding looks like being a good decision. And, after all, I live in The Man from Snowy River country, so I imagine it'll only be a matter of time until I'm doing this:
*Actually, I think he had a different name, but Pokey is the name which has, for some reason, lodged in my head, and so for the purposes of this blog entry, Pokey he shall be...
**In fairness to Pokey, this was actually my fault - I was so excited about finally getting us up to speed that I promptly pulled back on the reins.
*** Do yourself a favour and don't try and imagine me wearing jodphurs. Just don't...