A weekend or so ago, The Writer went up in a small acrobatics plane with an interviewee for a feature he’s writing. The stunts were so extreme and such was the G-force he experienced, he came back with burst capillaries all over his face. As I met him at the tube station, perturbed at the blotchiness with little red spots all around his eyes, I felt a rush of panic that he’d spent the afternoon doing something that clearly put him at extreme physical risk.
Hearing about some of the acrobatics, I slapped him on the arm and made him promise never to do anything like it again.
“Well now you know how I feel every time you go riding,” he said.
I brushed it off, saying the two are incomparable.
But I’m not entirely sure they are. Because if you love someone, the thought of them doing anything at all dangerous gives you that horrid constriction around the top of your stomach. Worst-case scenarios flit through your imagination, sinister thoughts of destruction and death abound.
Which made me wonder whether putting yourself at any sort of risk when you’re surrounded by loved ones is the worst kind of selfishness.
Since getting back into the saddle, I’ve got used to Pa Blonde complaining that riding is a daft thing to do.
“Just open the Times magazine on Saturday,” he’ll say, referring to Melanie Reid’s column about how she copes with being tetraplegic having come off a horse and breaking her neck a few years ago, going on to give me a lecture: whether I’ve sorted out personal insurance yet (invariably the answer is ‘no’) and how I must, and how I’d cope if the same thing happened to me.
I’m used to it – it’s easy to brush off parental concern. They’re always worried: it’s their job as parents.
But it’s not quite so easy to ignore when you realise that your fiancé is completely serious about his hatred of your riding in general, and specifically without wearing a body protector.
I’ve always been relatively blasé about the danger inherent in riding. It probably comes of having been put on a horse aged four and never really looking back. But it is dangerous – famously referred to by one medical professional as more so than taking ecstasy. Horses are large, heavy animals with minds of their own. They can be unpredictable. Ask them to share a road with traffic and statistically you’re probably asking for trouble.
But even being unceremoniously ditched into a field a few weeks ago hasn’t made me any more inclined to give up.
Because, a bit like crossing the road, you recognise the danger, do what you can to mitigate it, and accept that you’re running the risk of it not going your way. Unlike crossing the road, any rider will tell you that the risks are entirely outweighed by the pleasures and benefits you get from taking part – be it the airborne thrill of taking a clean leap over an enormous ditch, surrounded by a host of other horses on the hunting field; or the simplicity of standing in a stable and breathing in the scent of a hot horse’s neck after a ride.
So, as much as Pa Blonde and TW might dislike my baffling propensity to sit astride a 16.2hh hunter and throw myself across the Home Counties countryside (especially when I’m not insured and refuse to wear a body protector day to day), neither would ever actually ask me to give up riding because they know how much I love it. Just as I’d never ask TW to stop doing mad acrobatics in small aircraft, or strapping bits of wood to his feet and hurtling himself down a French mountainside at certain times of year, which entirely gives me the heebie jeebies.
Because life isn’t the same without being able to do the things we really love – even at the risk of worrying those we really love.
World War One and Britain’s Equine Army
2 hours ago