Monday, November 2, 2009

Get Back on the Horse

The phrase 'get back on the horse' has always had a certain piquancy for me. Except piquancy isn't the right world at all. What I mean to say is that it Pisses Me Off.

It's been said to me (and others) a few times over the years, usually in times of personal distress, and every time I want to say that’s shit. Instead I smile, nod and waste for the next platitude to be rolled out so I can ignore that one too.

The thing about this particular phrase is that it doesn’t even make sense. Supposedly it comes from the adage ‘you have to get back on the horse that threw you’. Brilliant idea. You’ve been hurt once doing a particular activity so instead of abandoning said activity you’re supposed to give it another crack and hope, in the face of reason, things will turn out differently this time. What next? ‘Put your hand back in the fire?'

When I was 10-years-old or so I had my first bad fall from a horse. And if only I had ignored popular opinion about these sort of things and stayed on the ground it would have done me a lot of good.

The whole thing was stupid and pretty much my own fault: at my weekly riding lesson I'd insisted on going around the paddock just one more time. Almost immediately I lost control of the pony (a beautifully-natured palomino called Bindi, who would later be sold by my teacher to the riding school at Claremont Showgrounds, where, in a move that intensely depressed at the time, she was given a new name).

Of course it's easy to romanticise lost loves and, with hindsight, I can see that Bindi had her problems - she suffered from delusions of grandeur, for a start. She must have. Because when I lost control and she could no longer feel the pressure of my hands on the reins she decided she quite fancied trying to jump the four foot high electric fence that edged one side of the paddock. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t. Bindi brought down the fence, which burnt into both her lovely little legs and my exposed pre-adolescently-soft arms. I was so entangled in the wire of the fence that when my teacher picked me up from the ground she got an electric charge off my hands. I stood up to learn that the seat of my jodhpurs had been torn off.

Once she had established I was more or less okay my teacher sent her son to the stables to bring back another horse, Crackington, for me to ride back (Bindi having retired to a distant corner of the paddock, from where she and I regarded each other with mutual suspicion.) Crackington was the pride of my teacher’s stable – a beautiful chocolate brown block of a horse too tall, lovely and valuable for any of us who attended the weekly lessons to ride before now. My teacher's son led Crackington back and I was helped onto his enormous 17-hands-high back.

I slipped the reins along Crackington’s neck and over his head so my teacher could take them, happy to cede control now that I could feel my left arm beginning to throb, resting my hands on his withers, which shifted under me as he followed my teacher forward.

Later I would conclude that one of the strands of the electric fence must have touched the frog of Crackington’s hoof - that soft little triangle of flesh that groomers know to avoid, the closest a horse will ever get to a fingertip. Otherwise it’s tough to imagine what would make 17-hands of dark brown muscle lose his shit as thoroughly as Crackington did then, ridding me of all my romantic notions about him as he reared and I slid out of the saddle.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I walked the long walk back from the bottom paddock to the stableyard, my ten-year-old arse hanging out the hole in my jodhpurs, the burns on my arm stinging like a bitch, blood on my right hand and cheek from I-didn’t-know-where.

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