What is the point of living in a free country if you cannot do dangerous things every now and again? I enjoy galloping. There, I’ve said it. Luckily, the girlfriends I ride with enjoy galloping too. As we are all safely in the bracket known as ‘middle aged’ this scandalises the world but we don’t care.
Our proudest moment was when a farmer ran from his house shouting: ‘There’s a load of old women galloping around my field!’
This behaviour has its risks, of course. The other day, for example, my friend Sarah fell off her horse. It furthered our reputation for geriatric silliness considerably because we had taken out with us two young girls from the stable yard who evidently thought that because we were, relatively speaking, old fogeys it would be a safe, sensible ride.
I did try to warn them. Before we approached the sand track where we do our first gallop, I looked behind and said, ‘Any minute now, girls, Ingrid will take off and you won’t see her for dust. If your horses are likely to bolt after her, and if you don’t want to gallop flat out, you need to get ready to hang on to them.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about us,’ they both chimed. ‘We’re very experienced riders.’
‘Well, I’ve warned you,’ I said, before turning back round. A second later we hit the sand track and a great cloud of sand went up as Ingrid’s Arab shot off like you-know-what from the proverbial shovel. My friend Sarah’s horse scrambled after her and my mare Gracie shot a few feet into the air with her usual mixture of excitement and fury at being last and galloped off on their tail.
I looked behind after a few seconds and the two twenty-somethings were miles back hanging on to their reins.
After we stopped and they caught up with us, panting, one of them said, ‘I thought you were joking. I mean I didn’t think you were serious. I mean…’
‘That’s the way we roll,’ I said, shrugging. After the first gallop, we did a trot which they proclaimed as fast as their canter and then we did a canter which they said was what they would call a gallop.
When we got to the really wide sand track at Wisley, which we call The A3 Dash because of its proximity to that particular road — and because, depending on traffic, we sometimes go as fast as some of the cars on it — we had to divide into groups.
The youngsters elected to go first, so they could do a stately canter, unharassed by the lunatic oldies who waited until they had got to the top and then let rip and tore up the track like the Kentucky Derby.
They stood at the top watching in horror as we approached in a dust cloud, Ingrid in front by a length and Sarah and I spitting mud and wiping bits of sand out of our eyes.
On the home stretch, we stopped to decide where we would have one last canter. The youngsters were behind so I turned to Ingrid and Sarah and said, ‘Look, we’ve managed to get them almost home in one piece. Let’s cut our losses and do the short route back.’
We looked behind and informed them which track we were about to canter. They nodded, gulping. Ingrid flew off in front. Then Sarah’s horse hit a tree root, which, to be fair, was bad luck and nothing to do with speed. Over it went and as both horse and rider landed in a heap you couldn’t tell if the horse had rolled on Sarah and she was dead.
As her horse galloped into the distance, stirrups and loose reins flying, we all dismounted and stood looking down at her, hoping she would twitch. As the newbies looked aghast, she stirred slightly and said, ‘Where am I?’ She was grinning, stupidly.
‘Don’t move.’ I said.
‘Are we out on a hack?’ she chuckled, struggling to her feet and staggering around smiling.
‘Don’t move. I think you’re concussed.’
‘Where am I? Where’s my horse?’
Ingrid was galloping after him.
‘We’re catching him now. Don’t worry.’
‘Where’s my horse?’
‘We’re catching him.’
‘Have I fallen off?’
‘Yes. You’ve fallen off.’
‘Where’s my horse?’
It went on like that for half an hour until we got back to the road and put her in a car to take her to A&E. Five hours later she was pronounced unharmed. ‘You were talking gibberish,’ I told her. ‘I bet my husband told the doctors that was normal.’ ‘He did, actually.’
Not everyone saw the funny side, however. Back at the stable yard, the two youngsters declared that while they had had an exciting hack, they didn’t think they would be riding with us again.
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