‘I can’t stop her!’ I shout. So this is what it’s like to be on a bolting horse
I ask you. Is this scenario normal?
Every morning, when I put my knickers on, I think to myself: ‘Would these be OK if I end up in A&E?’ Sometimes I take them off again to find a pair by Hanro, no-longer-stretchy relics of my old London life. Does anyone else begin their day like this? It’s not normal, is it?
But then, on Easter Monday, it turned out I was right after all, and you, with your sunny optimism, were wrong. I ended up in A&E. A nurse and a doctor saw my knickers.
The day starts well. Knickers chosen. Jodhpurs on. I plan to ride my horse, Swirly. I’ve been having hypnotherapy to make me more confident. Able to enjoy my life rather than wondering which underwear would look best if cut off in an emergency. I have a mantra: Calm, Confident, Capable. (Maybe my editors should put that below the headline on this page.)
I tack her up in my usual over-cautious way: is the girth too tight? Are her feet OK? We plan to walk along a track and around a few fields beside my assistant Nic on her horse, who has a swollen leg so is not allowed to trot. Fine by me. Nic mounts, hatless and in a T-shirt, one hand on the reins. I put on heavy boots, crash helmet, gloves, sleeves and my Racesafe back protector, the sort of thing jockeys wear in the Grand National. No one else at the livery yard wears such a thing. They all chat, in T-shirts, gloveless. Oh to be nonchalant.
I mount carefully. I stroke Swirly’s muscled, powerful neck. I remember to breathe. I start to sing to her: Simon and Garfunkel today. We set off. It’s a beautiful day. ‘Maybe too hot,’ I say. ‘I read this morning about a pregnant horse who collapsed in Cardiff with heat stroke.’
‘We are just walking. There’s a breeze. She’ll be fine,’ says Nic.
We set off along the track, then turn right to circle a field of rape. I worry about flies. Giant bees. I sing to keep breathing: Michael Bublé this time. Swirly’s ears twirl. She’s such a good girl. She now has an amazing life. Aged four, she raced six times, was never placed. Now she’s mine, she lives out with two other thoroughbreds and my beloved pony Benji, eats organic food imported from Switzerland and isn’t groomed much as she hates it. The reason I ride her is to make sure she’s fit and healthy. It’s not for pleasure. I have no pleasure. But maybe today I’m starting to enjoy myself. Maybe all the hard work is worth it.
We go through a gap in a hedge and round a corner. I’m behind Nic, as the track is narrow. My reins are loose. I’m starting to relax when, out of nowhere, something startles Swirly and she takes off, like a rocket. We shoot past Nic, barging her horse out the way. ‘I can’t stop her!’ I shout. She gallops off, half a ton of super-fit racehorse. So this is what it’s like to be on a bolting horse. I pull on the reins, and manage to turn her right into the field but as she does so, she unseats me, and I fall, over her left shoulder, landing heavily on the sun-baked ruts. Wallop!
I’m winded. I vaguely see her gallop off, reins and stirrups flying. I manage to say, ‘Help.’ My hearing aids have vanished. I unzip the Racesafe, as the pain in my ribs is off the scale and I can’t breathe; truth is, it probably saved my life. Nic jumps off, catches Swirly, who is now head down, eating, looking as sheepish as you can when you’re a horse. ‘Do you need an ambulance?’
She repeats, not realising I’m now deaf. ‘I don’t think so, but I can’t stand.’
She sets off, leading the two enormous horses, to fetch help. After an age, she returns in my car and helps me in. It still hurts to breathe, plus I have a wound on my leg where Swirly must have kicked me as she galloped off. Nic drives me to the nearest hospital with an A&E. Miles along country roads, every pothole making me cry out. Eventually, we park, and I stagger in, for all the world like Mrs Overall.
A woman in a green boiler suit greets us. ‘Oh, the A&E closed two weeks ago.’ I tell her I’m not going anywhere, so a doctor is summoned. He examines me. ‘Any possibility you are pregnant?’ He asks. I’d hug him were I not in so much pain. A nurse undresses me. You see? I knew this was going to happen, one day. I’m X-rayed. My ribs are badly bruised, but nothing is broken. Only my trust that everything will be OK.