09 July 2011

Special assignment: Horses

I adore my column in Warwickshire Life magazine! This monthly assignment affords me the opportunity to explore some quintessentially British experiences and write about them. And, recently, the penny finally dropped, and I realised my column is a great means to just having a bit fun!

 Red House Proprietress,
Nikki Shakespear
So, I am allowing myself a few English indulgences. This month: Horses. With the goal of uncovering the great British love affair with horses, I had a very nice lunchtime meeting with the Head of the British Horse Society in the Midlands; have a visit scheduled to a Warwickshire-based horse sanctuary; and yesterday, I was treated to a lesson at the Red House Riding School.

And, what an amazing day it was! Tucked snugly between Leamington Spa and Lillington, Red House Riding School, was a bit tricky to find. I trundled through housing estates, disbelieving my iPhone's insistence that I "turn right", but when I did eventually "turn right", the wide open spaces of Red House Riding school opened before me, offering the most unbelievable and 
breathtaking views of the Warwickshire countryside.

Between intermittent squalls and dazzling sunshine, I spent a glorious afternoon atop a gorgeous Welsh Section D - Cob called "George". Welsh Section Ds are known for their hardiness and gentle nature, and this sweet chap was like a version of my dearly missed and dearly beloved Lucy, in equine form!

Gorgeous Welsh Cob, George
Having grown up in the country, in the southern part of America, my association with horses -- and proper riding -- have been surprisingly limited. Of course, when I was little, there were obligatory pony rides at state fairs, and magnificent displays of cowboy prowess at rodeos; but the serious pursuit of riding and horsemanship was something different entirely.

My middle sister (9 years my senior) attended boarding school in the heart of very horsey, bluegrass country in Kentucky. There, she excelled and won numerous white ribbons for riding. As riding was "her sport", my interest in that activity remained closeted. I merely wondered at it from afar.  

How nice now, to be free from silly constraints and have a go, finally! Interesting, according to Andrea Jackman of the British Horse Society, the fastest growing group amongst riding enthusiasts are the over 40s and beyond! No longer merely the domain of horse-mad adolescents, adult first-timers are making up for missed opportunities, and turning to riding as a delightful means of exercise and recreation.

And, I don't blame them one bit! Although, I woke this morning with a slightly achy lower back, and sore thighs, the experience has left a permanent smile on my face. There is something so soothing, almost mesmerising about being in the company of a horse. Their serene calm and majestic gentleness completely overwhelms your senses. 

Rider Rachel & her beautiful chestnut, Prince
As I sat atop George, out in the fresh air, with Warwickshire stretching out beautifully before me in the foreground, all my stresses melted away: The column deadline I'm absolutely frantic to meet; the crazed week I have ahead, with back-to-back Shakespeare lectures Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - on three different plays! The impossible train journeys I need to make this week to take a group to see Merchant of Venice in Stratford, after a full day lecturing in London! On and on...None of that mattered as I swayed from side-to-side on this magnificent Cob.

Ironically, my wonderful instructor was most aptly named Nikki Shakespear. Nikki is a gem, and takes a caring, friendly approach to teaching riding. I will confess I was very nervous when I arrived at Red House - more anxious about the people, than the horses.

Undoubtedly, there are more than a few preconceptions about riding circles; and (also undoubtedly) in some cases these preconceptions probably ring true. Like many a newcomer, I'd expect, when I arrived at Red House Riding School, I feared that I would be walking into a very exclusive, closed and uninviting club. However, my actual experience there could not have been farther from my expectations! 

Having a go!
Everyone at Red House was welcoming, friendly and keen to help and encourage me. Nikki provided all the gear I needed -- and tea and jaffa cakes after! Nikki and her assistant, Mel, were patience and supportive during my lesson. I felt empowered, and not the least bit awkward, uneasy or out of my depth. 

They even gave me a few small challenges to complete on my own within a very well-supported context (walk, trot, dismount). In addition, the social side of things is clearly at the heart of this riding school. Everyone was jovial, smiling and laughing as the mucked in, and out, together (quite literally).

Another myth dispelled by my experience yesterday - the cost of learning to ride, at least at Red House Riding School, is not as dear as I'd have thought it would be. Nikki favours Group Lessons over private ones, and offers them for a range of experience levels and age groups. Comraderie and kinship is key to this fellowship of the horse. And, I have to say that yesterday was a truly remarkable day. A highlight of my life here in Warwickshire that I will never forget!

1 comment:

Victoria Plum said...

I think I must be a Warwickshire oddity as I have only ridden a horse once ... and I hated it!! All my friends either owned horses or just rode them - I just couldn't understand the fascination with them! I prefer the more sedate English tradition of afternoon tea :)