Back in the saddle

Gill South returns to a youthful pastime with a little less stamina but the same enthusiasm for the horses.

I dismount my horse energetically. Whee! Oof! Further down than I had expected. I look up at the big chap I've just ridden for the past two hours. Good thing I had help getting on ol' Chief, he's enormous.

I walk awkwardly back to the car, trying not to look like it's hurting. I feel like a cowboy who's been rounding up cattle for three days.

It's amazing, the things you do in your youth that you don't give a second thought to, hanging upside down on the jungle gym all lunchtime, or riding all day.

I was horse mad for years, went to riding schools from a young age then owned ponies in my youth. I've done something today I've been promising myself ever since we came back to New Zealand - riding out at Muriwai on the beach.

The two-hour session has the usual riding school hiccups. The horses have a look of weary resignation when we arrive. "Oh, do we have to?" they seem to be saying. Then a couple of children turn up wearing the smallest shorts I've ever seen.

There is a scrabble around to find some chaps to protect their legs. We set off at a sedate pace. In my teens I would have been busting to get my horse cantering or galloping along the beach but it's not ideal at Muriwai. There are all these idiot boy racers riding their dirt bikes there, so the horses are a bit wary.

I tell myself to just relax and enjoy the scenery. Though it's the beach I thought I'd enjoy best, it's the forest I find the most therapeutic. It is so peaceful as I ride along on my armchair of a horse, just listening to the bird sounds.

Nette, the riding instructor, takes pity on me and another of the riders and puts us at the front so we can have the odd trot and canter. Chief and I have a few disagreements where he wants to go left and I want to go right. He punishes me for daring to argue by stopping or slowing down, bless him.

To be fair Chief is a good ride, he "walks out" nicely as horsey types would say. He's happier doing an extended trot rather than a canter but that's fine.

The longer the walk, the more my legs hurt - the way you sit with your thighs clamped against the saddle and your heels down, toes up, is now so unfamiliar to my body, that the muscles starts to protest after a while.

As we near the end, I'm dying to bend back from my saddle on to Chief's back- I'm feeling a bit tired. This used to be one of my favourite things to do, lying back until my head rested on my horse's rump staring up at the sky, munching an apple, preferably bareback. Could explain why my horses tended to deteriorate when I owned them. But you need to know your horse; this might spook Chief.

I leave with a thirst and a hunger I haven't felt for a long time and my brain at least feels completely rested. When I get home I have a big soak in the bath with geranium essential oil and the Saturday paper. Bliss. I go to bed early that night and sleep like a baby. I'm relatively okay the next day - wee bit sore around the back and shoulders. Second day, I have trouble crossing my legs. Ah well, worth it.

- NZ Herald

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