The best decision I ever made as an adult, besides marrying my husband, was to follow my heart and get back to horse riding. I don’t really remember a time in my life when I didn’t love horses. It has always been an all-encompassing, absolute, and deeply satisfying kind of passion in my life.
There were a number of reasons I didn’t ride for years on end, and they were mostly financial and location based.
As a kid my parents were able to send me off to the Eglinton Equestrian Centre riding camp when we lived in Toronto. I had no real riding equipment besides a hand me down helmet and riding crop. I wore beige trousers because they looked the colour of breeches, and had some ill fitting wellies which truly were not suited to stirrups! It’s a miracle I stayed on board Chippy, my designated steed, for the two week camp. He was a wily pony and I did have a few outings that resulted in mud on my face thanks to a few offs when he spooked and my saddle slipped because he bloated while doing up his girth.
Later when we moved to Collingwood I went to Heritage Riding Camp on the mountain, and spent three weeks building on what I had learned the previous summer.
I had some one to one lessons infrequently when I had a pony of my own for a year or so. But the cost was too high and the location my pony was stabled at was too far to visit often enough, so that ended in tears and some emotional horse scars.
After that, I went on the odd trail ride, but I had never had consistent weekly lessons. Never been able to become ‘riding fit’. I knew just about everything there was to know about horses that you could from books, but not in a practical sense.
In high school I had a job but all the money went towards my own spending and saving for university fees. The university years were always going to be horseless, and then after graduating I was off to England.
Being in England was like a sweet torture. It’s a horse mad place to be and I was on my pub wage, then eventually working in retail. We were in Zone 2 London, and without a car so the prospect of horse riding was out of reach.
Cut to years later and my husband surprised me one birthday with 6 private one hour lessons in Wimbledon Village. It was one of the only nearby places I could ride without needing a car to get to outer London. It’s also a membership only system, so he signed me up and paid the Associate member one-off fee which meant I could ride during weekdays only, and paid per riding session each time I went. We went to Harrods to get me kitted out, and I really enjoyed being back riding there for the summer I did, about the 10 or 12 times I went. But because the days I had off varied I never really had consistency with who I had the lesson with. Then when I changed job, I only had weekends off, so I was no longer able to ride in Wimbledon.
We moved house to Zone 4, and six years after my Wimbledon stint, I began to question why I wasn’t riding anywhere. We were further out in Greater London, and I began to research nearby stables. There were quite a few, and we began to visit them to check them out. There were three that seemed feasible to travel to with the car, but I really didn’t like the locations. They were a bit industrial looking and I just didn’t have that feeling of them being a place I would be happy riding at.
By chance, Marco mentioned that there was a riding facility near where he golfed, further down the side road. It was a Saturday so we drove there immediately.
Arriving in leafy Cobham, we drove into the yard and my heart sang. THIS was a place I could envision myself riding. The place was beautiful, the owners friendly. They gave us a tour and I was thrilled at the prospect of riding again, somewhere that had outstanding hacking facilities, an indoor arena and a huge outdoor floodlit ring.
I was able to afford half hour private lessons. I was so nervous the first day. They put me on Magpie who was an older fellow they used to assess new clients. And they really helped me build my confidence.
After a few weeks on Magpie, and with my newfound confidence growing, I was moved to Dora, a gigantic 17.2h chestnut mare who got me my first canter in six years. I had almost a year with Dora, and then I moved up to Benson, who I had been eyeballing and wishing I could ride since I laid eyes on him. These three horses gave me two years of weekly rides, and I rode whatever the weather. Snow, rain, you name it. I was there every Saturday at 8:30am and I was in my happy place.
We moved again in 2015, and at just the two year mark of my weekly riding at Silvermere, I made the decision to go back to Wimbledon Village Stables. I didn’t need to ride privately and for the same amount of money, I could ride for an hour, choose to have a lesson or a hack, and I joined the hallowed Gold Membership which entitled me to a weekly ride at a set time slot on the weekend (I ride Sundays at 8:45am without fail).
The great thing about being at Wimbledon Village now is that it’s more of an adult yard. I have made a number of horsey friends since I began riding there. There is a whole social scene and the horses are very special, not every horse thrives in an urban setting. We get to ride all over Wimbledon Common and sometimes Richmond Park with the wild deer. My lessons are with an International Grand Prix level Dressage rider, which I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams. We are so lucky to learn from her, and I have learned so much from my time there.
Although I would now classify myself as an experienced rider after six years of riding every week, I continue to take lessons because it would be criminal not to learn from one of the world’s elite. I do partake in the odd hack when it’s really hot or if the riding ring is frozen in winter, and that in itself brings its own kind of joy. Galloping through the forest tracks when you’re the lead rider in the group is a pretty special kind of feeling.
With the first lockdown in the spring, there was a huge concern about what would happen to the stables. If all the members cancelled their memberships because we couldn’t ride, there wouldn’t be enough funding to keep the horses cared for or pay the staff needed to look after them even though they were turned out for three months. In the end I continued to pay because the thought of not being able to ride and be a part of this extremely special riding facility in the heart of London would have crushed me. And it turns out just about all the members felt the same way because the stables and horses survived. The gratitude the owners and staff have shown was overwhelming. We had weekly Zoom shows and Zoom tutorials and masterclasses, with ‘live from the fields’ so we could see our horses that we all missed so much. Lots of online activity to keep us busy and informed, which was great to keep everyone in touch. Some Zooms had upwards of 100 members involved and it was great to see everyone.
And with the second lockdown, which thankfully has only been one month, we have seen all the members do the same again. We are all relieved that our ‘happy place’ continues to survive and thrive in this era of uncertainty and complicated restrictions.
I get to go back to the stables again next Sunday, and I can’t wait. We have all the COVID protocols in place and everyone is meticulous about following guidelines. For now I arrive and my horse is brought to the mounting block for me. I miss tacking up and bringing them back to their stalls when we’re done our rides, but it’s a small thing for the greater good.
I am grateful that I am in a place where I can continue to ride, and even though I lost my job, I cut expenses on anything I can so that I can keep horses in my life.
It may have taken me 39 years to get to a weekly horse riding life, but better late than never! If there is one thing I have learned, it’s to never give up on your dreams, and never let your passions slowly and silently drift away.
Riding will be with me for life and it will always be a priority in terms of nourishing my soul with doing something I live for and love. One of the best things about riding is that you never stop learning with horses.
You really can follow your heart and start from ground zero, at any stage in life, with any passion you have.
I got back in the saddle and will never look back…..trot on!