The sun has come out after what feels like several years of torrential rain. I’ve put Owen’s flippers back in the loft, and dusted the cobwebs off some ancient, gloopy sunscreen that’s been in the drawer since about 2004.
As any good horsewoman knows, a sunny bank holiday means only one thing: PUB. A pub ride on a glorious day is a tough gig, but I am nothing if not dedicated in my role as an official #Hack1000Miles blogger, so I throw on my most stylish hi viz, saddle up and hit the road.
We are accompanied by Owen’s trusty sidekick Finn, ridden by Liz — henceforth known as Sticky Bottom Liz, for reasons that will shortly become apparent.
It’s one of those truly perfect days where there is nowhere you would rather be than on horseback. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, and there is just enough breeze to flutter the ponies’ manes as we meander through the dappled sunlight in the woods.
The ponies aren’t in a hurry and neither are we, so happily plod through the lanes playing the ‘which house would I live in if I won the lottery’ game (it’s much easier on horseback because you can peer over hedges).
We leave Epsom Downs, potter through a village with only a minor spook at a flag hanging out of a window (Owen and Finn are clearly not Chelsea supporters) and cross onto Walton Heath.
‘I thought she was a goner’
Miraculously, there is barely a dog walker or pedestrian in sight, so we enjoy a lovely controlled canter across the turf. We let the ponies have a stretch on a long rein as we chat about our plans for the summer and have a brief but vehement disagreement about whether we would rather snog the vet, Amy’s dad or Amy’s grandad in Heartland (if you haven’t seen it, it’s on Netflix — answers on a postcard, please).
As we approach the pub we have a glorious open stretch of common in front of us. I have visions of us galloping into view, laughing gaily, then leaping from the saddle, tossing our reins to a starry-eyed tavern wench as the landlord falls over herself to bring us a flagon of finest ale, possibly to thunderous applause from the hordes of admiring patrons.
Alas, it is not to be.
It starts well — and then Finn sees the log.
To be honest, ‘log’ is probably a bit of an exaggeration. It’s a small branch. Actually, it’s more like a large stick.
Regardless, Finn sees it and he thinks it’s going to eat him. He leaps sideways into Owen’s shoulder with the speed and agility of an Argentinian polo pony.
Owen leaps sideways to get out of the way and finds himself in a bush. Liz hangs in mid-air for a second, vaguely reminiscent of a cartoon coyote chasing a roadrunner off a cliff.
Our eyes meet.
I think she’s a goner.
She thinks she’s a goner.
Finn definitely thinks she’s a goner.
And then, by some miracle, she lunges forward, grabs a chunk of mane and manages to claw her way back into the saddle. This is, predictably, all in full view of the entire clientele of The Sportsman.
We sheepishly make our way to a patch of grass and are immediately set upon by a herd of pony-mad little girls, one of whom helpfully informs Liz that if she did fall off, “all you have to do is roll into a ball, like an armadillo”.
(I can’t believe that none of my riding instructors have ever shared this pearl of wisdom with me in my many years of riding. WHAT DO I PAY YOU PEOPLE FOR?)
‘No armadillo tactics required’
Things start looking up considerably when one of the dads saunters over and offers to buy us a drink for taking his children off his hands for a few minutes.
I surreptitiously text my husband to tell him that a) I’m not dead and b) a hunky tree surgeon is buying me a pint. He immediately texts back: “That’s nice. I mean, he’s probably buying Liz a drink, but it’s kind of him to humour you.”
Two pints later and we are back on board and heading for home. The journey back is considerably faster, and considerably more hilarious.
Both ponies are impeccably behaved, so no armadillo tactics are required. We arrive back at the yard, slightly sunburned and a little bit giddy. It’s time to tuck the ponies into bed so they are on top form for the biggest event of the year tomorrow: the annual riding club gymkhana.
But that, dear friends, is another story for another day.