I must admit I've never been one of those people who like horses. You know the type who stroll about in jodhpurs even when they're not riding and laugh heartily at horsey jokes and talk copiously about stirrups and bridles and strawberry roans? Yes, that's them. I didn't even read Black Beauty or those Green Grass of Wyoming books as a child. It was as if just by reading about horses I'd be at a disadvantage, not knowing what went where and what the importance was anyway. Instead, I chose to be a little more than mildly derisive about horse lovers: that they got bow legs and that their faces grew long and their teeth longer, for everyone knows that horsey people begin to look like their equine friends. (Look at Princess Anne, for example).
It is therefore rather disconcerting to have a six year old daughter who has developed a real interest in horses. I thought it might be one of those passing phases, like the ballet phase she so recently emerged from. We bought the shoes and the leotard and off she went for numerous lessons, enthusiastically at first and then less so (she didn't realise that you don't just step into ballet pumps and turn pirouettes on the tips of your toes).
Yes, I could handle ballet - I never once made a quip about ballerinas walking like ducks or comment on the way they seem to flutter their hands pretentiously even during the most mundane of actions like passing the salt or pointing the way to the bathroom. And too, I could handle ballet parents: mostly rather perplexed looking mothers who always arrive on time to collect their little darlings. You can see they worry about things like vitamins and good food and how much pink their daughters are wearing. Is it enough? An extra frill here, perhaps, or some glitter on the tutu.
Not so the horsey mums. I can imagine great thigh-slapping types who roar up to the stables in muddy 4X4s, who drink litre bottles of coke while waiting for their kids to finish and smoke at least twenty a day -a habit which helps create a suitably hearty laugh for all those horsey jokes. I imagine I'd have to join in and talk knowledgeably about horse riding equipment and lineage - I'd have to know who sired who and who was a good breeder and . . . the thought is terrifying!
But how to escape - that's the problem. What can I tell my daughter about horses that could put her off for life? I could always read Dick Francis to her; that might do it. Or Jilly Cooper. OK, perhaps not. Should I show her pictures of Princess Anne and warn her in the same way I warn her about going out in the sun without UV protection?
In my heart of hearts, I know I can't do it. So I sit and read and read all the pony books brought back from the library and join in as enthusiastically as possible when asked to be 'the trainer' (she's the pony and I have to lead her out of the stables and take her for a trot round a field. Sometimes there's a big race to prepare for, but that's another story).
Finally, I have arranged a few lessons and this week begins my foray into new country (see, I'm already starting to use Green Grass of Wyoming language) I'm hoping the experience will open up new pastures for me (see, again - pastures, good pun) and perhaps I'll be able to write a couple of horsey stories myself, or at least create a character who could gallop around boldly, with all the right tack, of course. Failing that, of course, I might just have to settle for a litre bottle of coke and a packet of Marlboro and just hope against hope it's another passing phase.