I don't know about you, but ever since I was six years old and watched National Velvet for the first time (especially the scene where Mi is riding in the train and Velvet gallops alongside jumping hedges as she goes), I've wanted to ride in England. Heck, forget riding, I've just wanted to be in England, in that world of softly rolling green hillsides and high twisting hedges, crumbling farmhouses and ivy-strewn rock walls.
It's always seemed to good to be true, and even since arriving in the UK I've had a hard time believing that that English countryside of my dreams was actually a tangible and reachable place beyond the backdrop view from the M40 or a passing suggestion out of a train window. Life in Oxford, while decided not American, is certainly more like other European cities I've visited than it is to the gingerbread-house fantasy land that I think of when I think of England.
(Ok this is sooo not an attractive photo because it had just started raining and the sun was about to set... but I promise, it was actually lovely)
But now, I've been there. I've been in those green fields and driven down those one-laned hedge roads; I've squished through grey British mud and trodden on unbelievably green British grass. And, I've gotten to do it with a horse. Moments like these truly do remind me that this is, in fact, the good life =)
Now granted, I've so far only actually ridden in an arena, but I'm not getting too picky. Twice now I've gotten to drive out with a group of kids of Oxford Polo into absurdly idyllic farm country to a place called Pryatt's Farm in Wycomb to hit the ball around a bit. The arena is surrounded by green fields dotted with happy and rugged-up horses who occasionally wander over to the fence line to peek in on the game progress, and it sits on top of a hill so that you can see out a great distance over the sorts of fields that I didn't actually believe existed outside of movie sets and paintings.
(Me, looking sweaty and maybe psychotic?, and Number 1)
It's felt great to be back riding, though I've been feeling seriously rusty. On Tuesday I got to ride a quirky but fun gelding named, mysteriously, "Number 1," who I was warned ahead of time to warm up properly before I took a swing because he would probably stop dead the first few times. Sure enough, even with a decent warmup and my forewarning, the first time I leaned down to hit the ball he slammed on the brakes, very nearly sending me over his head! Fortunately not many people were watching so I was able to clamber back into the saddle with only a minor loss of dignity and continue on. Number 1 was good practice because he would naturally wander off the line of the ball at the last minute if I didn't concentrate on keeping him straight, which requires a level of multi-tasking that I'm definitely still struggling with. I had it managed a bit better by the end, though, and was able to hit some pretty nice shots (for me haha) including one straight into goal with such force that Number 1 spooked and almost spun me off at the sound of the ball hitting the boards!! Goof.
We got to play a chukker at the end and I was happy that I played better than last time, though I'm still so out of shape that I get exhausted mid-way through and completely stop being able to direct my horse. As someone who normally rides multiple horses a day and rarely gets tired doing it, this is definitely a new and frustrating feeling! Definite incentive to keep exercise going (though being trapped inside for the past two days with my nose literally rubbed raw from being pressed so hard to the grindstone has NOT helped in that regard!).
(Ok but granted, when you get to study in an early 16th Century study carol looking out on Corpus Christi's main quad with the muffled sounds of organ music coming from the chapel next door, it feels pretty legit...)
(...and when you successfully digest and get notes from 7 books (2 in French) in a 3 1/2 hour period, you feel pretty badass! Or that just be the nerd in me coming out...)
I'm supposed to play again on Tuesday, though there's currently a bit of issue with the scheduling that could complicate things. I'm not going to any horsey locations this weekend or next (bummer), so this past week's ride will have to carry me forward for a while if I don't get to go out next week. We'll see! I feel sooo incredibly lucky that I've gotten to ride at all while being abroad, as the vast majority of my riding friends who've done so in different locations haven't even been able to a see a horse, let alone get on one. Now if only I could go hunting, then I could REALLY try to recreate my fantasy of galloping beside the train like Velvet Brown... =)
(Unrelatedly, I've set up a little "pony section" above my bed in my dorm room - can't wait to see them again!!)