Magazine article The Spectator

James Delingpole: It Really Must Be a Mid-Life Crisis. I've Fallen in Love with a Pony

Magazine article The Spectator

James Delingpole: It Really Must Be a Mid-Life Crisis. I've Fallen in Love with a Pony

Article excerpt

Because I'm reckless, stupid and irresponsible, I normally get landed with the biggest, most obstreperous hunters. But the other weekend the riding school boss, Jane, decided to allocate me a different horse to ride. It was a smallish grey called Potato.

'What's he like?' I asked one of the regulars. 'Oh he's lovely!' she said. But I didn't necessarily believe her. One of the things I'm learning about riders is that they lie through their teeth about how nice particular horses are. Something to do with the convention that misbehaviour is always the fault of the rider, never the horse.

'He's not very big,' I complained. 'How does he jump?' 'He doesn't,' my friend explained. 'He's a polo pony.' Now I was starting to get quite sulky. I'm not saying I'm obsessed with jumping or that it doesn't make me afraid. But I do know I need to do a lot more of it if I'm to be ready for next season and get my book Mister Delingpole's Sporting Tour underway.

So I got onto Potato. I hardly needed the mounting block. And I looked at the riders who'd bagged one of the hunters, towering above me, thinking how unfair it was that they could have a go at the post and rails and I couldn't.

I steered Potato towards the water trough to give him a drink. Every time I do this, I find myself thinking of the old adage, because it's so true: you really can't make a horse drink if he doesn't want to. Potato did, though. He drank with ponyish enthusiasm and I began to warm to him.

Not as much as I did once I'd ridden him into the first field. 'Woah!' I declared to anyone who'd listen. 'This pony is totally awesome!' And he was too. Riding a hunter -- a big, sturdy horse bred to jump over huge hedges and keep going all day -- is like driving a Range Rover: big engine, lots of power, but a bit crap if you're trying to nip in and out of tiny parking spaces. A polo pony, on the other hand, is more like a hot hatchback, such as that ludicrously inappropriate Golf Four Motion I acquired for next to nothing the other week. Instead of taking ages to get going, as my regular mounts Ted or Freddy do, this little number was nimble and responsive: just a slight squeeze and -- vroom! -- off he'd shoot. And the cornering! Wow! 'I'll tell you how to turn a polo pony,' barked Jane. 'How? How?' I asked excitedly. 'Shorten your reins a bit, put them in one hand and just turn your body.' So I did. Wow and double wow! 'These things can turn on a pin!' I said.

And so sensitive. One of the maddening things about learning to ride is the myriad hours of frustration you have to put in kicking and squeezing reluctant nags to no avail. …

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