Hang Gliders are from Outer Space
 By Winniefield Park   •   24th Jan 2015   •   1,281 views   •   0 comments
Hang Gliders are from Outer SpaceHang Gliders are from Outer Space is just one tale of a skittish ex-racehorse from author Steve Ankers in the book "It's a Dog's Life for the Other Half", tales from in and around a veterinary practice.

A fear of crisp packets? Acute panic at the sight of a plastic bag? Is that an actual “thing”, like claustrophobia is the word for “fear of confined spaces”?

Well, when my daughter had her own pony a few years ago, our family was able to borrow a retired, thoroughbred racehorse called Robert for family rides on the South Downs near Lewes, and Robert brought a whole extra level to the idea of “fright”.

Robert was eleven years old, safe to ride with a lovely temperament but “highly strung”. (Let’s be honest here, he was bonkers). He would become terribly distracted and upset by a crisp packet blowing across the path, and we would find ourselves shouting “Plastic bag alert!” if we spotted anything suspicious fluttering in the hedgerow. And don’t even mention those temporary roadside shrines at the scene of accidents, with their flowers and windmills.

I have to admit at this point that my own experience of being in the saddle is confined to slow, steady hacks on holiday while closely resembling a sack of potatoes, and even then I’m always in danger of falling off. In north Wales once I ended up losing my stirrups, sliding precariously to one side as the pony headed off on a journey of its own choosing. I hung onto its neck from a sideways-on position and tried to picture myseIf as a cowboy in an old Western, thrillingly firing bullets underneath the horse’s neck and escaping from the bad guys. Except that I fell off into the gorse. I remember it was very prickly.

I didn’t mind so much paying for our daughter’s riding lessons, the kit and the stabling but I drew the line at the mucking out. This, I’m happy to say, fell to my wife, which is only as it should be.

Anyway, on Boxing Day one year, definitely needing a break from Xmas pudding and re-runs of Mary Poppins on TV, we went for a ride along the chalk ridge of the Downs. At least, my wife and daughter were riding: I was walking alongside with our Black Labrador, Molly -- incidentally, why are dogs so fond of eating the clippings from horses’ hooves? That is disgusting! Suddenly a couple of hang gliders appeared above our heads from behind the top of the ridge. Our daughter’s cry of “Mum, Robert’s nostrils have gone square again!” was the prelude to Robert and Mum disappearing into the distance at near racing speed until they became a small dot. I began to wonder what would happen when they reached the first line of fencing but imagined it would have looked good on “You’ve Been Framed!” It was a good half hour later when the two of them, fortunately still attached, returned, white-faced, legs trembling (Mum) and looking sheepish (Robert).

Happy riding! But watch out for those scary crisp packets!

Steve Ankers is the author of “It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half: Tales from In and Around a Veterinary Practice” (published by Mereo and available through all good bookshops and internet booksellers.)
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